Unemployed With A Princeton Degree: How I Learned Self-Love In A Year Of Uncertainty

Life & Travel

This past year has been the most trying year of my life.

It has been filled with insults, mockery, discouragement, and verbal abuse, and the worst part is that I am the perpetrator.

I didn't need a man, friend, or some other outside force to make me feel low. I was taking care of that all on my own.

Out of college for months and still unable to land a full-time job, the wide-eyed enthusiasm I'd experienced during graduation quickly wore off.

I had a degree from Princeton University, the well wishes of loved ones, and the promises of, “I know you'll do great!" from friends and peers, but no job to show for it all.

While I kept myself busy with several internships and hobbies like dance and beauty, feelings of inadequacy grew and festered into what felt like a hole inside of me. I withdrew from friends, worried that I'd be unable to maintain even casual conversations without bursting into tears. I also slept a lot. The more hours I spent sleeping, the more time I had free from the stress of not feeling good enough. Though I still had my internships and sent out countless resumes and applications, my fire had pretty much burnt out.

One night, I was sitting in my living room with my laptop, prepping for a huge networking event the following evening. As I researched all the companies and listed the representatives I wanted to meet with, I suddenly shut my computer off and started to cry. Though I tried to be optimistic, reading the stories of all these professionals and their paths to success just made my own dreams seem futile. I was nowhere near what these people had achieved. Sure, I'm young, but even by my age, it seemed that they had accomplished so much more. Was I just wasting my time?

Was I destined for mediocrity?

I didn't know what exactly I wanted to do, or why my tons of emails and applications were going unanswered or rejected. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to make it so that no one else would have to feel the stinging pain of inferiority that I felt. I wanted a career where I could inspire women and grant them the kinds of opportunities that should be afforded to qualified, hard-working people. Sitting there on the couch in tears was a turning point for me. It was then that I realized that before I could want so much for other women, I had to want all that and more for myself. More than that, I had to believe that I could make my dreams attainable.

I went to that networking event the following night and again, nothing came of it. I didn't get a job offer, but instead I got just what I needed – a reality check. I realized that by berating myself, by expecting to be rejected and passed over for jobs and interviews, I was creating a toxic self-fulfilling prophecy. Since then, I have made it my mission to exercise self-love.

Here are some personal creeds I've learned along the way:

1. Don't say anything about yourself that you wouldn't say about a friend.

During this difficult year of self-examination, I've noticed that I tend to give others all the credit, and myself none. If a girlfriend would come to me upset about a failure, I'd reassure her that she was only one step closer to success, that she is perfect flaws and all, and that she shouldn't let anyone dim her shine. When it came to my own self-perceived failures, however, I was an idiot, a fool, unqualified, and absurd for thinking I could ever get that job, attract that guy, or meet that goal, whatever it may be.

We have to stop tearing ourselves down and start celebrating ourselves for the good, just as we do with others.

2. Never stop being a student. 

After graduating from college, I began to freak out. What had I really learned? Late night cramming sessions and skim-reading became habits for me (as they do for many students). I let that somehow convince me that I was undeserving of my degree, and my inability to get a job was the proof.

That's bullsh*t. I put in the work and earned the title of "ivy-league graduate," just like my peers had done. If I have remorse for all the books I didn't read, nothing is stopping me from reading them now. Education doesn't stop within the walls of a classroom or a lecture hall, and I had to remind myself that I am a student for as long as I have the will and desire to learn.

3. You can't hate yourself into a version of "you" that you love.

I gained weight during college and by the time I graduated, I had reached the highest weight I've ever been. Not only did I feel gross, I felt stupid for letting my weight get so far out of control. My weight became just another thing to beat myself up about, and as if that weren't enough, the last guy I was involved with only played on those insecurities when I learned that he was embarrassed that he liked me. I didn't fit the mold of the type of woman he thought he "should" be attracted to.

In the year after college, I threw myself into dance as a happy distraction and a genuine source of fulfillment. I joined a dance team and began taking additional classes in the city. Before I knew it, I had lost close to 35 pounds and I had fun doing it! Yes, I felt fat, but why did that mean I couldn't still feel fabulous? It doesn't help to look in the mirror and insult your body. If you don't like something, make an effort to change it, but love yourself along the way. Your body has carried you this far in life, so give it some credit!

4. Stop trying to find yourself, and define yourself.

The job-hunt is a struggle; we all know it. Part of the struggle is the anxiety and uncertainty that come with waiting, but a big part of it is having to adhere to someone else's definition of what it means to be qualified. I would look at the bullet points listed in a job description and convince myself that I was unqualified if I didn't meet all of them. Did I have 1-3 years of experience in my dream field? No. Does that mean I wouldn't rock it if given the opportunity? Hell no! A person's abilities aren't summed up by how closely they meet the job description. If you feel you really lack some critical experience, create it for yourself.

The night before the networking event helped me find new purpose. After I had a good, long cry, I had the idea to start a female empowerment blog through which women could share their stories. If no one was going to hire me to write, well then, I'd just have to create the opportunity for myself. While the blog, called Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman, is still in its infant stage, it has been met with nothing but positivity thus far, and has reignited my fire. It taught me that you can't always sit around and wait for the perfect, right-up-your-alley job to fall into your lap. Sometimes you have to create it!

The title of this article is "How I Learned to Self-Love," not how I achieved it. Self-love is a noun, but it's also a verb, an action that must be practiced daily. I still struggle with feeling good enough: qualified, attractive, worthy, and all the other things that fall under that umbrella. I'm not there yet because self-love is not a destination; it's not a "there" that you climb to, stake your flag and live happily ever after. Every day I'm writing, applying, reading, but everyday I'm also dancing, smiling, and living. When your life isn't where you want it to be, it can get easy to cast aside your passions and even friends.

It can seem frivolous to spend time dancing or going out when you have pressing, real-life concerns weighing on your mind. I'm here to tell you that it's not frivolous to spend time on you. Take that dance class, watch that movie, and catch up with friends and family. It is not until you learn to self-love that you can truly prepare yourself for the opportunities and blessings you seek. I started by saying that this past year has been the most difficult of my life. It has also been the most valuable, because I'm learning to love myself.

Featured image by Getty Images

I am McKenzie Dawkins, a Princeton grad and writer based out of Hackensack, New Jersey. I am moved primarily by issues related to women, blacks and other minorities, and the intersectionality of those groups. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter @kenzie_kenz1 and you can follow Blank Woman, Phenomenal Woman on Facebook, or IG @bw_pw.

*Originally published on August 14, 2017

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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