The truth of post-grad unemployment
I am not fine, and that's OK.
As I sit in my pajamas when most people are already hard at work in their jobs or daily routines, I confess it's difficult to ignore the small throb in my skull or the flutter in my stomach. I graduated from the University of Alabama seven months ago, although I did not return from that last semester I took abroad until July. For well beyond six months, I have been maneuvering job portals, toiling with personal branding, and excessively checking emails for the smallest crumbs of hope. As you can imagine, it has not been successful.
This feeling of hopelessness, depression, and internal reflection wondering "What is wrong with me?" has not sprouted suddenly in this winter month. Instead, it has been festering and waning. Some days, I walk with a little jig and hum to myself, sparing smiles for anyone who catches my eye. Other days, I lie in bed staring at my bedroom door, wondering how I will manage to walk out when my chest feels like it is supporting the weight of an anchor.
The worst of it all is the shame. In my internal conversations, I use words such as "I shouldn't be," or "I am supposed to be," and ultimately, "This is not where I planned to be." My hiatus from writing is reflected in these feelings as I felt a need to continue projecting the positive and the exciting. How does going to the library several times a week to draft cover letters compete with my Australian adventures? Or working a temporary communications job at a local church compete with my goals of writing stories about international issues?
I finally decided to share the truth because I know my struggle is not unique. Several of my friends are in similar positions as me. We live with our parents, work part-time jobs to earn money to one day move forward, and continue to wonder where our place is in this vast world. Above all, we are all battling with the anxiety, depression, and expectations raging in our minds and gripping our souls. This should not be something to be ashamed of. Instead, it should be something understood with compassion as the hunt for the first job presents obstacles we try our best to endure.
This period is not all a black hole of despair; it is also a period of self-discovery. While the amount of rejection letters I have received has, of course, stung and popped aspects of my self-esteem, overall I am actually more confident than I was seven months ago. After drafting dozens of cover letters and through the midst of marketing myself, I have a better evaluation of my strengths and weaknesses. By tying my experiences to different job possibilities, I found myself thinking, "Why yes, I can absolutely do that," or "Well, this is a bit of a stretch, but I am eager to learn."
Holding on to these positive thoughts though is difficult. Knowing what I can do or could learn still does not guard against the failure to achieve job interviews. I find myself in a pitiful slump, mentally begging people to give me a chance to show them the extent of my passion and determination. Even with the countless internships I did because my university told me it was the way to get jobs, I am still blocked in the the Catch-22 of needing years of experience for a position. It feels defeating.
I say all this not as a complaint, but as a testament that this is not a singular phenomenon. Sure, I have friends who have lined up jobs right out of college or who succeeded after a few applications. However, as I seek to change my own mentality, I am trying to accept that this is OK. Don't they say life is a journey? I wouldn't choose to be where I am, but in hindsight, this will be but a small bump in the road. Sometimes I try to chide myself and think of all the years I will be in the workforce.I should enjoy being able to read a book or go for a walk without responsibility. Yet, those are not the expectations.
I was scared of writing these words and conveying these feelings because what if a hiring manager read how I am feeling buffeted from the job search? Or how people would judge me for showing a weakness in a time I need to project strength?
Through all of this, I have gotten loads of career advice. The most valuable conversations, however, have been through empathy. Being encouraged that this is a part of a grueling process and that my persistence will turn up results has been more helpful in some ways than the talks about how to use LinkedIn or how to format my resume. Of course I need it all, but the group therapy of knowing this has been tread before has done the most for my mental health.
I am not fine, and that is OK.
So for any of you in a similar position, you are not alone. For those of you who have made it out of this period, congratulations. I hope to join you soon.