Look! Confident, Employed People in Their 20s

Alert the anthropologists.

Middle-aged people and their someday-you’ll-see-what-I-mean advice can really get on your nerves when you’re young. Do you think we don’t see you rolling your young eyes with all that smooth skin around them, or we don’t hear your sighs, and even your whispers of “Blah, blah, blah,” to your giddy little friends? We’ll talk on anyway, for your own good, so that you know what to do with your directionless lives. Mostly because of what we didn’t do with ours. Once in a while, the intelligent, well-raised ones among you will listen, not just to be polite either, and occasionally they’ll say “you’re right!”

After my post last week about my missed opportunity to drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile while I was in college, I heard from a young woman, Alison Kwong, a 2009 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and a former Hotdogger—the professional title of people behind the wheel of the Wienermobile. She’s about to turn 25 in June and has a successful career in public relations. Her email about her experience was articulately passionate, and she conveyed better than any long-winded graduation speech why you should trust yourself when opportunity rolls up in whatever shape it does:

My year on the road equipped me and my fellow “Hotdoggers” with valuable skills in media relations, crisis communications, event planning, promotions, branding and integrated marketing campaigns—professional experience well beyond that of an entry-level position at an advertising or PR agency. (I can prove this because I now work at one.) I’m incredibly proud to have the Hotdogger job on my resume, and it’s always one of the top conversation topics that comes up in job interviews and other professional networking situations.

Alison’s friend and former Hotdogger colleague, Rachel Kerr, initially didn’t cut the mustard (sorry, I had to) in her first application to the program. She worked for a year after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2008, then reapplied to the Wienermobile in 2009 and finally became a Hotdogger. She’s now an experiential marketing coordinator at Oscar Mayer, which basically means she’s the Boss of the Wienermobile.

It’s no longer a summer internship for college students; now it’s a one-year, post-graduate staff position, and it’s competitive. Usually about 1,200 people apply for 12 spots in one of six hotdog cars, that don’t give out hotdogs, as I erroneously reported last week. They do give out Wienermobile Whistles. My regret about not applying in 1988 kicked in, wholesale, when Rachel told me that was the program’s first year. I could’ve been a Wienermobile pioneer woman.

TwThe grimness that regularly flogs us all, young and not so young, can beat the ambition right out of a person. I don’t just like stories about people like Alison and Rachel, who are more than just surviving out there in their careers, but have gusto and joy about what they’re doing every day, I need these stories to keep my cold, pessimistic heart from freezing forever.

Alison said that she tells students all the time to do something like this when they’re “young and able,” and to “evaluate the skills and experience you may gain doing an unconventional job that may seem silly on the surface.” So, I was right last week, and as much as I like that, I’m doing this follow-up because Alison’s and Rachel’s work ethic and poise are the actual advice. They remind even middle-aged gurus like me that the best working capital any of us ever has is our own self-confidence.