College presidents, guidance counselors, and commencement speakers across the country have a way of thrilling us for all the endless possibilities that await us beyond graduation.
Daydreams of corner offices, beaming entrepreneurial endeavors, and overall success fill our minds as we wait to be handed our degree and take off towards adulthood. Interestingly enough, many college graduates like myself, have had a post-grad experience that's been everything but a fairy tale. In fact, all of the "You are the Future" sermons might get you through the door, but they often fail to mention what happens when things don't go as planned.
You see, I've had a relatively unconventional post-grad experience. Despite my many efforts, there were no internships or entry-level job offers at some trendy start-up company awaiting me upon graduation. For nine months, I worked my share of retail jobs at minimum wage with managers that were prepping for their junior prom. While most of my other classmates had moved on to their big corporate jobs in Charlotte and Chicago, here I was in some no-name town, ringing up Happy Meals and being chastised for a mysteriously broken ice cream machine.
Although these humbling gigs allowed me to hone in on my customer service skills, they did a heck of a job on my self-confidence. At the time, I hadn't considered how much having gainful employment would affect my self-worth and mental health. Still, I persisted, and finally received a job offer at an advertising agency in the heart of Midtown, New York City. I couldn't believe that after countless rejections, I finally earned a position in alignment with my skill sets and professional goals. I was certain that the worst was behind me and it would only be up from there.
Whew, was I laughably mistaken.
Before I knew it, things took a turn for the unexpected. After an irreversible fallout with my roommates and the big wigs over my account choosing to part ways with our agency, I was left with a big decision:
Do I live in a homeless shelter and finish this New York rags-to-riches story, or do I pack my bags and head back down below the Mason Dixon line?
I made the sensible choice and packed all of my belongings into a single suitcase, and made the trek back to the small town I called home. If you think finding a job after graduation is hard, try finding employment in a town that isn't necessarily running over with opportunity, so it was back to McDonald's I went.
It wasn't long before I quit my cashier job in hopes of finding something better paying and in alignment with the degree I spent thousands of dollars on, only to fall into more no's and months of unemployment. It seemed like the very thing that was supposed to open the doors of opportunities was the very thing closing them, and no amount of résumé revamping could stop it.
The rejections and letdowns were more than I could stand, causing me to sink into a depression that I saw no way out of. I had never felt so hopeless, low, or worthless in my life. I had no money, no job, and no community to lean on at my darkest hour.
You don't know what your lowest point is until you reach it and you don't know how dark your darkest is until your light is completely gone.
My dad and sister were instrumental in speaking life into me and getting my head back on straight. Still, I was so embarrassed that I ever got to that point and for them to see me there. I was always the smart, positive, goal-driven person in their eyes and at that moment, I thought that I had let them down. Thankfully, they were there to remind me of one thing that I managed to forget this entire time: my worth.
Ever since we were young, we've been accustomed to a standardized grading system. If we perform well, we get a high score, if we don't, we get a low mark. From kindergartners to college seniors, it's been this way and we've placed our worth and value in how well we perform within these social structures. Then, once we enter the "real world" and navigate our new reality without an instruction manual, we're forced to find our new identity and ask ourselves who we are outside the landscape of academia, scholarship, and educational ranking systems.
After graduation, I placed my worth in my degree and the opportunities it was supposed to allot me. When all those fell through, I placed my worth in my lack of success and it nearly ended me.
The light bulb lit up when I realized that the only true grading system there is in life is progress.
When we're able to take a step back and see how far we've grown, how many times we gotten up after being knocked down, and the small steps we've taken in the right direction, the learning curves is now only about the you today vs. the you of yesterday.
No matter if you have an associate position, work as a part-time barista, or spend your day searching for new positions on LinkedIn, you have a job. Waking up in the morning and choosing to show up for whatever lies ahead in your day takes work and every time you say "yes" to the journey and "yes" to life, that's a promotion that no manager could ever give you.
So, if you're struggling in between where you are and where you want to be, I am pleased to inform you that we are all full-time employees of life. Your dark seasons are not the end, they're just the middle; show gratitude and be present in your fight. You're a warrior in this thing called life, and that truth should be celebrated.
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