Dear College Grad: CONGRATULATIONS! Graduating from college is probably one of the most rewarding feelings you’ll ever experience in your life. The sense of accomplishment that you feel right now will last far beyond today. You may have received a couple of interviews, might be considering graduate programs, or even thinking about taking some time to travel the world. This is an awesome time in your life but it’s also the biggest time of transition that you’ll probably experience. I mean c’mon, you’ve been in school since you were 5 years old lol…what’s life gonna be like now that there are no classrooms, dorms, or flex dollars? America does a very good job of painting the picture that college equals “The Perfect Job” but what many people don’t talk about is the period in between graduating and actually landing your first job. For some of you, you might land a job in your field right after graduation. For others you might land a job in retail or work in a call center. But for people like me…you might end up jobless for a while and then eventually end up making minimum wage while working two more part-time jobs just to keep your head above water. Dear College Graduates: DO NOT BE DECEIVED BY THE PERFECT PICTURE YOU SEE ON TV!! I’m gonna give you the real talk that no one gave me when I was about to graduate. The ugly side of the mountain. The one time when I felt like a failure full of hopelessness. The one where I felt that God had forsaken me. My story doesn’t come with rose-colored glasses but it taught me how to stand on my own two feet and ultimately led to discovering my purpose.
Go to college they said. That’s how you become successful they said. But NO ONE ever stopped and took the time to explain the fact that even though having a college degree will open the door for a stable career and paycheck, you may not see the benefits of it right away. Having a degree will earn you more money BUT it will earn you more money OVER TIME…usually after you’ve gotten a masters degree (or more) to go along with it. For some people, landing a great job after college is a breeze but for the people like me who weren’t so fortunate, life after college can be depressing and frustrating. As most of you know, I’m a School Counselor and one of my passions is promoting college attendance so since it’s graduation time it wouldn’t be right for me to not blog about my own experience.
You remember the movie “The Pursuit of Happiness?” Yeah…basically…that was me (minus the being homeless part). I will never forget the day that the walls came crashing down on my “American Dream.” I was awaiting an admissions decision from NCCU’s Counselor Education program and was roughly 2-3 weeks away from the end of my leasing agreement at my apartment. I had some decisions to make. My roommates and I were all graduating from the Psychology Department together and trying to tie a few loose ends before ending a very amazing journey. We were debating on if we wanted to renew our lease or go our separate ways but as most hot-headed 21 years do we were NOT trying to go back home to our parents after graduation. I remember asking my roommate, ” …so what are we gonna do for money?” All of us pretty much made life happen off of the strength of our refund checks but that was now a very distance memory. In the back of my mind I had already started calculating my expenses with the money I hoped would come in on my grad school refund check…that is…if I got accepted into the program. My roommate didn’t take much time to think about her answer and replied, “…we can just get jobs. I mean…even if we have to work at Walgreen’s or something we can make it work.” I had faith in that statement because up to that point, every job that I’d ever interviewed for I’d been hired so it hadn’t occurred to me that someone might actually NOT hire me. It was done. We resigned our lease and went on with life. A few weeks into our new leasing agreement I got a letter from the Counseling program saying that I was denied. That changed EVERYTHING. I felt like someone had run me over with a car. I was devastated…but with devastation also came a state of panic. There went my only sure promise of “income.” No refund check?! HOW was I going to pay my bills?! I had become accustomed to certain lifestyle that I was no longer sure that I could maintain. I decided at that very moment that I needed to become a little more aggressive about my job search but nothing was biting. I needed a plan and quick because unfortunately, I didn’t have a Plan B. When May 15, 2010 finally came, I got dressed that morning in my brand new dress that I’d just charged on a credit card whose bill I wasn’t sure I could pay, put on my cap & gown, got in line, and smiled for my family and the cameras. I was dying inside. I waited 4 years for this very day only to find myself not enjoying a single moment of it. Well…there was my graduation cookout…that was the highlight of my day but I felt like a failure and pretty undeserving of any real celebration. Much to my surprise my family sent cards from all over filled with money. I had over $1000 in my pocket when I took that lonely drive back to my apartment in Durham. I found solace in knowing that our rent was pretty cheap and that I could split my bills 3 ways. I’d have to be pretty frugal but I had enough money to make it for a few months. Maybe something would come through in the next few days. Maybe not all hope was lost.
