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Life after lifeguarding

Kate Gales | Wednesday, February 1, 2006

It wasn’t that long ago that lifeguarding was the most glamorous job around. Something about being a lifeguard was just so appealing. Maybe it dated back to “The Sandlot” and that magic moment between Squints and Wendy Peppercorn. It could have been the fact that mothers banned their children from watching “Baywatch” until the seventh grade. It could have just been the power wielded by the whistle. Whatever it was, being a lifeguard was considered “hottest summer job ever.”

It could have been the power trip – the lifeguards ruled the pool. They perched above the rest of us at local pools, observing the sunbathing teenagers and splashing teenagers from behind mirrored wraparound sunglasses and smears of zinc oxide. Lifeguards got to go behind the front desk. The girls at the snack bar always served them free food. All I know is that at 15, it didn’t get any cooler than lifeguarding.

Now, though, the magic word is “internship.” I know people who have been preparing for today’s career fair since 2004. Actually, I could probably rattle off the names of half a dozen people who have been preparing for this day since approximately the second grade. But for those of us who didn’t have our career plans mapped out before we mastered the multiplication tables, it’s been a little harder to figure out which direction we’re going to pick.

Nowadays, lifeguarding, waitressing and babysitting just aren’t good enough. Bartending was glamorous at 18, but doesn’t cut it the summer before you graduate. Folding shirts at Ralph Lauren doesn’t impress anyone, except your sister who loves the employee discount. Nowadays, it’s investment banking and Big Four accounting firms who rule the world of the business school juniors. You can rattle off the top marketing firms, management programs and IT salaries for summer internships, and “leadership programs” are a cutthroat business. One day, your friend’s sleeping through class – the next day he’s flying to New York for job interviews.

It’s been hard to condense 20 years of my life into a resume. I had to leave out my sixth-grade Geography Bee win, clippings of my best columns, my nearly flawless driving record and 13 years of piano lessons. But today, I’ll put on my suit (which already makes me feel like a high-powered executive, not a lowly intern) and hand out copies of my resume to recruiters at the JACC. The recruiters probably won’t know that I already have a job here at The Observer where I work until 5 a.m. without batting an eye. They probably don’t care that in the work cafeteria, I would always be willing to share the good parts of my lunch. It might be irrelevant that I make amazing chocolate chip cookies and that I have a weakness for romantic comedies.

It’s hard to really stand out at a career fair, after all.

Maybe that was the real appeal of the lifeguard’s stand.