What I’ve Learned Since Graduating College by Gabrielle Kassel
It feels like just yesterday I moved my tassel to the right and thought, “Now What?”. To call graduation the most anticlimactic moment of my life would be a bold understatement. But for a time displayed cinematically as a beautiful experience ripe with appreciation, gratitude, nostalgia, and power, in reality is (also) deeply replete with anxiety, the unknown, and nervous anticipation.
At the moment I officially geared up in my cap and gown, I had been accepted to a program at NYU that wouldn’t begin until the beginning of June, so I packed up my bags and headed back into my life pre-college, which is to say I moved back in with my mom. Shortly after, I packed a second time to move into the home of my best friends parents. Living in the city, free of rent, ‘privileged’ doesn’t even come close to explaining the graciousness and luck of my living situation. When the six-week graduate course ended and I was still mooching off the generosity of my friends family, the helplessness set in.
I once again returned to the town that held me pre-college, now with a publishing certificate under my belt and a better idea of what I who I wanted to be: a writer. Or a social media editor. Or a copy editor.
Back in suburbia, my Connecticut, post-graduate routine was eerily similar to my post-drivers license but pre-bachelor’s degree shenanigans. Mornings spent at Starbucks working (this time on job applications instead of homework), afternoons in the gym, and evenings writing (this time cover letters instead of research papers). The routine was monotonous, but I was diligent in treating applying for jobs, like a job itself. Each day: a to-do list, 5 open positions, eager emails, and a slew of time proofreading my personality-less resume.
Between the hours spent typing at the computer, I’d see construction workers, bus drivers, gas station employees, mailmen and businessmen all waiting at the crosswalks downtown or in line at subway or Starbucks, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “How the F do ALL of these people have jobs and I don’t?!” I literally wanted to pull over and ask them, “Hey, man. Just wondering, but…how are you employed? How can I become employed, too? Got any tips for your girl?”.
For eight weeks I navigated unemployment as if it were a puzzle that needed to be solved, a game of Sudoku that simply needed to be worked through, completed before moving onto the next, harder, section of the activity book. For eight weeks I fell in love with more job descriptions than I could count, prepared for interviews (to which I wore the same damn thing every time), and sent flowery emails explaining, exploring why I should be hired for the position. I even had a few informational interviews (which, by the way, are totally worth doing so you get practice and they get to know you) but zero job offers.
To explain those eight weeks of unemployment without calling myself out for my bad attitude and negative energy, would be unfair. Truthfully, I felt like a failure. But not only did I feel like a failure, I felt like “the system” had failed me. For four years I had worked diligently to maintain an A average, played rugby, worked internships, explored, become confident and independent, taught English, wrote articles. And I thought that meant I had earned the right to be employed. But the job market work like that. The job market doesn’t and didn’t care about your or my fragile egos. Or that we sweat our hearts out in the Maine Marathon or on the pitch. Or that we fell in love and learned heartbreak. When it comes to the job market, it’s not personal when they choose the other candidate.
The folks in human resources receive anywhere from ten to one-thousand plus resumes with every online job posting. Can you imagine, sorting through resumes of (mostly) equally qualified candidates to find the top ten (or five or three) to interview? I learned that even that language of “top candidate” doesn’t fully capture the reality of the situation. It’s not about being tops, most of the time it’s about luck and a little bit of graciousness on the half of the human resources manager (or intern).
Coming from a world of privilege (think: private high-school, no student loans), it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re too good for a position.
The truth is, you are not too good for any job or position. Out of college, there is no such thing as being too good for certain tasks, over-qualified for certain jobs, or better than the job in question. While I (we) may have proved my (our) intelligence and work-ethic in the classroom, I (we) now needed to prove my capabilities in the “real world”. That meant being gracious for opportunities like interviews, being kind in conversations with business leaders and college alumni, and emanating thankfulness for the chance to prove yourself. Being gracious in interviews looked like talking about making and responding to emails with enthusiasm. It looked like thank you notes and thank you emails and thank you handshakes and thank you phonecalls. Sometimes, it looked like being too eager for the opportunity to sit in on a meeting or make an excel spreadsheet. But after eight weeks of unemployment, it became clear to me (and maybe painfully so) that keeping an open mind was vital.