May passed by pretty swiftly….then June…then July…and I was running out of money. $1000 sounds like a lot but when all of if it going out and nothing is coming back in it’s not as much money as you think. This period of my life I call “Lè Struggle” because no other term does it justice…the struggle was EXTREMELY real. My roommates and I saw some pretty hard times together in that apartment. We didn’t have money for basic things and forget about anything extra. It was HARD. We really lived day-to-day. The bill collectors had me on speed dial man and they were AGGRESSIVE. I always wondered if this was the month that something would get turned off. I watched my credit score plummet. I owed the bank for several overdraft charges. I had to make financial choices that I never had to make before. I learned to live on a lot less than I thought I could. I couldn’t see it then but I can honestly say that through it all God covered us.We got a couple of notices from time to time but our lights were never turned off and the rent was paid by the grace of God. People were very kind to us during that time. I never missed a meal…even if it was just cereal, beans & weenies, or spaghetti for 5 days straight. I barely had gas in my car but I always made it to church when I needed to and my pastors fed us EVERY Sunday so I knew my meals were covered for that day at least, and I always took a little extra home. That was the highlight of my summer excursion. My boyfriend at the time REALLY looked out for me too…A LOT. I never really got the chance to thank him for being there for me but I doubt that I would have made it through that summer without him. Even though God made a way for me to live nothing really took away the constant state of anxiety that I dealt with 24/7.
2010 was NOT a good year to be unemployed…the job market was horrible. Job hunting became my full-time job. I applied to every company, temp agency, and store that I could think of but they all said the same thing…I was either over-qualified or under-qualified for the position. Job hunting in the 21st century can be pretty difficult without the internet and since we couldn’t afford it, I “borrowed” internet service (and I mean that OH so loosely…forgive me Lord smh lol) from our neighbor to apply for jobs. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I had spent 4 years in college and had over $30,000 of student loan debt to get a job only to NOT have a job. I was SUPER depressed. I was too ashamed to call my parents because I didn’t want them to know how bad I was struggling…how much I really didn’t have it all together…that I made a mistake in staying in Durham…that their first-generation college student was also a first-generation unemployed degree holder. I wanted them to be proud of me but I had too much pride to let them see my battle scars. I had applied for over 90 different positions with various companies throughout the Triangle area and hadn’t gotten a single call-back for an interview. I did however receive countless emails from companies thanking me for my interest and confirming that they didn’t want to hire me. If ever my faith grew weary in well-doing it was then. It all came to a head when this one particular day I got a call from my mama. She probed me for quite some time to see how I was doing and I tried to put on a good face but mothers know. She had checked my bank account and saw that nothing was in it. She told me to go to the ATM in about 15 minutes and she would transfer some money into my account. I was too proud to ask for help but that day I was ever so grateful to receive it. I happily drove to the ATM. I was excited to finally have a little money in my pocket. I put my card in the machine and tried to withdraw some money when “Insufficient Funds” flashed across the screen. I knew that this had to be a mistake because my mama wouldn’t play with me like that. I tried again and the machine said the same thing. I went into the bank to see what the issue was only to find that my account had been overdrawn and the bank had taken their money back along with an overdraft fine. My balloon was deflated that day as I walk outside of the bank with only $8 to my name. I couldn’t catch a break. That day, I sat outside of the bank on a bench for all the world to see and cried my eyes out. I mean I was WEEPING y’all. I didn’t think that I had anymore fight left in me…I couldn’t take it anymore.
I had been on a few interviews including to one of those companies where you sell knives (I didn’t know that until I got to the place and I was angry that I wasted my good gas going). Towards the end of the summer my friend Matt told me that his job was hiring and hosting a job fair. He said that I should come and check it out since they had countless positions open in the Outbound Telesales Department. I never saw myself working in sales before but I was willing to try anything at this point. This was the first solid job prospect I’d had during my stint of unemployment. I needed copies of my resume but my printer was out of ink and I couldn’t afford the cartridge. Once again my ex looked out and gave me a few dollars to go to Kinko’s and get some copies made. The next hurdle to jump over was the fact that the job fair was located in Raleigh which was about 30 minutes from my house. Gas was like $4 per gallon during that time and my 1999 Mitsubishi Galant could GUZZLE some gas. I didn’t know how I was gonna get to the interview and I don’t remember how or who took me but I made it there. I wasn’t prepared for such a large event and I was very intimidated about interviewing on the spot because so many people were buzzing around but I was determined to leave my mark. The interview was pretty short but I felt good about it. A few days later a tweeted, “I really hope that I get this job @ Time Warner Cable.” Like 10 minutes later, TWC Corporation tweeted me back and said that they would check my social media profile and get back to me. About a week later I got the call that I had been waiting to receive for over 3 months…I HAD A JOB!!!!! It was part time…located in Morrisville which was 30 minutes away from my house…my schedule would be from 1pm-5pm; Monday through Friday…but I was ecstatic! I would receive $10/hour during my 6 weeks of training and then $8.61/hour plus commission on services installed after that. When I got my first paycheck of roughly $350 I was BESIDE MYSELF! That check felt like a million dollars. I now had a little money to do a few things with AND I got free cable and internet for the whole house!
