What Do I Do Now?

When I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to go to college. Every movie I’d seen or story I’d heard painted a picture of a place filled with adventure and mischief. The world would finally be “my oyster.” Or so the saying goes.

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And then that moment finally arrived. I went from graduation ceremonies and open houses to dorm life and new friendships. College was full of new experiences and care-free living. Everything had gone exactly as I had hoped.

And once more, graduation came.

 

Everything I had read in Forbes magazine had prepared me for post-grad life. Or so I thought. I couldn’t wait to become a successful marketing professional. In my mind, I would become the next Don Draper. With a different moral fiber, of course. I could see it now: the fame, the fortune, the sense of accomplishment. These were all ambitions I’ve had since I was a bowl-cut-having eight-year-old. I remember wearing my Russell Athletic sweatpants shooting baskets on my miniature Michael Jordan basketball hoop thinking to myself; I’m going to be great one day.

 

For those of you that know me, you probably know that I have terrible “luck”. For those that do not know me, I’ll just paraphrase and say that events in my life seldom go simply. If I am going from Point A to Point B, you can best believe I’ll probably end up blowing a tire and getting lost somewhere along the way. And so, after graduating from college with a piece of paper and a plethora of promise, I found myself in a position I did not expect. A position many of my fellow peers (and maybe even you) found themselves. Unemployed.

There is nothing worse than not knowing. I mean, I’m sure there ARE worse things, but when you’re living at home with your parents applying for anything from head marketing specialist to hotel cleaning lady, it doesn’t get much worse. It’s not like I was suffering by any means. In fact, that first month post-graduation was pretty awesome. I stayed up late, binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and sleeping in past 11:00 every morning. Each morning (or afternoon depending on just how late I slept in) I would text my friend Chris to see what we were going to do that day.  None of our ideas were ever that grand, these “plans” mainly consisted going to Chipotle for lunch and playing pool basketball in his pool. It was nothing special, but I loved it. After all, these hangout sessions distracted me from the miserable question weighing on me: What am I going to do?

 

As is often the case for new graduates, my present status of unemployment was not due to a lack of effort. I had been applying for various jobs throughout the country (and even one in Germany, I think) since late January. I followed up on each application with phone calls to HR departments and pathetic pleas for help/connections from any and every working person I knew. And that was the most heartbreaking aspect of the entire process. I hated having to ask friends and family for help. Call it pride, call it stubbornness, call it whatever you want, but emailing friends of friends if they would “get me a job” made me feel guilty. What was worse is that I couldn’t escape it. Every wedding I went to or open house I attended would yield a thousand questions about what I was doing or what I was going to do. And how are you supposed to answer a question like that? Oh, I’m great! Probably will just live at my parents’ house and collect unemployment until I’m 65. I don’t blame people for asking. I mean, it’s only natural for people to wonder how you are doing and what your future plans might be. But if there’s one sentence I hated hearing more than any other, it would be the classic: How the job search going?

“Good! I got a few leads that I am just waiting to hear back on.” That was my default answer. And I delivered it all suave-like too. But on the inside I was screaming, I HAVE NO IDEA! I JUST APPLIED TO BE A KNIFE SALESMAN WITH VECTOR MARKETING! THAT’S HOW FAR I’VE FALLEN!

Truth is, in this current job market, there’s really not much you can do if you can’t find a job in your field. Trust me, I did the CareerBuilder and Monster job searches. They always give the same five results. National Guard, Pizza Hut, Toys ‘R Us, Northwestern Mutual, and some bull crap HeathCare Professional thing. No offense to those that are a part of these organizations, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. When the job search websites provide nothing (and they almost always provide very little), you’re left with colleagues and family. “Colleagues”, though, when you’re fresh out of college, consist of your core group of friends from college (who are most likely in the same situation as you), and the two or three co-workers you had from a previous internship that follow you on twitter, but never favorite any of your tweets. (That was the most “Millennial” sentence ever.)

What is amazing about situations like these is that they often produce unexpected results. Just when it seems the bleakest, you have a distant relative that knows a guy that is a hiring manager somewhere. Or you have a friend’s parent who is a director with some company that would be more than willing to help you. Or in my case, an old teacher from high school that I hadn’t spoken to in years, who happened to have an old friend who worked in the Human Resources department at my current employer. You can do all the planning you want, but one thing you can’t plan is the love and support you’ll get from people you might not expect.

I know that last line sounds sappy. It’s, like, Fault in Our Stars level sappy. But it’s so true. When I was frustrated and depressed during the unemployment process, my dad shared with me a quote that has stuck with me ever since. The quote is more or less a paraphrase of a famous Lou Holtz quote, but it goes something like this: When life is going well, you’re not as great and invincible as you think you are. And when life is going poorly, things are never as bad as they seem.

I am guilty of having my attitude reflect my current circumstances. If I’m having a bad day, everything is horrible. The traffic is worse than normal, the food I have is undercooked, no one listens to me, no one is competent. But if I’m having a great day? Then everything is amazing. Traffic is not so bad, everyone seems so nice and intelligent, and I feel like everything in life is incredible. When I was unemployed, every day was pretty much a “bad day”. When talking about topics that are upsetting, people always give the same advice. They always tell you, “Stay positive!” or “It’ll work itself out, don’t worry!”

I hate these lines. Not because they are untrue, mind you, but because they are just so cliché. You expect me to be positive? No. I don’t want to be. Is it so wrong to want to lie in my own misery for a second? The best advice I can give to others struggling through this same situation is three-fold.

1.      Don’t be too proud to take advice or receive help from others. This is one of the hardest truths for me. People probably know a lot more than you do and just might be the ones to get you through this tough time.

2.      Be real with yourself. I don’t know about you, but I wanted a job in marketing. Nothing else. I wouldn’t even take suggestions to be anything else. And even though it’s still a dream of mine to have a marketing position, I love my job now. And I definitely wouldn’t have taken it if I hadn’t accepted my current situation and accepted a job I might not have wanted originally.

3.      Keep moving. I don’t mean literally, like some P90x infomercial that reminds you what you might possibly look like if you didn’t have such an affinity for donuts and such a disdain for sweating. And I don’t even mean spiritually. Like how people always say “I’m on my grind”, even though that probably just means they went from 497 Twitter followers to 500. What I mean by “keep moving” is keep yourself busy. Take a part-time job at a grocery store, house-sit/babysit for people. Mow the yard. Do something. Something you can take pride in and potentially get paid for. Don’t be the guy who watches so much Netflix that he starts watching shows all over again. (I’ve been that guy. I’ve seen Scrubs an embarrassing amount of times.)

At the end of the day, there are a lot of situations in life that present unique challenges. And, understandably, each one feels like the end of the world. I don’t have answers for any of them, but I can tell you that when it comes to post-grad unemployment, I’ve been there. And it sucks. But it’s not the end of the world. Trust me.