And it’s hard, truthfully. Because as a graduate of a liberal arts college (and holder of a degree in Women’s Studies) I know that dichotomies don’t work, that they are incomplete. But that doesn’t mean it’s not east to categorize a job as “good” or “bad”. Good/Bad. Straight/Gay. Hard/Easy. Dichotomies fail to encapsulate the full identity of a person or position. Dualities fail to explain the complexities of life or the day-to-day of an office setting. No jobs or internship is good or bad, worthy or worthless, valuable or invaluable. Rather, each job has the opportunity to enhance your life by either showing you a hidden talent you didn’t know you had or reminding you of your weaknesses and giving you a chance to work on them.Whether you have honed in on your Dream Job with laser-like focus or have no idea what career you want, know that just getting a job is better than flopping about trying to figure out the right path while burning through any savings left in your bank account. When you’re a total newbie, you have little more to offer than your ability to be on time, answer the phones professionally, and not screw up.
But keeping an open mind to jobs, positions, and responsibilities that were different than what I thought I wanted to do or be, wasn’t easy.
First, I had stop believing that my past predicted my future. As in… I needed to calm my ego the F down. As a graduate of a well-known and highly regarded liberal arts college, it would have been easy to let my ego convince me that I deserved to emerge right from college and land a well-paying, middle-of-the-food-chain position, in whatever field I wanted (and for a while, I did believe that).
Second, I had stop thinking that a job offer would make me feel like there was a purpose to those 4 college years. Purpose. It’s is one of those inspirational buzzwords that pops up in many college graduation speeches. After all, if you didn’t pull all-nighters, sweat through exams, and pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees with some larger purpose in mind (whether that’s making money, changing the world, or something in between) why did you bother?
Third, I had to trust the timing of my life. I’m not one to tout the saying, everything happens for a reason nor am I a believer that good things come to those who wait. But I had to trust that eventually, if I was my full and true self, that the right job for this moment would land.
And it did.
It was while perusing job boards while I was on what was supposed to be on vacation (and yes, vacation from “unemployed but looking” is valid) that I saw a listing for a 10-week editorial intern position with Women’s Health. I could have made an excuse and pushed off cranking out a cover letter until the beach vacation was officially over, but instead I plugged in my headphones, plugged in my laptop and got to work while my family went to Newport. Three days later I got an invitation for a phone interview, which turned into a second phone interview, which turned into an edit test… which turned an incredible opportunity to write, edit, research, and assist with online content at a company I love. What began as a 10-week internship evolved into a temp position, that kept me with the big-name magazine for six months.
While I was there, I learned the rules of working in online media. Why a phone call is a secret weapon when it comes to getting quotes. How to schedule appointments with the busiest people in the world. Which time-wasting desk-lurking or bathroom-gossiping people to avoid. How to send emails that are polite and to the point. The formula for a perfect article. How to add tone and voice to writing. And how to impress your boss (thank you notes, end-of-the-day summary emails, and always saying “yes”).
I knew the gig with Women’s Health would end mid-February, which is when they would be bringing on a more experienced social media editor to handle the tasks I had slowly added to my plate while there. Haunted by my weeks of unemployment the previous summer, I got started applying to jobs early (mid-December), this time with a clearer vision of what I wanted to be. Still a writer, but with an emphasis on health and fitness. Still a social media editor, but with the creative freedom to move a brand in the direction I saw fit. With that in mind, I took a position at a NYC CrossFit gym, having never done CrossFit before, as a Blog Coordinator/ Social Media Editor/ Membership Experience Manager.
Over the last few months I have continued my work at the CrossFit gym, written over 70 articles as a freelance writer, begun a part-time temp position at Tough Mudder, and as of recently, begun helping a woman edit her health-focused ebook.
Where I am now? I never thought I’d be last July.
Hustle is a living breathing thing. Ambition is palpable and growing. Together, they are more than my specific in-the-moment goals. They are what fuels my life. I will have so many careers and gigs before I retire. And in this economy at this age, so many jobs before I even turn thirty.
What I needed to give myself last July, and what I still work to give myself now is time. There were then, as there are now, many moments when I think, this job thing isn’t happening fast enough. I sometimes feel like I’m standing still when I should be in perpetual motion. But then I remember how much my life has changed in the year. How much I have evolved. Become. This becoming of self is a crucial phase of life. So I’ve decided to slow down, to take my time to get it right, because this is my life. This is the whole damn thing.