After my training ended my check looked a lot different. Living off of commission is not for the faint of heart. I didn’t enjoy the uncertainty of my paycheck amount and if I was going to have enough money to pay my tithes, eat, pay bills, and put gas in my car. I knew that I needed another source of income because even though I was a far-cry from where I started financially just a few month prior, I still couldn’t really make ends meet. There were several times when I had to call my mom and ask to borrow $10 for a sandwich and a few snacks. I finally made the decision to take the “walk of shame” down to Social Services and request food stamps. LET’S BE CLEAR: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH GOVERNMENTAL ASSISTANCE! I was just ashamed to go because once again, my pride wouldn’t let me ask for help. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t adequately take care of myself on my own…it bothered me. I believe that this was a time of God breaking my pride…I needed this experience. It didn’t help that the DSS workers weren’t pleasant or nice for that matter so it made me feel even worse but I NEEDED the help. Getting food stamps was the best thing that I ever could have done because they eliminated a bill that I no longer had to worry about. Shortly thereafter, my line sister called and told me that her hairstylist was looking for a weekend assistant and she wanted me to come in for an interview right away. I couldn’t have been more excited because this was a blessing that I hadn’t even asked for. I started working at the Salon on a Friday and made about $80 in just that day alone (that amount doesn’t sound like much but it’s everything when you have less that $50 of your paycheck left every 2 weeks). That job did so much for me! It truly lifted another financial burden that I was getting tired of carrying. I also took on another job as a tutor at an elementary after-school program. Juggling 3 jobs might sound as if it yields a lot of income but honestly it doesn’t. I was still paying back late fees for credit cards that I couldn’t pay for when I was unemployed and I had to keep gas in my car. I also started getting notices from my student loan company…they would soon start taking what little money I had. I was happy to be out of the eye of the storm but still very unsatisfied with my life. This wasn’t in my 10 year plan.
One weekend I decided to go home to be with my family. My great-uncle asked me when I was going to go ahead reapply for my graduate program. I was embarrassed to answer him because I desparately wanted to go back to school but couldn’t afford the fee for the GRE exam that I had already taken twice. I had gotten pretty good at being forthcoming about my financial situation at this point so I went ahead and told him what the deal was. He said that he would pay for me to take the test if I was serious about taking it. I COULD HAVE LEAPED OUT OF MY SKIN FROM EXCITEMENT! I registered for my exam, took the test, applied for the Psychology Graduate program with hopes of someday transferring to the Counseling program, and waited on a decision. In the meantime, I decided that I should start looking for something full-time and a little more permanent. One night, one of my Sorors came over to have our traditional “Coffee Night.” She told me that her school system was hiring teacher assistants and that I should look into it. I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of working with kids…I didn’t even know if I liked kids lol. I come from a VERY large family. I have 19 first cousins and I’m 3rd-to-last in the line up…I am “The Kids” lol. Nevertheless, I went to the website and saw that the pay was over $12 an hour with full benefits, and I’d be home by 4 everyday which was perfect if I got accepted into grad school. I nearly choked. At that moment I decided that I would learn to like kids lol. I couldn’t let this opportunity to pass me by. Several weeks went by and I received a call to come in for an interview. I made the short trip to Smith Middle School and waited in the lobby for my name to be called. When I walked into the room of staff members I was nervous but excited. I felt good about this interview…that is until the principal told me that I was interviewing for a TA position for Exceptional Children. That was NOT on the county’s website. Not only was I unsure of my like for kids but I was even more unsure of my ability to assist children with special needs. I didn’t know the first thing about EC services. I mean…what if I said or did the wrong thing? I had a mini panic attack in my head but the more I thought about that $12 an hour the more I decided that I would just go with the flow. My background in Psychology DEFINITELY helped me during that interview since I had conducted a lot of research on mental health in undergrad. When the interview was over I thanked them and decided that I would leave it in God’s hands. A few days later I got a callback…I GOT THE JOB! I put in my 2-weeks notice the very next day lol. A few days after that I received a letter in the mail from NCCU stating that I had been accepted into their General Psychology Graduate Program. Y’all…I can’t even begin to describe how I felt at that moment. I was finally catching a break! Life had been so uncertain for me during this time and I came to the realization that I had stopped dreaming…I lost hope. I felt like it was safe for me to start making goals again and start looking forward to a brighter future. I was finally back on track and I couldn’t go anywhere but up from there.
