This especially interested me because I've been on both sides of that situation, though most often on the reverse end. I never had to endure the humiliation of encountering a high school classmate while working my retail job in a uniform and nametag, but even when conversing with total strangers at said job, most of whom (based on the hotel's usual clientele) had high-income jobs, I dreaded being asked what my future plans were, or whether I was in school. I hated admitting that I had already graduated college but basically had no further plan. Usually I'd just make something up. But even once I'd decided I was going to try running my own business, I never wanted to say it aloud. I was afraid I'd sound irrational and desperate.
But apparently even the "more successful" person in those conversations can find them equally painful, as this law student describes:
He asked what I was doing these days, and I sheepishly replied that I am in law school. "Wow, that['s] great", he said. "I really wish I had done things differently in college and done something like that. You know, make a lot of money. That would be sweet." I informed him that it isn't that great, and that, in fact, it sucks. I then inquired what he was up to. "Right now, just waiting tables, saving cash. Then this Fall, I'm moving to Colorado to become a ski instructor. It's something I always wanted to do." I told him that sounded great, wished him luck, excused myself and continued to the restroom. Along the way, I realized that this guy has it together much more than I do. He knows what he wants to do and is doing it, while I hate what I am doing. He seemed envious of me being in law school, and I am just as envious of him and his quixotic life plans.
In a twisted way, I find some solace in that. Maybe some of those people I talked to so self-consciously were equally miserable, just for different reasons. Maybe what I see as a year after college wasted in retail would be viewed by some people as an invaluable break. It's comforting to tell myself that even if I'd plowed straight ahead into grad school or clawed my way into a staff-writing job, I'd probably have been just as unhappy as I was in retail, and exponentially more stressed. When you put it that way, maybe retail wasn't the worst way to spend a year after undergrad. And maybe there's someone out there who would view my current business venture as a leap of faith they wish they'd taken themselves. I do believe that sometimes it doesn't matter how successful you are in something, but simply that you were brave enough to try it. It was nice to be reminded of that.
From now on, when someone asks what I plan to do with my BA in Literature, or when former classmates' Facebook statuses mention law school or med school or a new impressive job, I'll just repeat my new mantra: We're all equally miserable.