It's just that they've abandoned a Gordon Gecko-esque pursuit of status for a greater sense of equilibrium in life.
Another reason that service jobs seem to appeal to grads more than office jobs do is the increased level of human interaction.
"A trend I see a lot is students joining us after a few years in an office," says Rocky Hall of the San Francisco School of Massage. "In those jobs, they get tired of communicating electronically through e-mail, phone conferences, et cetera. They crave a genuine sense of connection with other people, which they find through massage."
Michelle Hamer, director of admissions for Miss Marty's School of Beauty, agrees. "In a corporate world, it's all done over e-mail and phone. There is an electronic wall between people. We are the last profession to touch people."
And even if grads aren't actually touching people, they are meeting, talking to, and potentially spending social time with people they wouldn't see in office jobs both the clients they meet on the job and the friends they have more time for afterwards.
Riley Salant-Pearce says this is the benefit of waiting tables (he declined to name the restaurant). After earning his degree in biology from University of California, San Diego and guiding tours in Ecuador for a year, he found himself serving when he moved to San Francisco. Now, it's hard for him to imagine doing a science job.
"I love the freedom of a restaurant job. I see my friends in 9-to-5 engineering and science-related jobs, and it's too restrictive. They're not having any fun. I make an equal amount of money, but I only work four nights a week," says Salant-Pearce, who estimates he makes about $40 an hour. "I make enough to live comfortably in San Francisco. Better than that, I can take time off to enjoy it."
He also likes the social environment of working in the service industry. "The restaurant was a great way to meet people," he says. "We all go out together when we get off. I realized I'm just too social to work in a lab."
Another selling point is that the interaction in these types of jobs tends to be of a happier, more relaxed sort. More often than not, those in the corporate world are stressed-out people dealing with other stressed-out people during work hours. The service industry sees those same corporate drones, but with their ties loosened at the bar or completely removed at the spa. Waiters and beauticians are salespeople, true, but they're selling you something you already want. People want to buy drinks, eat lavish meals, enjoy massages, haircuts, and facials. This makes these industries sustainable.
"Beauty is a recession-proof industry," Hamer says. "People are always going to get their hair done. We maintain every other profession."
WHAT I COULD'VE BEEN
Yet many of these twentysomethings are consumed with self-doubt about "wasting" their college degrees. "Guilt does cause conflict for twentysomethings," Robbins says. "How do I weigh doing what I love with making enough money? A big part of that is image, thinking people judge them. It can take a big leap of faith to say, 'You know what? This is how I'd like my life to be.'"
Christine Hassler, author of 20 Something Manifesto (New World), has been there. "After graduating from college, I became a successful Hollywood agent. By my mid-twenties, I had my own assistant," she says. "Agents are salespeople, and I don't like sales. I was a nerd in high school, and the entertainment industry was the adult version of the popular crowd. I didn't feel passionate about what I was doing. Now that I'm older, I realize that passion doesn't come from external circumstances.