Narrative of a Recent Graduate

Posted by on July 17, 2014

Summer is a time of reflection. After writing out this current collective narrative, the feedback I have received has caused me to keep this post up on the main page until early August.

My last post ended with the sentences, “So let’s all let the sun and warmth remind us to embrace the waves of our hair, of the water, of our lives. Seen the waves lately? Let’s nourish our true selves, and ENJOY!”

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Thinking about the waves in life, I decided to go sit outside and start writing and let the words flow out. What flowed onto the words of my journal was a powerful collective narrative inspired by the stories and experiences of recent graduates. This post is different than my usual ones, but I felt called to share it as some of you reading might feel comfort in the story’s message. I also think it will start a beautiful dialogue about how we can help each other find our way.

I was walking along the beach for a coffee, talk, and a walk with a friend this past weekend. We had been talking superficially about life, but I wanted to share something deeper. Then we came across a beautiful piece of driftwood on the path, for which we stopped; I really connected to it. It was the opening I needed to share the feelings I had been holding in for a while during my twenties – how I felt like a piece of driftwood – drifting, alone (currently) and in transition.

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I have just graduated and worked really hard to get an education. Not only did I do well in my courses, but I played sports and worked to get more experience and pay tuition. Now, I’m finding it very difficult to find a job in my field. I am either over-qualified for the job or too under-qualified – need more years of professional experience after obtaining the degree. People tell me to go work in retail or go work in the trades because the route I’m taking isn’t working out or meeting expectations.

They want me to give up the degrees and start back at the beginning, training for a new career. They don’t think I have a vision – they see me as stuck. They don’t ask me what lights me up or how I can apply the skills/training I have in a different way. I feel alone and need help. I’m kind of embarrassed speaking this, as I should have it all together like everyone else. I have this dream but am starting to give up and lose hope – hence why I reached out to you, dear friend, as you get it; you’ve been there.

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It’s not that I’m not trying – I put in 8 hours a day of job-searching and building relationships – I’m exhausted of sending out hundreds of resumes and not getting call-backs, networking with a ton of people, volunteering when I can, trying to go to as many conferences or courses I can to boost my worth; none of this ever seems like enough. I’m drained.

This job search process is taking a toll on my self-worth, relationships, growth, and mental health. I’m internalizing my lack of a paying job as being worthless. I look around the internet and by the looks of it, everyone seems to be doing so well – and I feel like a failure because I don’t have my life completely together. I never thought when I graduated high school or university that life would be so hard or look so different. I went to university and got an education; but after graduation, this is not what I ever imagined. Life is stalled – I spend my days seeking and searching for validation and acceptance from employers.

In addition to being in a weak position due to not having a stable flow of finances, I feel like I’m missing out in so many areas of life, especially with social activities and travelling. I see the life I want but need money to make it happen. I wish I could afford this training and support, but I need to balance my finances. Also, so many of my friends are now married, having babies, and buying houses that I feel as if I don’t measure up.

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I know this sounds dark, but this has been my life for a while now; because this is what people see when they look at me, their vision of my life is beginning to define me. People don’t see all the amazing aspects of me other than the “unemployed” label and think of me as lazy. People tell me to just suck it up – their generation went through it too – I’m too picky or too entitled.

Instead of focusing on the “problem” I’m in – I wish people would see how hard I have worked and would help me move forward – not in the way they want, but ask what I need and what would help me. I wish people would ask me about how to pursue my passion, and the action steps I can take to get there.

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Telling me I’m stuck isn’t helpful. I want to find ways to make money, stop drifting, and contribute to society. I am the farthest thing from lazy – just need support to get me moving – I don’t see myself as a drifter.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this story was triggered by my walk with a friend along the beach, when we came upon a piece of driftwood. This story was spawned from that random piece of wood that had become stuck on shore. The story is a composite of the narratives of many young people who I’ve connected with through my blog, school, sports, etc.; they are looking for support to get moving. I thought I would write this story to share their collective experience with others. Hope you found some comfort in their story.

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One of the ways we can nourish ourselves is by connecting with others. There are many people who are reading this post who are in a similar position. My invitation for you today is to write an encouraging message to the young person in this story, as if they were someone you know.

Thank you for reading and your presence at this beach retreat. You Rock! Since this is a space of emergence, I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below. By sharing your story with others, you give them permission to do the same.

See you at the beach!

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17 Responses to Narrative of a Recent Graduate

  1. Mara

    Beautiful! Great work.

