The Year.

The reality of a twenty-something with a specialized degree, or, how I found wisdom on a sandwich shop wall Vitals: Name: Jessica Edens Age: 25 Education: BA in History, Master’s in Heritage Preservation Occupation: Marketing Administrator for a tech start-up selling business intelligence tools to software vendors

I’m approaching a significant anniversary. Last year, I woke up on August 1 unemployed and with no imminent plans for anything in my life, for the first time ever.  It was not by choice. It was terrifying.

The position I’d been in up to then was contingent upon being a student and, as I’d graduated a few months earlier, I was no longer qualified. Since it was also a federal institution, it was under a strict hiring freeze, and still is today.

experienceI would tell myself, and others would reiterate the thought, that this would be a rare moment of peace in my life. Here I was given this unclear amount of time, days or perhaps weeks, stretching into months, to just do less. I was not bound by a job or a degree program to show up anywhere, and any time.  My response to myself and others when presented with this lovely idea of endless freedom was that it would be a lot easier to enjoy a two-month sabbatical if I, in fact, knew that there was an end-point already comfortably situated out there in The Future. That there would eventually be some kind of plan, and equally important, a source of income.

I had already spent the first half of 2012 submitting my resume and applications to about sixty jobs, scattered in cities and towns across the country, each selected because I fell into the category of “qualified” or “almost qualified, a.k.a. I’ll-give-it-a-shot.” From these six months of work, I got only rejections, or no response at all. Then in July, I finally got one phone interview with a non-profit oral history initiative that would still be my top choice today—dream job kind of territory. (Oral history is one of the best things about my entire field of study.) And I didn’t get that.

Of course, the market is bad, it’s a bad era for non-profits, and the museum and archival field is facing significant budget cuts. They even threatened to shut down the Georgia State Archives entirely, but enough people reminded the legislature that history, um, kind of matters. So one might easily write all this off to bad timing. This was the reason I decided to go straight to graduate school in 2010, as I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history facing the worst job market in a generation. I often question this decision. I do not regret it, but I question whether I really made the best call on that one.

But more than a failure of the job market, it felt like my failure. Here I was, always finishing projects and papers early, leading group presentations, working two jobs, and getting excellent feedback from professors and colleagues in the real world about my work, skills, and potential. I never imagined myself unemployable.

And the fact was, I didn’t have the option anyway. My parents ensured, by selling their home and making plans to work abroad in their retirement, that we would be truly independent young adults. We would not be leaping back into our parents’ home after college, waiting for dream jobs or even kinda-good jobs—the far more realistic ones, as every generation learns—to lay themselves at the doorstep, all the while eating free food and paying no rent.

Life would not stop just because I hadn’t gotten a job, and now it was August 1, and no one had expressed any interest in hiring me.

Oh, except for the slew of insurance sales companies lurking all over Monster.com, waiting for job-hunters with liberal arts degrees. There’s no shortage of openings with them.

But in such a moment of quiet panic, I took a look at my skills. I have always sewed for pleasure, though most bags and garments and home decor projects only seem like a lot of work and at the end, it’s obvious I’m wearing a home-made skirt. Quilting is what I truly love, a flat canvas where you make art with fabric rather than paint. My friend at the neighborhood quilt shop was doing some freelance work for another local quilter and blogger, and I inquired in case she needed some extra help. I completed the binding on at least six of her quilts, all of which are featured in her second book, out this September. I spent some time at my home, with my cats, hand-sewing the binding onto these lovely, inspiring quilts, thankful that my circumstances led me to the pleasant work. It was a crucial bit of income, and I would never have even thought of asking, or of using that part of me, had I not been faced with this blank time. (Plus, now quilts I helped finish are being published in a book, in which I'm listed as a resource - pretty cool.)

In the same time, the months of August and September, I also conducted research for a National Register nomination being completed through Kennesaw State University, and archived and digitized an Atlanta society woman’s collection of personal mementos and photographs from her high school and college careers.

Even with these odd jobs, though, the epoch of NO PLAN was extending far longer than I had even imagined when I woke up August 1. People were telling me to check out job fairs in September and October, and in my head I was saying, “Yeah right, if I don’t have a job by October, I’ll be on the street anyway…”

I went to a job fair in mid-September, which lead to a staffing company, which lead to two contract-based, temporary positions that got me through the next series of months.

Finally, by word of mouth, by the strength of an old Kennesaw connection, I got the job I have now. Not in history or museums or nonprofits or anything remotely related, but as a marketer for a business intelligence software company.

