Dear Coworker,

I know it’s hard to resist.

I know what it’s like when a new person is hired and you feel the need to get to know them, to make them feel welcome or decide whether you like them or whatever reason you give for questioning the poor, nervous, 20-something girl on her first day at this new job that she was finally offered after having been looking for a job for a literal year with no luck.

I wasn’t being picky, either. I don’t have some grand idea of myself, some illusion that my making it through four years of college and acquiring $40,000 in student loans (after grants and scholarships) to go to said college because I was told that was the only way to make it in life, entitles me to a comfortable, well-paying job that won’t make me long for the days of staying up until 4 am to write a final paper, living off nothing but Bagel Bites and sodas from the drink machine in the basement. I was fully prepared, nay, expecting to work some meaningless dead end job for an indeterminate amount of time, all the while trying to find a job that doesn’t make me consider the futility of life and the constant weight of poverty looming above my head every day.

Of course, I went into college a much more hopeful woman, imagining all of the knowledge I would soak up and all of the respect it would afford me in the professional world. “Oh yes,” I imagined myself saying lightly at an office Christmas Party, a flute of champagne in my hand, the light playing off my golden dress just so, “Yes, I have a bachelor’s degree.” In this imagined interaction you and my other coworkers would gasp admiringly and nod approvingly — if only all young people were so responsible and sensible.

Oh, how sweet and naïve I was. Imagine my dismay when I casually dropped that I have a degree in my first interview outside of college and the interviewer didn’t bat an eye. “Of course you do,” her eyes seemed to say, “everyone has a degree, you are not special.” My outlook did not improve when I started specifying that I have an English degree. Now the looks were tinged with sympathy, their pursed lips and slight little head shakes saying “you poor thing.”

“So you want to be a teacher?”

“What are you going to do with that?”

“Are you a… writer?”

And then, of course, the big one, the surprised, concerned exclamation: “Well, what are you doing working here then?!”

Perhaps you, my new coworker, are as gullible as I once was. Perhaps you still believe that obtaining a degree, working hard in a specialized field for four valuable years of your youth, should be able to snag a person a good job in their field. It is not.

Because let me tell you, I did not wake up the day after my graduation and think, “I believe I’ll go apply for my dream job as a business office clerk at a local furniture chain today!”

I tried other things. I tried being a writer, but as much as people say that online self-publishing is a great way to get started, it doesn’t work unless you actually write something, and I found that as a 21-year-old living in my father’s basement, I didn’t have anything to say that I thought anyone would want to hear.

So I tried Barnes & Noble. I thought, at least it’s being around books, at least you can help people find their new favorite author or help kids discover a love for reading. Apparently you have to be a slightly grumpy, resigned-looking middle-aged woman to do that job.

I was not called in for an interview.

I tried Starbucks. I figured that if I couldn’t write and I couldn’t work around books, at least I could fulfill the stereotype of the liberal arts graduate as a quirky, disenchanted barista. Apparently my degree didn’t impress them either.

At one point I found a woman on Craigslist who was looking for a ghostwriter and I thought, finally, a job for me, a way for me to use my skills. I thought of the books I would likely be penning, romance or sci fi or young adult literature. When my new “boss” informed me that I would be writing sixteen pages of copy about foreign cities and the universities therein, I was disappointed, but no less determined that this was my big break. It was only after I had started literally copying and pasting passages from the samples that she gave me that I realized how much I fucking hated it. I wasn’t that sad when she fired me. It was nice working in bed, though.

So then I found myself here, behind this counter in the middle of a furniture showroom floor, veritably chained to this ten-line switchboard, whose harsh beeping I literally hear in my dreams, being questioned by you, my well-meaning coworker, about why I am where I am.

I could have explained it all to you, I could have laid out every step that has brought me to this godforsaken retail hell/office combination, but I am so tired. So instead of saying what I should have said, everything in this meaningless letter that I am sending into the void which doesn’t care about my degree or my copy-editing or critical-thinking skills, I smiled and laughed a friendly little laugh and said, “Because I’m fucking broke with a ton of debt hanging over my head from the one thing I was told would be my key to a successful life and which I will probably spend the rest of said life paying off, and this hellhole hired me. Did you need more coffee?”

— Denise Parker