On January 24, 2011, I started my first day of grad school AND my first day at my new job as an EC Teacher Assistant. That day was one of the happiest days that I had experience since graduating. I wasn’t sure of the type of student or educator I would be but with my uncertainty came the discovery of my true passion and purpose in life. Being an educator is something I NEVER saw for myself but now it’s something that I couldn’t see my life without. Sometimes you have to just throw caution to the wind and take a chance. You never know what’s waiting on the other side of Opportunity for you.
I’d like to tell you that I was a good Christian and that through it all I held on to God’s unchanging Hand. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t grow weary in well-doing. I’d like to tell you that my unwavering faith is what brought me out of my struggle…but that would be a lie. A lot transpired during that 8 month hiatus from school including the struggle to trust God with my life. I felt He had forsaken for the first time in my life. I struggled with bouts of depression, my relationship ended, one of my roommates moved out, I was in debt up to my eyeballs, I gained about 30lbs, got my first speeding ticket ever and my dad kicked me off of his insurance which meant I had new bill to pay smh…living day to day was just too much. I survived ONLY because of God’s mercy. I doubted Him during a time when I’m sure He would have brought me out sooner had I just trusted that He could. Nevertheless, He allowed me to discover that I was tougher than I ever thought I could be. It’s moments like this when you find out what you’re truly made of and if you weather the storm the sun will shine again. I say this with all conviction: DON’T BE LIKE ME NEW GRAD!!!! Don’t allow your current situation or the unexpected things that are to follow to let the wind out of your sails. God is your anchor! Allow Him the chance to be God!
I want to leave a few things with you guys to remember while you’re figuring out life right now. Take heed to what I say and never let go…
- Stay Connected to The Source– It’s so easy to run yourself around like a lab rat trying to find a job. When you reach the point of desperation that I did, you’ll pretty much do and say anything to provide for yourself. But what if I told you that you didn’t have to struggle alone or for as long if you would only remember who you belong to? I failed to consistently pray during that time. You’ll tire yourself out trying to make it happen on your own when you can simply asked your Heavenly Father. He says that our effectual, fervent prayers will win the battle (James 5:16). This also applies for those who already have stable employment. As an accomplished young professional and with the completion of your degree it can be very easy to find yourself “tooting your own horn.” You should definitely be proud of yourself but never get so comfortable in boasting that you forget that everything you are and everything you have is because of God’s grace. You’ve done nothing in your own power but in His alone so in order to keep the momentum going you must stay connected to The Source. Arrogance tells God that you don’t need Him and that you can do it on your own when in fact you can’t. When you finally understand Acts 17:28 “For in him we live and move and have our being…” you begin to understand that you don’t have to live in fear of what you won’t have…you don’t have to over-sale yourself to employers…you don’t have to jump through hoops to be somebody in this world. Everything that you need, including a job, money, and fulfillment in life is found in Jesus and He WILL supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19). When you stay connected to The Source you find that He not only provides an open door for you, but He’ll allow you to be fruitful in whatever position you have (John 15:5). Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have peace!
- Trust the Process – If you’re like me and you’re a planner then you know how difficult it is to just go with the flow of the unknown. Y’all know that I talk about my Infamous 10-Year Plan all the time (lol) but I never left space in the plan for transition or evolution. In order to get from Point A to Point B there are a series of turns, hills, valleys, and some straightway driving that you must do and it all leads to your next destination. Since we don’t have the power to teleport ourselves into the next phase of our lives then we have no choice but to trust the process from glory to glory. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that God has a plan and a purpose for us. He already knows the way to Points B-Z (Job 23:10) so we must seek Him for instructions/direction. In and of itself, the process, no matter how hard or long it may be, ultimately prepares us to receive the blessings that God has for us. Before I graduated, I used to BLOW money on stupid stuff lol. Refund checks are a trap lol…a 21-year old has no business with a LUMP SUM of money but God brought me right back down to size lol. If I hadn’t experienced what it was like to truly struggle and manage the few dollars that I had while I was unemployed, I wouldn’t have known how to manage the few hundred dollars that I started making when I started working for Time Warner Cable; + 2. If I hadn’t gotten that first denial letter from NCCU, I wouldn’t have learned how to be resilient…I’m a fighter now. The process may not be glamorous but if you hang in there I promise you’ll come out as pure gold!