An aside here: It is significant to me that in all my job applications, all the cover letters I’ve written, the jobs I have gotten were the ones I was not required to write anything for. [Read: word of mouth is stronger than any cover letter anyway.] This was true of my current position. It makes me rather sad to know that all the hard work I’ve done in two degrees and all former jobs, everything I list on my resume and say in a cover letter, really has no bearing on anyone; if someone will vouch for me, I’m hired.

Anyway, my work now is not anything I envisioned in any kind of “plan” or idea I may have had in mind. But I am tired. I am tired of the time-consuming act of proving myself again and again to no avail. I’m okay with rejection, believe me. And as a person who’s spent decades writing, I am unabashedly confortable with constructive criticism. It’s not these things that have worn on me. It’s the much larger, sadder thing that wears on me. It’s the adult reality of a regular, non-glamorous job that pays the bills but does not relate to what you studied. I am tired of that searching, so for now, I've mostly stopped doing it.

And I also remember that I’m still using relevant skills everyday. Not to mention, I’m now highly versed in all things ASP.NET and Microsoft, write about programming languages and business tips for software companies, and use Subversion and Notepad++ to edit multiple websites. My technical abilities prove essential every day, and I've learned an enormous number of extra computery skills I never dreamed I would know or care about. (I know all software people are so happy to hear me use the word "computery" to describe skills in their field.)

There’s a sign at the Jimmy John’s sandwich shop near my office that says, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” Jimmy John’s, a place for more than just a sandwich; now also serving wisdom.

That’s what this year has been. Experience, stacked on uncertainly, smothered with a year’s worth of temporary jobs. Honestly, my favorite thing about my job now is that it doesn’t have an expiration date. I do good work, they keep me around. I’ve heard the line too many times before, at part-time jobs and internships and college positions: “Oh, we’d love to keep you, if we could!” This time, they can.

Last week I interviewed for a wonderful, meaningful position at a suburban, university-affiliated history museum in the area. While doing the intense preparation work for the interview, I couldn’t help but ponder the auspicious time of year, that I could potentially begin this position—if I were to get it—on the very day that I so badly needed a job one year before.

August 1.

It was almost as perfect timing as the oral history job from last year. It would make a tidy end for this story.

But I didn’t get it, and the story isn’t ending here. This wasn’t an anomaly in my life, a year of unexpected trials and many random jobs. It’s life. That is every day. And that is, really, every job, too. But this year, while interviewing for that job, I already had a job, one where my time isn’t up July 31, and so I was not walking into an abyss of uncertainty and disappointment.

And so the first year of this real life stretches into the second, and I march forward, picking up a little more experience with each step.

Dispatch from the edge of recession: eight long months, and counting

I'm a real-life Hannah Horvath (from Girls), sans the dramatic friendships, awkward sexual relationships, and hopefully, without the terrible decision-making. I've got too much education and student loan debt, and not enough experience in anything to qualify me for any job. Oh, except retail -- Hannah's own post-liberal-arts-education job is as a pretty awful barista in a coffee shop. I work part time as a sales associate at Gap. As is the new game, I had an amazing full time job for ten weeks. It ends tomorrow, and I have no plan. I really really hoped, back in October when I began the seasonal gig, that by this time in the year, I would have found another opportunity and had something lined up for the New Year. I have my job at Gap; don't get me wrong, I am thankful for that.

This week, I've gotten two notices on jobs I've more than qualified for, that they are moving ahead with another candidate. Three weeks ago, I inadvertently turned down a job offer by honestly responding in a phone call that I could not leave my current job with only three-days' notice. By the time I called back a few hours later, to see if there was any way we could make arrangements due to a two-week overlap in work, I was told they had already moved ahead with another candidate. Another candidate, someone else, someone clearly better for this job. Don't worry, there are other opportunities. Let me know how I can help. 

I'm tired of false promises, and I'm filled with regret over graduate school. What was the point of training myself for a career field that has absolutely no job opportunities  while I could have gone straight into the work force and at least got some actual work experience? Now I'm stuck with a master's degree, but everyone wants that plus years of other accolades and experience. And I don't have what the hiring managers see as real-world real-work skills to even be an editor, or marketing or PR manager for a company. More and more I doubt the choice I made back in the summer of 2010, even though yes, the job market for new grads then was possibly even worse than now. But when you're down and out, you doubt and wonder.

