The following post was originally published in August 2008 in two Connecticut newspapers. I share it with you now for two reasons. First of all, writing this column changed my life. In a nutshell, I wrote it out of desperation when I couldn’t land a job after graduating college. My brilliant mother suggested: “You’re a writer, so why not write about the experience of not finding a job?” So I did, and miraculously it was published in the Hartford Courant and the Town Times newspapers, the latter of which became my place of employment for the next four and a half years. In other words, writing about not having a job actually got me a job. Yes, I know… I have Mom to thank for that, among other things. This column went on to win a first place award from the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which I’m very proud of. So that’s the story in a nutshell.
Secondly, and most important, I’m dusting off this old piece to share it again because I know a lot of recent college grads will find themselves in this position at the end of the summer, and I hope reading it beforehand helps them make sense of – and make the most of – this period in their lives. So here it is.
Paycheck or Reality Check?
As the college students head back to school, I’m experiencing an identity crisis as a recent college grad still looking for her first real job. I had no idea on that uber special day back in May that I’d be jobless nearly four months after receiving my diploma, 16 long years of schooling and two hard-earned majors later.
But I was clueless to the reality of the lousy job market, and on graduation day, in the midst of our pride and excitement, my friends came up with the outrageous idea to go on a cross-country road trip. It was to be a symbolic transitional “journey” that would celebrate where we just came from and commemorate where we each will go from here. I spent the next week hesitating and stewing over my decision. “As soon as I send out resumes,” I fretted to my parents, “phone calls are going to start flooding in and I’m going to need to be available for interviews. If I’m on a road trip, I might lose my chance.” Mind you, I had casually been applying for jobs since January (with no success), but I was still confident that I’d start my career by the end of May. I sent out a dozen resumes and took the plunge in joining my pals on the trip. As it turns out, I made the right choice because not only did I strengthen my friendships, get to see this beautiful country, and learn more about myself in two weeks than I did in four years of college, but the whole time I was gone not one job opportunity came through.
In the weeks following my return home, I spent entire days at my desk searching and applying for jobs, and I quickly became drained. On one hand, I remembered my professor saying “finding a job is a 24/7 job.” But on the other hand, I had discovered that precious life was passing by in each and every moment that I spent freaking out about finding one. I changed my focus and committed to a balance: setting aside time each week to find myself a job, and all the other time was spent to find myself. This is the story of what I did:
It didn’t take long for everyone to find out the embarrassing truth that I couldn’t find a job. It seemed that everywhere I went I bumped into someone I knew who congratulated me for graduating and then asked, “So, where are you working?” This humiliating exchange actually turned into a networking event. My mother’s coworker, who learned of my situation, asked me to host her dinner party for extra cash, which turned into people at the party asking me who I was and what was I doing, which made them sympathetic when they learned of my lack of having “real” employment. Before I knew it I had a dozen business cards from people wanting me to walk their dogs, baby sit, and host more parties! All these professionals were so kind to offer me small jobs and reassuring words: “If it means anything at all, you’re exactly the type of person we would hire.”
But still it wasn’t enough to fill my pockets and fill the time when I wasn’t surfing for jobs. And, of course, since everything that I now had all this time to do cost money, it was the best time to pick up some new hobbies and brush up on some old skills. Before I knew it, I had read five novels, taught myself how to play the guitar (which I think is going to be a very relaxing pastime after a stressful day at work…once I get a stressful job), and I finally took the time to learn more sign language so I could effectively communicate with my deaf uncle who coincidentally was working at my house this summer. I participated in my first ever 5K race for a personal challenge, and when it was on sale, I bought a blueberry bush so that I’d have something to nurture all summer long. When I needed a break from the job search, I’d walk my dog, take him swimming or kayaking, or pack him and an overnight bag and head to my grandparent’s house for an old school sleepover (something that I’d never dreamed I’d have time for again now that I wasn’t 10). I even had to stop lounging outside because by mid June I was already more tan than I’d been in my whole life and people thought I had just come back from a long tropical vacation. “No,” I joked, “this is what you look like when you don’t have a job.” Some days I looked at the sky and had encouraging thoughts about my life. Some days I looked within and felt discouraged and sorry for myself. But even though my life isn’t where I thought it would be right now, I can’t say I didn’t see the gift that each moment offered me.
My friend from college called me this week and asked for an update on how my summer went. She laughed and said it sounded like I did everything except get a job. It’s true, but not for lack of trying. I was looking for a job that was going to catapult my career, not just more summer employment. And zillions of other college grads are looking for the same thing and getting the same disappointing results. So here I am, now that summer is over, still looking for a job when in years past I would be heading to my first week of classes right now. I never expected that what was to be my first summer in the real world would end up being a big, fat reality check, and the best, most eye-opening and humbling summer of my life.
So there you have it. To all of you who may be frustrated because you’re not sure exactly where you’re life is going yet and no employers have opened the door for you to get there, let this be a reminder that life is happening every second, and it’s yours to seize! Or as John Lennon put it:
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”