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I’ll be pretty frank here: it couldn’t be a worse time to be a college graduate. Student debt, unemployment, and the misunderstood monstrosity of underemployment are taking millennials down in significant numbers that has led to our being referred to as “The Lost Generation.” When I look around at my good friends and brothers I graduated with, very few had “real” jobs out of college. I mean, sure, a couple had the practical engineering and accounting degrees that led to meaningful employment, but dozens struggled to find their place in this incredibly competitive job market for college graduates while others piled on more debt to head off to graduate school in hopes of delaying the real world.
While graduating college is an accomplishment, it also leads to incredible amounts of anxiety. How am I going to pay off the student loans? How will I look to my friends and family? These are the questions many find themselves asking as they begin their journey into adulthood.
I graduated college a year ago December with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. I had an absolutely incredible college experience where I was involved in Greek Life and College Republicans, while working as a campus tour guide on the side. I absolutely loved everything about my college experience and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I was also incredibly fortunate to finish college debt free due to a combination of scholarships, my parent’s generosity (for which I’m eternally grateful), and affordable in-state tuition, something that my home state of Florida is noted for.
On the flip side, I had just reluctantly accepted my first “job” at a call center for a measly wage and had recently endured a breakup in a long term relationship, shattering much of my confidence at the time. It was a tough time for me, I constantly compared myself to friends and siblings who were doing better than myself and honestly, I got really down on myself. Working in a call center was a particularly miserable experience, I still have nightmares about my first week on the job when I had 75 calls in “queue” while I was harassed by some self-righteous baby boomer. I was able to pay rent and put away pennies, but overall, life was rough.
During this time period, I found some sort of second wind to make things better. One thing I realized during this dark time period, was that unfortunately, my college degree made me average. Nothing more, nothing less. I learned that what was more important than my degree was my ability to market myself to employers and set myself apart. I applied for hundreds of jobs, attended networking events, and even emailed resumes to aunts and uncles who I had developed a good relationship with over the years. I was a man on a damn mission.
After approximately three months of pure misery, I had a job interview in the Washington DC area through a connection of a family member, studied the position hours upon hours before my interview and ultimately landed the job. Since this point in time, I could not have been more fortunate. I now work in college admissions in the DC area, a position that has taught me a surprising amount of professional skills (universities are businesses). In my current position, I get to travel, meet with some of our Nation’s brightest students, and perhaps best of all, I’m able to pursue my masters degree on my employer’s dime (If you’re considering graduate school, please consider working for a university). The reality of the matter is, I don’t truly deserve any of the luck I’ve had even though I’m very thankful for where life has taken me. What I am trying to get at though, is that I understand how terrible it is for much of our generation.
Many of us are graduating tens of thousands of dollars in debt, constantly comparing ourselves to our more successful peers, and trying our best to put that hard earned degree to work. While many of our elders see us as “entitled” or “privileged,” they are simply ignorant to the challenges people our age are facing. Many of our parents graduated thirty years ago, when a college education could be paid for through a part time summer job bartending and that diploma was essentially instant employment. Unfortunately, the times have changed, that’s the ugly reality.
While our generation may not have the economy for young people that our parents did, we do have the resources. Get out there and network your ass off, learn how to market yourself, and most importantly, remember what you’re truly capable of. The struggles many millennials face, while daunting, are temporary and can be changed with hard work, confidence, and frankly, luck. So get out there and prove the boomers wrong. While this generation has been wounded by factors outside of our control, we still have the potential to be the greatest generation this country has ever seen.
Keep your head up. .