I've been applying to jobs in earnest since January 1, 2012 -- a full year of exhausting, depressing job searching. Being on this side of things, I have so much sympathy for those who have been out of work for many months and years, because I understand how absolutely disheartening it is to hear rejection after rejection, if we hear anything at all. It's enough to make you throw in the towel and sit depressed on the couch. I honestly never, in a million years, saw myself as the graduate who would be in this position. I've always had multiple part-time jobs and worked hard for good grades in college. If there were idiots and slackers all around me, I was in the ten percent who was not. But it looks like I am still not out of the rough post-graduate phase.

I am not under any illusions: I don't expect to be in charge, have my "dream job" or be a shoe-in for a position. I just want an interview, a chance to prove my skills and articulate my passion. And I just want a job that remotely relates to my career field (seriously, I could argue almost any kind of work) for a pay rate slightly above the poverty rate. I would like to be above the poverty level in 2013. I've been out of school now for eight long, confusing, disheartening, scary, real months. And counting. Floating between part-time, contract stints, full-time temporary.

 

Heart Happy

Your daily dose of Christmas spirit. This is the conversation I've had via Facebook Messages with this girl, over the course of a few days. I have loved each dose of innocence and cuteness I get everyday as an emissary for Santa. Nothing like having a conversation with a kid who truly believes you're an elf.  

heart happy

Dispatch from the Edge of a Recession: Hit Me When I'm Up

After eleven weeks out of the workforce, I started a job this week and got slammed with a $100-boot on my car (for the first time in my life) all at once. Way to get hit when you're (almost) up. On the way up, we'll say. The most painful part of this incident: I was parked for about 8 minutes to get a $1 sub sandwich. I haven't received a paycheck in eleven weeks, have been barely hanging on, relying heavily on my credit card to make end's meet. Then I get my measly weekly unemployment check the same day I park in the spot that gets me a $100 boot. (I actually didn't even apply for unemployment until about three weeks ago, didn't even realize I could get money to help me during this phase. Man, it would have helped the whole time... but oh well.)

I'm rationalizing the sickening amount of wasted money by not getting a few other things. I've lost some weight since I've started running, and the actual width part of my bras is too loose. I really need new bras, to be perfectly honest; they're already a old. Instead, I've taken them in, with some unprofessional-looking, but very effective seams on both sides of the clasps at the back. I was going to get a desperately-needed haircut--my bangs are so long their not bangs anymore--but I'll keep the weird hippie look for a few more weeks. Hey, they already hired me, right? I could always use my old, dull barber scissors and take to my own hair.

I will be getting my first check at my new job (which is full-time but temporary up to the week of Christmas) next week. So that's a good thing. It was just so painful to have this incident now, as things are looking up. Why me, why me?

I was angry. I was yelling, and shaking, and sobbing, and cussing at these two men--all of these things, except the sobbing, are quite unlike me. And I was wayyyy late getting back to my new workplace, which is awesome. 

But then I had to get back into my cheerful elf voice, writing on the marketing team at the Christmas publishing company where I work. I honestly felt like calling it a day. But I kept it together because, first, now I needed all these hours more than ever, and second, these people are still getting to know how I operate, and it is imperative that I not fall apart and seem like one of those people who always has drama and is always crying at work. I am not one of these people, so today, when I get my first car boot, would not be a day to appear to be one of them.

Every time I thought about what happened this afternoon, my eyes would well up and I would feel sick. I thought about it over and over, what could I have possibly done to make those guys' jobs the absolute worst? I hope they really hate that job. Because if I had to stand there while some woman lost it--truly lost it--in the parking lot, and scream at me, I might hate my job.

I'm still not over it, but as the day has worn on, this raggedy, awful, headachy day, I just had to let it roll off of me. Ok, so it hurts now. It won't hurt forever. It's like back when overdraft fees were at their peak, and I was an undergrad, getting hit with fines multiple times a year. Nothing brings naseau faster than not having money you thought you did and seeing that red balance, or walking around the corner to find a $100 fine attached to your car. I hope there is a time in my life when I'm not at the bottom of the barrel scratching and can pay my monthly bills without my account balance zeroing out around $6 when they're all paid. I'm thankful to pay my bills, but even these last few months, that has been hard.

Honestly, I didn't see myself becoming a victim of the current economy: one of those recent-grad, lots of student loans, can't-find-work demographic that is touted and studied and reported on. With a boot. Today was a reminder that yes, you might be seeing some good news, some professional success come your way, but don't think that means this is the end of the roadblocks. They are all over, they are hidden and often conniving to stack up all at once, and they will never let you off the hook. I resign and concede to the inevitability  of the occasional really awful boot.

