Dear fellow graduate,
I feel your pain. I know how you feel right now, and know that you are not alone.
When I graduated last year from a top university with a B.A. in Political Science, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I write this in hopes of giving you some advice on entering this new, crazy world we live in.
Let me begin by saying that the “American dream” our parents grew up with is dead.
To quote James Altucher from his great book Choose Yourself:
The game is over. That game where they get to hire you for 40 years, pay you far less than you create, and then give you a gold watch, and then you get bored, you get depressed, and you die alone. (It wasn’t that fun of a game anyway.)
The economy has changed. The workforce has changed. Technology has changed the way we as humans will work from now on.
“Middle-man” jobs that were once full-time positions are gone. Temp staffing agency revenues are at an all-time high as “underemployment” rates climb above 14% (on top of the 7% unemployment rates).
We are in a particularly bad situation, economically.
For the past 20 years, incomes have risen slower than inflation. Expenses like housing, food, and electricity now consume a larger percentage of your income than they did back in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, household debt is at an all-time high, and people are having to borrow money to continue spending at the same rates as before.
Outstanding student loan debt has eclipsed $1 trillion, and many of us graduates are now not only the entering the worst job market since the Great Depression—we are doing so with a mountain of debt. A mountain of debt for which you (usually) cannot declare bankruptcy.
For the past 15 years or so, jobs have paid enough for people to live (and nothing more). But now, in the era of unpaid internships, it is common for even the wealthiest companies to take on college students and recent graduates as free skilled labor—working in the hopes of eventually landing a paid position. Sometimes these unpaid internships last for years. Often they do not lead to paid work. Often these interns replace paid workers.
I, personally, “worked” four unpaid internships during college. I started as a freshman at a lobbyist group, then as an intern at the Texas House of Representatives during my sophomore year, then as a Field Coordinator for an unsuccessful Statewide Political Campaign as a junior, and finally back to the Texas House of Representatives a second time as an “experienced intern” to finish out my fourth year of college.
Every internship increased in responsibility and hours worked. I certainly met lots of people, and I (arguably) gained some valuable work experience. But I never got paid. Not once.
So if you are stuck in an unpaid internship, I not only sympathize with you, I empathize.
I know it sucks putting in long hours and having nothing to show for it.
I know how much it sucks to be so broke from “work” that you cannot even go out for drinks with your co-workers after a long day.
I understand that experience doesn’t pay those expensive dry-cleaning bills for the suits you have to wear to “work” every day. Or for the gas that it costs do any of that.
This new economy has new rules. And if you want to succeed, you will need to start thinking more as an entrepreneur. You need to choose your path. The cubicle jobs of the past, where you could work 9-5 with no real risk, will soon be gone—if they are not gone already.
The best entrepreneurs recommend finding what it is you’re passionate about. Maybe it’s board games. Maybe it’s stamp collecting. Maybe you desperately want to explore the Ocean floor.
If you don’t know what you are passionate about, don’t fret. Try and think back to when you were a child, or to a time in your life when you were very happy. Try really hard to remember what it was that you enjoyed. You might find something there to use as a springboard for career ideas.
Go out and find what it is you want to do. I can’t tell you what it is, but here are some suggestions of where to start:
- I highly recommend buying Choose Yourself by James Altucher. This book gave me the kick in the pants I needed, and it is only 99 cents on Kindle. Read it over and over again.
- Download the free app Duolingo. It was the winner of Apple’s prestigious “App of the Year” award last year. This app is phenomenal. It immerses you in the language of your choosing (Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and growing) and teaches you a foreign language the way it should be taught. (Trust me, I’m ESL.) It plays like a game, and it makes language learning fun and easy. I promise you will become proficient if you stick with it for a few months.
- Create something every day. If you are a writer, aim for 1,000 words about anything you want—it can even be tweets. If you are an artist, try and set aside an hour for your art. Paint for 15 minutes when you wake up. Or maybe sit down and play an instrument for an hour instead of going to happy hour. Try and sock away odd intervals of time to dedicate to your art. A little every day goes a lot further than a lot once in a while.
- Go to Code Academy and learn to code. It is free, and you should consider learning how to code. Think of it as writing in technology. There is even a lobby to replace cursive with coding in elementary schools. You would do well to stay ahead of those little shits gunning for your non-existent job.
- Get some sleep. When was the last time you slept 8 hours? That’s what I thought.
Get out there and fail for yourselves. Your most precious commodity right now is time rather than money. An unemployed 22-year old and an unemployed 25-year old are really no different in the long run.
Use these years to figure out who you are. Go travel if you can! Build up your skills, and discover your passions—wherever they may be. Don’t be held back from trying something new because you are unwilling to take that first step. Take it slow, but make it a priority. Dedicate an hour a day to do something you are passionate about. Make it a part of your daily routine. See where life takes you!
So again, congratulations on graduating college! You might be unemployed, indebted, and inexperienced—but you live in an amazing world where you can change your situation like never before.
I believe in you. Now get out there and make something of yourself!