- Lose the Pride- Before this experience, I didn’t know that I struggled with my pride…I had never been in a situation where it was an issue. New Grad: Learn to let go of your pride, both in taking certain positions and in asking for help. I knew that a bachelors in Psychology wouldn’t yield a position in my field without at least a masters degree so coming out of school I knew that I would need to make the best use of my other skills. I applied for various customer service jobs, administrative assistant positions, and the like. After a month of no callbacks…I started applying at places like Target and McDonald’s. Initially, I thought that such jobs wouldn’t “allow me the opportunity to use my skills” or in other words…I thought was too good to work at jobs like those because c’mon…I Had A Degree. When the options are down to feeding yourself or starving you’ll find yourself coming down off of the “high-horse” and doing what you gotta do to make it. The bible says that pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18) and that couldn’t be more true! Being void of humility has a way of causing life to humble you so it’s best to not think more highly of yourself than you ought to (Roman 12:3). Had I not accepted the fact that I would have to work a few jobs that I hated before I landed my dream job then I never would have found my true passion and I wouldn’t have grown as much as a person. Pride will kill your future…ditch it now! Another thing to remember while you’re in this season is that there is a reason why God created people and not just one person. His plan is that we coexist as an interdependent society. We need each other to survive! Don’t be afraid to ask people for help. You ever heard that story about the man who was on a boat out in the middle of the sea and God sent several people to rescue him but he wouldn’t take the help because he was waiting on God to rescue him? Well, when he got to heaven he asked God why He didn’t save him and God told him that He sent several people to help him but he turned them all away. Don’t be that guy. We have ALL been in a position where we needed help. I know it’s frustrating but do what you have to do…don’t suffer in silence. God expects us to help one another. Check out Matthew 25:34-40.
- Be Resourceful- This particular piece of advice may seem a little redundant seeing as how I just covered it a little in the portion above however, I want you to look at it from a different perspective. The greatest thing about college is that you are SURROUNDED by limitless resources and a wealth of knowledge. That’s the one time in your life where thousands of people from various backgrounds and walks of life will be gathered together for a specific,unique, and individual purpose. This is the largest network that you’ll probably ever have. Your friends, frat brothers/sorors, bandmates, and classmates are more than just these things to you now that you’ve graduated…they’re your colleagues. You have people that you know in almost every profession…even if they are working in an entry-level position. Take this time to hone your skills and learn from one another. I know doctors, lawyers, counselors, teachers, social workers, sales representatives, caterers, people in law enforcement, farmers, hairstylists, and various entrepreneurs that I can call RIGHT NOW if I need anything. If you’re looking for work and possibly need some direction, think about everyone you know and made a connection with while you were on campus. Also remember to maintain relationships with your former advisors and professors. Their network is WAY bigger than your’s since they’ve been in the workforce for a lot longer. Most of them would be more than happy to help you if you were likable and respectful upon graduating. Lean not to your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5)…God allowed you to make these connections for a reason.
- Don’t Forget Who You Are– So often we forget that we belong to the King of Kings and foolishly live below what we’re entitled to in Him. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17)…we don’t have to beg for what we need…our Heavenly Father longs to give His children good gifts (Matthew 7:11). We must go boldly before the throne with confidence and believe that He will answer our prayers (Hebrews 4:16). This was something that I struggled with. I believed that God could do anything for me…I just didn’t believe that He would…I grew weary in waiting. My confidence and trust in God was shot to pieces. Back then I thought it was because I had grown tired of waiting for Him to come through for me but now I know it was because failed to Stay Connected to the Source. If someone called you and asked for $500 and you hadn’t talked to them in over 5 years you probably wouldn’t be moved by their request or their pitiful cry. God is not moved by our emotions…He’s moved by our praise and worship. Remember that you belong to a loving Father and don’t forsake Him even when it feels like He’s forsaken you. HE HASN’T! His Word is infallible and He’s not a man that He would lie (Numbers 23:19). Believe on that even in the midst of your unemployment, the phone calls from bill collectors, and the lies that the enemy tries to feed you. He WILL come through for you!
I pray that this post encourages somebody. I’ve seen several new grads out there who have already secured jobs and I’m so happy for you but I know there is someone who is suffering in silence; void of the knowledge of who or where to turn. That was me. This was a storm that I experienced twice in my life and both times I let my situation get the best of me. I want to encourage you to have more faith! God provided for me in ways that I didn’t deserve. I want to teach you how to be worthy of His blessings and how not to delay them from reaching you. God is faithful. Trust in Him and keep exercising your faith no matter what the reality of your situation may be. I promise you…it’s worth the battle!