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Lauren McCarthy: Don’t go (micro)soft on your future

By Lauren McCarthy, Columnist
Published March 26, 2014

Last week I met Bill Gates.

The day began just as every Wednesday does these days. My alarm went off at 7:35 a.m. and I managed to get out of bed at 8:02 a.m. My hair was 24 hours overdue for a good dose of shampoo, so I pulled it into an unflattering but effective low bun. A dash of CC cream, a few strokes of mascara, wrinkled pants and a borrowed blouse later, I was out the door at 8:37.

At 20 years old, I’ve been working full-time in Washington, D.C. for three — going on four — months now and have been schooled in the art of effective media relations strategy, as well as the mastery of brewing coffee via a Flavia Creation Station 400. The most important insight I have gained, however, occurred outside of the office (although I was out on official C-SPAN business). It was day three of relentlessly dropping off press releases, meeting with communications directors, and having already stopped by over 50 House Representative Offices — by the time I reached the Senate I was in a groove. I was unfazed by the large group of people gathered outside an inconspicuous room on the fourth floor of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, as well as the television crew that accompanied them. Just as I had made my way past them, a door opened behind me.

“Mr. Gates, will you stop for a photo please?”

“Mr. Gates, why are you here today? What is the Gates Foundation currently working on?”

Bill and his entourage ignored both his admirers and the television cameras, and came hurtling in the direction I was already headed. Bill freaking Gates was trailing me. Or we happened to be walking in the same direction. Whatever. I just kept walking forward in shock and as the crowd began to dissipate, Bill and I found ourselves alone (with six of his security guards) in the hallway. So I did what every self-respecting American would do — I frantically rummaged through my bag in hopes of locating my phone and attempting an inconspicuous Bill Gates selfie. And in the process I dropped my metro card (an item even more beloved than a Skeeps card in Metropolitan D.C.). Luckily, one of Bill’s security men stopped to pick it up.

This was my moment, my in. Fight or flight. Do or die — and so I did.

“Excuse me, I know you said you didn’t want to take any pictures but will you take one with me?” I asked.
Without missing a beat one of his security men turned me down, saying, “Sorry miss but we’re busy.” To which Bill shook his head with a faint laugh and responded, “No we’re not.”

With that, he walked over next to me, posed and smiled as the man who retrieved my metro pass excitedly snapped several photos. I thanked him, told him I admired his wife and the Gates Foundation and floated away as they boarded the elevator.

I do like that photo of me and Bill, though despite its obvious popularity amongst social media — it makes me cringe a little. I should’ve washed my hair. I should have ironed my pants and I should not have worn a shirt that revealed the straps of my camisole. It was a below-average outfit and a pedestrian moment. I know that may sound superficial or trivial, or both, but I could have looked more put together. I could’ve at least introduced myself or shaken his hand.

Only three months into my semester sabbatical spent in the “real world,” that afternoon caught me in full-blown banality. I belong to a generation of Millennials that are allegedly the “most affirmed” generation to date, repeatedly told that we can do whatever we sent our minds to, and assured that we have the necessary talents and skills to become exceptional. But sometimes we don’t. We have the talents and skill sets to be acceptable. We do just enough to get by, we look in the mirror and think a greasy, low bun is “good enough,” and consider the B- we scraped by with just fine.

According to studies cited by the New York Times, our generation lacks the attitudes and behaviors needed for job success. We don’t have a strong work ethic, we aren’t motivated and we don’t take initiative. Our employment expectations are too high, and our commitment levels too low. Maybe they’re on to something. I often hear my friends claiming not that they would like a job — but a job in Industry X, with company Y, at level Z. Yet the rate of 16 to 24-year-olds that are out of school yet out of work is unusually high at 15 percent, and many college graduates take jobs that do not require a degree.

I think we can change these perceptions. I think we can get up, wash our hair and approach each workday as if we may spontaneously bump into the wealthiest man in America — not approach each workday as if we’ve already achieved it. Mediocrity is tempting, and having endured a short stay in the American work force, allow me to warn you that your pants will wrinkle far sooner than you hoped.

Lauren McCarthy can be reached at laurmc@umich.edu.


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