  2. ME

    194 applications, 11 interviews, 16 months. that’s what I went through to get the job that I have today. and oh yeah I definitely flipped burgers for months with a master’s. I got rejected for jobs even with solid backing from executives in the company. I got rejected for a job that I flew myself out of my own pocket across the country to interview with no guarantees. when I crossed the one year mark it felt pretty brutal. at that point I pretty much paused for a good month and came back decided that finding this job would no longer be priority number 1 for me. instead I really set on the path to my ultimate dream job, something that’s unconventional and involves striking it out on your own. however, it was at that point that luck struck with the initial search. so how did I get the job I have now? nothing out of the ordinary that you didn’t mention in the article…applying, networking, and learning skills. however, at that point it became an autopilot system…no longer spending the 8 hours and not even really caring whether I’d ever get it. eventually one of those tries yielded an interview and then the job. there was no magic, just persistence.

    however, note that to fuel persistence you better truly have something driving it. are you looking for a job because you subconsciously want to validate your choice of going to school and the effort that you put in? because doing it like that is a mistake. the line here that bang-on captures what I think is “I see the life I want but need money to make it happen”. being crystal clear on what you want out of life is more important than getting this job you seek. of course if you currently depend on having a job just to feed yourself then it’s much harder to accept that but you are still not exempt. do you want that job for the sake of having a job or is it a part of a bigger plan? where do you want to live? how much spare time do you want once you’re employed and what are you going to do with it? what I’m saying is that unemployment really forces you to think about what you’re doing and why. and you should really harness your unemployed time for that. maybe it’ll make you angry enough to realize that you can’t be depending on the conventional job market rat race for your well-being, and consequently you may consider working for yourself. or it may make us come to terms with the fact that we picked a major that is just not in demand, or one that we stuck with because it was too late to turn back. even if what you picked still remains your dream, what about the realization that formal university education wasn’t the most effective way to get that job? no one told us these things but it’s too late to change them now. however, this mini-crisis may be what you need to snap you into evaluating all the premises I’ve brought up so that you are absolutely convinced about where you’re putting your efforts.

    the months around that one year of unemployment (when I stopped caring) really served to get me angry enough to do something towards my dream, and I started it. and even though I currently have a conventional job, I am clear on why I’m here and how it serves to fulfill my bigger plan. of course coming out of unemployment feels great in the beginning, there’s no question about that. but just like with buying a new gadget, a great chunk of that fades within months and you soon realize why it’s called work as you will be sacrificing your time and efforts to serve the needs of another. in the end I still live poorly due to the tens of thousands in student loans that I’m aggressively paying, not to mention that now my free time is very scarce. I don’t say that to downplay the importance of a job, but rather to encourage you to harness unemployment to lead you to do something different and be absolutely clear on what you want so that once you do find that job (through self-employment or conventional employment), you’ll know WHY you’re there and exactly why you’re getting out of bed every day.

    • Arianna Merritt, M.Ed.

      First of all, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for truly speaking from the heart and sharing your experiences with all of us. I really appreciate you for digging deep and sharing the process :) The main thing that truly resonates with me and I wholeheartedly agree with is having a purpose or vision for your life. Instead of wandering aimlessly finding a job, you put in the hard work to find opportunities that will help you go after your dream. I love how you said that being clear about what you want – will help give you a sense of purpose, direction, and feel worthy. Sometimes this can waiver if you don’t get what you want immediately – but as you have shown with hard work, perseverance, a belief in yourself, and a supportive community – we can achieve our dreams. We can all cheer each other on!

  3. Katrina

    I feel that this is such an important message for people to understand! I know there are so many people out there in this exact position and I know how difficult it is to talk about. You begin to feel isolated from “drifting” and then you begin to feel like a failure. I think there is so much emphasis placed on the successful outcome as the measure of success, that people forget that there can be amazing success in one’s determination throughout the journey! It is important to hold true to your passions and goals and don’t let your determination waver because of what others may think or say!

    • Arianna Merritt, M.Ed.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Katrina! I agree many are going through this but for many reasons are not speaking up about it. That is why it is so valuable to share stories so that people who are struggling can see they aren’t the only ones going through it. It is so important to hold true to your goals – and keep going – social support can help lift you up when you are drifting along the way. This is a process. Perseverance is so important! One of things that really helped me was not focusing on other’s version of “success” and focusing on what I believe that to be. The language we use influences our journey. Powerful words!