Dispatch from the Edge of Recession: Job Market Moment... the Elusive Excitement

I have that sick, nervous feeling right now. I just came across a job posting for a place I desperately want to work, here in Atlanta, with an amazing mission and unbelievable combination of my passions, skills, and beliefs. And every single thing they list on the job description I can do now, and would dominate in that position. Writing for the web and published media sources, networking, working with the press and local organizations, planning and organizing in-house documents and memos, social media management,  photography for events and media, group and project work, and a boatload of other exciting things--and above all, believing in the mission of the organization. Seriously, I would rock this job and every responsibility I am given, because it's things I excel in already and have done in many capacities before, but also because it's in a field that I have dedicated two degrees to so far, and both of them fostered my concern for the mission of this organization as well--civil rights, human rights, communication along cultural and racial lines, understanding of one another. I am riddled with excitement, to put it mildly. Suddenly, I have gone from a regular night of searching job listings and imagining my near future in retail once more (and working for seven bucks an hour, woo!), to imagining something far different and much more exciting--working in a meaningful position for a purpose, putting my skills and work ethic to the test and building them further. I desperately want to pour myself into a job. And I really want it to be something I care about, though I have had to make sacrifices in this portion of my goal, because employment is more important than holding out, unemployed, for a noble goal. I am realistic if nothing else. (Hey, it might take a few years of crap to get back to the noble goal. And student loans don't pay back themselves.)

So I have been applying to various clerical jobs, submitting my resume to staffing agencies, saying I'm looking for administrative work. And the recruiters ask me what kind of work I am looking for. The honest answer is any work, at least at a rate to cover my bills. But perhaps that sounds desperate, not ideal--so I'll say admin work, sure! The job fair I went to today had many openings for health care workers, police officers and security professionals, warehouse workers, and for those seeking employment in the fast food industry. It was a depressing picture for someone with a niche degree like Heritage Preservation. Try throwing that one on a staffing recruiter. I try to emphasize my strong administrative skills in the conversation, too.

In the nine months during which I have been applying to jobs, this is only the second one to arise that is here in the city I love, which I am qualified for and which truly, makes me utterly breathless with excitement. I immediately bound ahead in my brain, to having the job, making positive improvements, wearing my beautiful skirts and blazers and representing well everyone who has helped me get to this point. I have had days where it has been impossible to imagine, to conceptualize, my future--what job would I even be doing, and where, and for whom? It is a fast downward spiral when you can't conceptualize whether you will be folding clothes or doing data entry or answering phones, or changing the world in my own small way for an employer I love.

This is only the second job to send electricity down my spine. I read the long description over and over, and each time, I am more confident that I can nail every single bullet point. I am a master of so many of these things already. And when I am on paper, the only thing people see is that I'm a recent grad with no full time work experience, even though multiple, simultaneous part-time jobs have earned me all the skills I have and use in what equals a full-time commitment of my time--and which make me exactly the person for the job. But my mind has already blown past this more realistic doubting part of my brain, because, of course, you're made for this! They'll see that!

That is what I really believed about the singular previous position that I desperately wanted and felt highly qualified for. I didn't get that job. I got an overly formal and way-late e-mail response from some lady I had never spoken to, saying they had chosen someone else. Now, in nine months of scores of job applications and submissions, I am quite used to impersonal rejections and regrets, but this one hurt. I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't get it, but I also thought there was a good chance I could. The experience has made me thoroughly exhausted with employers not wanting to take a chance on a passionate, young professional. Heck, I'll work for next to nothing and I really care about the job! And I work hard to boot! And communicate well! What on earth more can you want from a candidate? Idealism? Creativity? Tech savvy? Perseverance? Amiable personality? Strong leader? Organizer? Oh, wait -- I am all those!

This is a public website, and I am fully secure in posting my thoughts publicly, because you know what? I'm a frustrated twenty-something in a tough transition, in a terrible economy, in a niche industry. And I am not going to hide that from employers, professors, parents, friends, strangers. The excitement I feel right now is very real, and I risk heartbreak and sadness all over again for what could become a missed opportunity to perform above and beyond in an excellent position for a great company. I really need to share that feeling with you, because it is the tiny little glimpse of the future -- of producing great things and of the potential I have sitting right here at my desk -- that keeps me from giving up.