Plenty of hubbub is flying around the blogosphere about the crummy job market and college graduates’ struggles to find consistent employment. An unstoppable horde of cynical, degree-wielding adults is storming the Internet in order to ricochet sob stories off one another. Almost without failure, they blame the recession, or the president, or each other. They moan endlessly about how they can’t find a career that stimulates them, a vocation that relates to their studies, or whatever.
Good. Their moans are music to my ears—the sound of shattered delusions. Discontent is the precursor to change.
It may come across as a shock to the swarms of bright-eyed, soon to be college graduates out there, but landing a dream job isn’t easy. Hell, finding one you can tolerate is rare enough. Most people are miserable with their jobs and those who tell you they aren’t are lying. Maybe one out of a hundred people goes to work every morning riding on a ray of sunshine with a grin on his face. The truth is, most people who have found true happiness in their work, didn’t come across it easily. They strayed from their plans and sampled a cornucopia of occupations. If you are having a hard time figuring your life out, take it as a good sign.
If you want to be one of the few people who are truly happy with their jobs, it takes more than a bachelor’s degree, a firm handshake, and wishful thinking. You need the courage to explore your interests, the integrity to recognize your mistakes, and the patience to overcome your failures. And there will be failures.
College isn’t some guaranteed gateway to success. Like everything else in life, what you get out of college is proportional to what you put into it. Blaming your early-onset, mid-life crises on the nature of society or some elusive economic conundrum will only appease your frustrations for so long. Instead, take stock of the benefits your youth offers and explore your passions while you can. Retirement is not the time to start putting tallies on your bucket list. Plus, your false hip won’t take the stress of skydiving.
If you can’t find a use for your anthropology degree or are tormented by occupying the lowest rung of the corporate ladder, take a moment to reconsider your professional trajectory. Changing career paths only becomes more tedious over time. Before you know it, the job you are doing “just to pay the bills” will become your life’s work.
Much to my surprise, no impeccably dressed individual appeared at graduation to offer me a sign-on bonus, a job of any sort, or a part-time, unpaid internship. Instead, I walked across a stage, shook some stranger’s hand and left with a slip of paper bound by ribbon that read, “This is not your actual diploma.”
Like most people, I was led to believe that an education from a four-year university meant four years of hard work followed by a new car, a house, a reasonable retirement plan, and vacationing once every few years somewhere exotic. I believed that once I was awarded my bachelor’s degree in English literature, endless hallways packed with doors of opportunity would materialize before my eyes and invite me into sweet, comfortable career-hood. My impressive GPA and extracurricular activities would make me the star of all the job fairs, my literary analysis skills the talk of the town.
Much to my surprise, no impeccably dressed individual appeared at graduation to offer me a sign-on bonus, a job of any sort, or even a part-time, unpaid internship. I could have sworn my high school counselors explained that was what was supposed to happen after college. Instead, I walked across a stage, shook some stranger’s hand and went home with a slip of paper bound by ribbon that read, “This is not your actual diploma.”
Since graduation in 2007 I have worked six jobs and two internships in five very different fields. Similar to how I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist in middle school and a professional athlete in high school, my interests have changed dramatically. Thank god.
I have worked as a landscaper, a professional firefighter, a tutor, a high school English teacher, and now a writer. I have earned two college degrees and I am working toward a third. I am proud of my life’s course because, despite its unconventional trajectory, I am now confident about what I love doing and I know how to make a living doing it.
The record underemployment rates glaring in the faces of countless Millennials could be our generations’ biggest blessing. If nothing else, suffering a terrible job forces you to develop a purpose in life, even if it is out of spite. And defining your life’s purpose is the first step to being happy.
(Originally published here on The Good Men Project.)