  4. jerkasaurusrex

    I can’t believe how much this resonated with me. Even the things that other people say to you when you’re in that position… it is like the older generation has no value on how hard we worked to get this education we have. My sister is actually quite a bit older than I am, so she is of a completely different mindset and just tells me to get a job… any job… a random job…

    I now have a job (it is a crappy, terrible, dangerous job that I hate, where I am not treated as a person and my education means absolutely nothing)… She always tells me “it is easier to get a job when you have a job” which I think is utter bullshit. Because I don’t HAVE TIME to job search and apply for jobs when I am working 8-10 hours a day (and on the road Mon-Fri almost every week from May-Oct).

    Sometimes at work, it seems like people are surprised that I am so open and blatant that I am looking for another job while still at mine… I always just say… “I have a Masters degree! If this company thinks that I am staying here any longer than I have to, they are totally ridiculous.”

    Other than this job I have now, in the first seven months until I had this job (when I was applying for jobs as a full-time job) and in the year since I’ve gotten this job, I have not heard back on a single resume I’ve sent. Not for the jobs I am grossly overqualified for… and not for any of the jobs that I am a tiny bit under-qualified for (because I don’t have experience, maybe? Because I can’t get experience without experience).

    And it is not as if I have a degree in basket-weaving (not that there is anything wrong with a MA in basket weaving)… the field I’m attempting to obtain employment in has so many opportunities anywhere in the country, and I am willing to move anywhere to get experience.

    It is so disheartening and very, very discouraging.

    And when I am feeling discouraged or worthless or any of the other emotions you feel when you’re going through the struggle described in this blog, I get really tired of hearing that my emotions are simply a symptom of being in my 20s. That I only feel this way because I am in my 20s and everyone goes through it and it just gets better when you’re not in your 20s anymore.

    I am guessing it will get better when I have a job that reflects the close-to-a-decade of post-secondary education that I still owe the bank tens of thousands of dollars for… If I am 25 when that happens, I am guessing the stressful feelings I have about it will go away… even if I haven’t hit that “magical” 30 mark yet.

    • Arianna Merritt, M.Ed.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. I really appreciate you! I just wanted to reach out and give you a hug because I have been there. Reading your story, you are such a hard worker with such a drive – and it saddens me that you are feeling worthless and no one is responding to you as you have a Masters degree. As you said, “you clearly are willing to move anywhere to get experience.” The twenties are the time when we all start our careers – but with no or little places to get experience – where do people go? It seems they are getting stuck. This needs to change! I think we are starting by opening up a dialogue.

  5. ls

    Very moving story Arianna! It is heart-wrenching to read and to think that so many young people are hurting like this! I know it is so true. After reading your post for the first time the young handyman who’d been helping me with so many practical jobs was so happy – he told me he got a job in his field after two years of looking. I hadn’t known he had a university degree and gone to college too – he was trying everything so he could get a job in his field. He did. Cause he worked hard at whatever he did. And he was always so positive and had a can-do attitude. But he hid his hurt. Now he is so positive. He even walks straighter. That’s why I always gave him the work. Because I believed in him. And that’s why your blog is so important Arianna. Cause you show all of us of all ages that we can do stuff, even when it is very very hard and it looks very bleak. Those pieces of driftwood that have been cast off by the sea are so starkly real – how many of us feel when others cast us aside. But you’re teaching us to stand tall. Like those trees once did. Maybe someone will use some of those driftwood trees to build an amazing home that brings nourishment to those who live inside – so that they can go face the world no matter how hard the winds blow. Your encouragement to all of us helps keep us afloat and on course. Thank you. (From a small piece of driftwood that’s shaped itself into a rudder and is again in the sea.)

    • Arianna Merritt, M.Ed.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your story! You have a way with words. I love the fact that you gave him experience work wise and a chance to share his story with you. Now you are passing on his story to inspire others. Thank You! That is what I have heard over and over – is that many hard workers are trying to find positions that will give them experience to start their career. Many jobs require a Bachelors or Masters plus X number of years experience – and what is preventing people back from getting those jobs is the lack of experience. The graduates have the degree but don’t have the opportunity to showcase their talents. I wish univerisities and colleges would help focus their programs on helping their graduates find opportunities for after – which would help their students but also help them too because then the students would think higher of their school and have money to give back to it. We all need to work together to empower recent graduates as their lack of a job influences all of society. Together, we can put those pieces of driftwood together and see what we can build. The sky’s the limit. We have to start small.

