I am writing this and I can imagine people who are finishing college amongst a global pandemic are probably thinking if not saying a few curse words. I can’t say I know how you feel but, I believe I can relate better than some.
You had your whole life mapped out. You finished college (finally), your grades were excellent, and your references from the last few internships and part time jobs were certainly all you needed to get that first job – including the added pressure of getting ready to begin paying back those student loans.
Then that whole plan that was supposed to be the magic bullet for success imploded right before your eyes and there was nothing you could do about it, except move back home into your childhood room (if you are lucky).
I know how it feels to pour out your soul in the quest for finishing school and developing all the skills and relationships to land that first opportunity. I put off graduation a few semesters, stretching my course load to avoid entering the job market during the recession that began in 2008 and seemed to drag on well beyond the official end date in June 2009. After my delayed graduation in 2011, I worked a series of different temporary jobs for 18 months in the mortgage industry. (So ironic, right?). I held three different roles and worked in two different offices in 11 months for the first company. The second finally hired me on permanently after seven months, amidst massive layoffs. I felt blessed. Despite the chaos around me all of my needs were met.
I recognize having the “option” to put off graduation a few semesters was a luxury you don’t have in this situation and I’m sick about it for you. However, I hope my story will inspire some solutions you hadn’t considered.
If I could go back in time, these are the five pieces of insight I’d want for myself.
1) Allow yourself to grieve. Feel it all and then create a plan move forward. Pretending everything is okay is literally crazy and unnecessary. This setback is major and it hurts but, it isn’t forever. So, once you have had a week or two to work out your upset.
2) Don’t allow this to make you bitter and stagnant. You are not a victim. You have agency to choose how you respond, even if you can’t choose which job you want anymore. Begin to reimagine your future and do the things you can to make a positive impact.
3) Think it through before you go to grad school immediately. Going to grad school won’t necessarily save you or fix the difficulty you face in job hunting – especially if it puts you in significantly more debt. I didn’t go to graduate school. However, I thought about it almost daily for a long time as a way to cope with the disappointment of working in the industry that played a significant role in my inability to find what I deemed to be meaningful, relevant work that paid enough to live comfortably. I am a total fan of higher education if it makes sense for your long-term, big picture goals but, it shouldn’t be pursued as a security blanket.
4) Find and do something you love that doesn’t result in a paycheck. Take this down time now to figure out what sparks joy and feeds your spirit without being on payroll. I think finally getting into a career opportunity that felt relevant was such a big part of my identify after three years of working (thankfully), searching, and taking a leap of faith that it resulted in me to placing my career on a pedestal. Trust me on this one – it seems trivial until you are dreaming about stuff at the office several nights a week or can’t sleep on a regular basis.
5) If you already have a side hustle or skill that you can grow into an actual business – count the costs and take the leap. Being a business owner isn’t going to guarantee you are immune to the impacts of the current financial crisis but, I really believe you have more options if you have multiple streams of income. You may not have a decade of experience behind you but, that degree is evidence of your ability to adapt and learn. Reimagine what your success looks like – you aren’t a failure. This is your chance to find new and creative ways to apply the things you have spent years studying. Find mentors, partners, and people to barter with and make it happen. There are lots of free tools at your fingertips.
6) You are not a failure. This is not your fault. This is not up for debate. I’m rooting for you and I want to let you know this is temporary. It will all work out.