Are twentysomethings really prepared for public service?

Photo Imagine you’re a teenage girl in 16th-century New England. You’re aspiring to become a widow at age 24. And you hope to get married in three years. (Who said the future is ever…

Are twentysomethings really prepared for public service?

Photo

Imagine you’re a teenage girl in 16th-century New England. You’re aspiring to become a widow at age 24. And you hope to get married in three years. (Who said the future is ever sunny?) So you hold fast and stay celibate.

But in three years, not only will you not become a widow, you’ll become a widow and have two young children. So you’ll have six years to wait until you could have children of your own.

Most twentysomethings are not orphans. A single mother would have a lot of financial challenges, but she also has the social support of friends. That same friend might put you up for a job or a summer rental in Vermont. But at that age, she’s already got a boyfriend. So maybe you can arrange a job-share with him. Or arrange another couple’s dates. If you’re socially awkward, using your own turn of phrase to charm potential employers becomes a wonderful and familiar skill. And even when you can’t fix your own life, a broken heart can mean a broken heart for another’s. (This was certainly true of my mother, who broke off an engagement because she was unable to read my mind and my heart.)

What if the economy tanks? We all know the answer. Which is why many twentysomethings come up with something called “date night.”

But this is a ruse. Only about 10 percent of young people are doing so, according to pollster Anthony Lake. In general, “date night” is so common, it’s hard to know why the 12 percent fall under the umbrella of “fewer than two but more than three.”

Here’s another ruse, devised by a third-year law student who has just entered public service: regular evening and weekend opportunities. A lot of twentysomethings do want a good job that will lead to marriage. They may care a lot about mentoring younger people or getting more involved in nonprofits. They may even have families, and want to be near them. But, in general, they have their own responsibilities. And even if they found themselves in an office in Washington, they’d probably be close to their families, and their own jobs. So even if they found themselves forced to become more community-oriented, or sometimes even go to work part-time, they’d probably have other obligations, too.

Luckily, there are ways of doing things that actually work for twentysomethings.

One is explicitly breaking up with your job. Because your schedule in public service can be erratic, it might be hard to find something really demanding and child-friendly. But a part-time job — or even a semester abroad — would be great for an under-30 professional. Just take time off when your children are born. And learn to be frugal about cost — not just food but living expenses, too.

Another is to put your money to work, in the form of your pension, IRA or a 529 plan. When you enter public service, it pays to set aside as much of your income as possible. Retirement income you may have missed when you were young could come in handy when you’re older.

In particular, you should pay off credit card debt and student loans.

As you learn more about public service, it becomes apparent that it’s not so much what you do as who you work with that makes a difference.

Again, here are creative options. Try volunteering for a nonprofit. Ask people on your college campus if you can take an apprenticeship. Or you can apply for, and attend, the Southeastern Regional Workshop of Service-Learning at Clemson University, covering topics like community relations, public policy, public policy, international affairs, global health, global economics, public health, citizenship and civics.

You might think doing everything by yourself, as someone working in such a lonely field, will feel demoralizing. It probably will. But there are ways to grow as a professional and meet lots of useful people.

If you’re a single parent, you’re in the same boat. So, don’t just focus on your career. Think about ways you might still be able to make a difference by doing something exciting, fun and silly.

Finally, while public service is only part of what we need to do as a society, public service is a thing that most older people (and a lot of young people, too) do well, that fits with what they love doing and enjoys doing it.

Leave a Comment