  6. Wade

    Arianna,

    As most of the people who have replied here, I as well would like to say a big “Thank You” for speaking so candidly about a very personal story, one that I think a lot of us have experienced, or are experiencing at the moment (I fall into the latter category at this present time).

    Much of what you have posted, are similar thoughts and emotions that I am coming to terms with, as well as many of my friends and colleagues trying to make a mark in the academic world. It seems that the times have definitely changed – in that what was needed to land a job 10 years ago, is what is needed now to be considered for a position in graduate school.

    The one thing that sticks in my mind that was passed down from one of my mentors is – Try your best not to compare yourself to others. Even though it is difficult, that is really the one thing that has kept me going. It is not an easy road, not everyone is cut out for a career in academics. It takes a huge sacrifice, and yes it seems we do have to put our social lives on hold for a little bit, struggle financially, but it should lead to greener pastures. Yes, I have had to take retail jobs, seasonal jobs, and other lines of work to stay afloat, but I keep telling myself that it is worth it. Staying positive is extremely hard, especially when we apply to jobs, make connections, and try every angle to get our foot in the door day after day (Over the past 10 months or so, I have submitted over 250 resumes, and countless emails to make connections and request informational interviews). I have to believe that something good will come down the pipe, and by reading your post and the comments, I know that I am not alone in this journey, that we all have something unique to contribute, and that we can learn from what each other is going through. We just have to keep pushing along – and that in itself speaks volumes of our character, our discipline, and our courage to follow our dreams.

    Thank you again for sharing this, and for inviting me to contribute a reply. Keep you head up and your stick on the ice!!
    P.S. The pictures are wonderful.
    W.

    • Arianna Merritt, M.Ed.

      Thanks Wade for the kind words and for sharing your story with all of us! Glad you love the pics – I like combining the pictures I take with inspiring quotes and turning them into posters to inspire us on our journey. Since we all learn in different ways, I find visuals really add to the message.

      You are right – we all have something to contribute and aren’t alone on this journey. That is why I had to share this narrative with the aim to instill hope in those readings. Staying positive is hard but we have to persevere!

      Great advice about keeping your head up and your stick on the ice! Love the hockey reference. Glad that we can encourage each other on the journey and help others along the way.

  7. E

    I feel your pain my friend even if my story is a little different. I put out a few resumes, (nowhere near the amount your other readers did, wow!) after university and was willing to wait until I found something. However my pressures were my parents. So to get them off my back I enrolled in a one year college program (“trade program”) who seemed to guarantee a job in the end of it. Indeed this was true, one month after graduating I was now in the working world. Over the years I have made some connections and shall I say moved up in the world, but at a price. I am not happy with my job. I cringe at 30 years old of getting up in the morning and having to go to work, but it has now become a necessity. So while you may be struggling and getting discouraged and having all these people pressure you…. I am envious of you for sticking to your passion and doing what makes YOU HAPPY. Really in the end that should be what is important. So keep putting out those resumes, educating yourself and enjoying what you are doing because I guarantee you your moment will come and in the end you will know for yourself that this is the job and your true calling! (Hopefully that will be in Ottawa ;))

  8. Nelly

    I had to share my thoughts on this topic because I can completely empathize with anyone who is struggling to get a job after graduating with a degree. It took me about a year and a half to get my foot into the public education system, after graduating from teacher’s college. I know that it has taken some acquaintances/friends even longer to get into the system and some have either given up on the career, moved to another province/country or pursued other means of employment.

    I can definitely say that everything I went through was not in vain and that I learned so much from that challenging period in my life. I did struggle with some depression and felt bad that I could not go on with my life and experience other opportunities that require money like travelling. However, during that time I worked in several part time jobs (tutoring, retail, supply teaching at a private school, etc.) which all taught me a lot including the value of money . I also used the year and a half to network with many people including retired teachers and worked on my cover letter, resume, and building my resume of teaching experiences. I started volunteering at my church and applied my teaching skills by being a camp counsellor and church youth group leader. I also went back to school full time to complete a masters of education. Like others on your blog mentioned, I persisted and continued to apply to hundreds of jobs at private schools and teaching jobs abroad. And even though I did get accepted into many international positions (Abu Dhabi, Japan, and Qatar), my heart was in Toronto. I finally got a call from the PDSB to get on the supply list and I have never been happier. Though I am not yet a permanent teacher and though I commute an hour to my job every day, I am so grateful to be in the position I worked so hard to get. I think that those challenging times taught me to never complain about my job no matter how hard it gets, as it took me so long to reach it. I also learned how to not be scared to go after what I want and to never, ever give up even when it feels like you are never going to get there. It took a lot of faith to keep persisting and not pursue another career.

