The Start of a New Chapter
Graduating college during a pandemic is an accomplishment in itself. I was high on this achievement and ready to take on the world. After graduating, I had a perfect plan I was ready to put into action: I would finish college, apply to entry level jobs, interview, get offered a position, move out, become financially self-sufficient, work hard enough to move up positions in the education field, establishing a retirement fund and owning my own home by 30. This plan was my key to success and happiness.
However, I quickly realized if I was already facing difficulties in the second step, my perfect plan would be difficult to execute. While I’ve felt isolated in the struggle to find employment right after college, this has been the experience of many other graduates of 2021.
A Business Insider article examines why “Gen Z college grads are having the toughest time finding a job right now,” using statistics to explain the frustrating truth that “new graduates are getting squeezed out of the labor market at both ends, by younger teenagers and more experienced workers just older than them.” While I took solace that other recent grads were struggling as well, I began to question my choice to join the workforce instead of pursuing a graduate degree.
Adapting to this New Transition
I’d thought long and hard about applying to masters’ programs before deciding to take a gap year. I was concerned about accumulating more financial debt, especially when I was afraid I might be too young to be 100% certain of long-term decisions about an advanced degree and a career path.
What if that enormous financial commitment led to regret in the future? What If I wanted to change my career in 10 years? Or didn’t actually enjoy the career I was trying to pursue? I trusted my gut with these hesitations and decided to wait on attending a graduate program. And I felt good.
Of course that was when I was certain I could find work that would build my resume with a bachelor’s degree alone, work that would help me prepare for a future graduate program. While I knew I’d need a master’s degree to become an academic advisor any 2-year and 4-year institution in Southern California, I was confident I could break into the education field as an entry-level academic advisor and gain that all-important life experience, helping me better adapt better to the working adult world. However, soon I found myself in the classic Catch 22, because while an entry-level position didn’t require an advanced degree, it did require experience – of which I had none.
Not receiving a single interview from the dozens of applications I had submitted online was never in my “perfect” plan. So I began to formulate one that was more feasible.
My second plan: to get a clerical job at some educational institution, the perfect way to gaining experience in the academic environment – dipping my toe into my future career while helping me build my resume and attract advisor interviews. Piece of cake, right? Wrong. When my inbox began to clutter with rejection emails, the negativity began to manifest into something more challenging and soon I had to face the collateral damage that was my mental health.
My Downward Spiral
As the negativity born from that rejection began to consume my every thought, my motivation to apply for jobs began to wane. I was falling further and further into a depressive rut. The days began to blur together as it became challenging to maintain my overall mood, to a balance, finding a neutral place between the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
When the good days came, I knew they wouldn’t last forever, and the storm clouds would soon descend. Another dilemma arose when applying for the jobs that could – if I was hired – help me rebuild a belief in myself, became its own anxiety-inducing endeavor. I had no idea how I was going to progress forward when my mental health was a separate obstacle that needed tender care.
Learning to be Kinder to Myself
During this transition I had to learn how to manage my mental health in order to try and feel normal again and continue my job hunt. To control the negative thinking I had to be consciously aware of my thoughts at all times and challenge those dismal perceptions that had become my default setting. This was especially important to get a handle on because the constant pessimism was contributing to my overall bleak demeanor.
I began by challenging myself to start the day writing a few affirmations and ending the day listing three things I’m grateful for. Since then journaling has become a huge staple in my life. It allows me to transfer my negative energy onto paper and transform those thoughts into ones that are more life-affirming using the practice of gratitude.
I realized it was important for me to begin stepping outside and soaking in the sunlight. When those rejections began rolling in, I’d begun to isolate myself indoors. Unconsciously keeping myself in the dark. But when I began to spend time in the light, going for walks or even just sitting in the sun, my mind would calm, easing my worries and allowing me to reconnect with the positive.
While I know these practices help soothe my mind and soul, it can be a challenge to stay consistent. But I remind myself that doing just one of these methods is an improvement and helps move me forward.
Everyone has an Opinion – Do What’s Best for You
One of the drearier aspects in this time in my life is the unwarranted advice I’ve received from any and everyone. The most heartbreaking (though well-intentioned) suggestion I was given was that I should work in the fast food industry just so I could get a job immediately.
Look, there’s absolutely no shame in flipping burgers at McDonald’s but after four grueling years of college and thousands of dollars spent on my higher education, working for minimum wage in a job that didn’t require a high school diploma felt like taking 10 steps back.
Instead I made the decision to keep looking and moving forward, even if it means more applications and more possible rejections. While no one wants to hear “no,” by continuing to apply to jobs connected to my long-term goals I am honoring my commitment to myself and my future.
You are Not Alone
On the rollercoaster ride from college graduate to working adult, I have come to realize that my challenges are not unique and many other young adults are facing the same sort of economic and personal crises. I have to constantly remind myself that (as corny as this might sound,) life is truly a marathon and not a sprint. Everyone’s individual paths differ from each other so there is no need for comparison or to feel unaccomplished by witnessing other peoples’ success.
Through Bad Times the Good can Always Shine Through – if You Let It
If there’s one thought I try to keep at the forefront, it’s that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Just because our initial plans don’t work out doesn’t mean we are doomed for failure– it just means we have to readjust and tackle the challenge head on again – and maybe again and again.
I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself and that these set-backs are the things that will build character and allow me to grow into a well-rounded, resilient, and compassionate adult. This dry, frustrating season is its own sort of rite of passage, one for which I am learning to be grateful. Life is always serving us up something new and learning to adapt can be difficult, but we shouldn’t let it define our possibilities.
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By Michaela Klundt
Michaela is a college graduate from UCLA with a BA in English and has a passion for reading and writing. She lives in sunny SoCal where when she is not reading, Michaela enjoys painting, playing animal crossing, and spending time with her friends and family.
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