    So, my advice to recent graduates is to try every avenue, do not leave any doors unclosed, network with others, look at every job and experience as an opportunity to learn something new and build your character. Humble yourself and do not be afraid to ask others for advice as we can always learn from someone else that has been in your shoes. Getting the perfect job is a combination of hard work meets luck. It is a numbers game and all you need is just one person to say yes to you and then your foot will be in the door. So don’t ever give up! Enjoy the journey!

  9. Mary

    Thanks for sharing your story Arianna! I appreciated your photographs, and your honesty. I have not graduated but depression makes you feel like you have aged 100 years. And so I understand why young people don’t get jobs as quick. You have a strong sense of consequence, you are not eager, you have no motivation and so you cannot get abused because you don’t care. This is what severe depression does to you. You age too fast. Don’t let yourself get depressed, depression matures you too fast, you feel weak. Here is a parable, there is a student who keeps complaining that they were going to be late for work, and they arrive late and there was a fire in the school, they just missed it. There is a lot of work place abuse that takes place. My advise, develop a taste by going on Pininterest, in anything that you like fashion, art, hobbies, God, exercise, beauty products, make up, shopping, travelling, coco beans. Then you will have a sensitivity to culture, and so perhaps travelling will come easier, people get opportunities to travel all the time through continuing education, studying abroad etc.

  10. Mary

    lol I realize my comment is unusual, I wasn’t thinking of jobs actually for the past while, I was looking at pictures and articles of children in Iraq and Christian men being put on crosses, as I was doing this I came across this page. I realize there is need for moderation. I think to be successful and happy, you need organization, organization means a good recipe.

  11. Stephan

    This post has actually made me think a lot, especially when it comes to the driftwood analogy. Because, when you think about it, the driftwood isn’t a lonely thing floating and drifting. The driftwood used to be part of a tree somewhere. A member of a collective. A part of nature, growing and living, and expanding in the place where it first started. Then, by chance or on purpose, it was pulled from its original location and sent away. Who knows where it originated? But now it has had the chance to travel, to go places others will never guess, and end up in a new place to rest and live out its days, being moulded and changed, shaped and smoothed, by the environment around it.

    So yes, I too feel a bit like the driftwood, but I look at it in such a different way.

    While I admire, and am a bit jealous, of all of you who seem to have had clear goals on what you wished to accomplish, I have not had such a plan. I have now gone past the 30 year mark and still don’t know what I want to be “when I grow up.” I have no clear “this is for me” feeling.

    Like that driftwood, I was firmly planted and brought up in a certain environment. There were certain expectations of me. I fulfilled many. Graduated high school with high grades, did my BA, and went onto an MA. But it was during that MA that I realized things weren’t going to plan and I had to ask myself, “Whose plan is this anyway?” I left my MA – I set out to sea – and kind of let myself drift.

    Where have I found myself? I am an English language instructor in South Korea and have been for 3 years. I have been able to travel in Asia while here, and have more planned. I have become very involved in animal rescue while here and have adopted 3 dogs of my own and helped numerous others on their journeys to forever homes. I have met some of the most amazing individuals ever who have become some of my closest and dearest friends, who I now count as family. This “beach” that I have washed up on has been one of the best things that has happened to me. I came here on a total whim, the impulse prompted by a recommendation of a friend, and do not regret it.

    Will I stay here? No. What will I do next? I don’t know.

    But just as that piece of driftwood can set out to sea once more, so too can I.

    I admire and respect the perseverance that many of you have talked about in finding jobs and careers in your chosen fields. But to others, the path isn’t so simple. It’s taken me a long time to realize that’s okay.

    So while my chosen lifestyle does not afford me the same securities or sureties that are afforded to those who make other choices, I have no regrets. I know in the end there will be a comfortable beach somewhere for me to wash up on and live out my days, whether I have a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, or thousands more to live.

    I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes it’s okay to change that plan, things can happen for a reason, and we should seize the opportunities presented to us even if we don’t recognize them as such at the time. There will always be another current to carry us onward if we choose and there’s no shame in changing our plans our throwing them out entirely to see where life takes us.

Sharing your story gives others permission to do the same. Speak from the heart and leave your mark in the sand by adding your thoughts below.