I returned to school after four years working and traveling. I decided that while my life was good, it could be better by having a college degree. I wanted to be paid a fair wage, qualify for better jobs, and learn more about my areas of interest. Four more years later, and I’ve graduated with a few degrees from a really good school. The catch? We’re in the middle of a global pandemic with a possible second one on the horizon, a war has broken out in Europe, prices on essentials like gas and food are historically high, and rent is ridiculously expensive. Despite the seemingly numerous openings, it’s a bad time to be looking for a job or trying to grow a career—yet this is when I find myself re-entering the workforce.
College students across the country graduated this year, with the hopes that the promise of a better life would finally be fulfilled. Since childhood we were told to go to college in order to make the most out of life and be financially stable. So this May, we all threw our graduation caps, all to realize that we were going out into a world that didn’t have the resources or stability for us to enter it successfully.
Most of the people in my graduating class decided instead to continue with school, and earn a higher degree. It’s not necessary for their fields: they just don’t want to fight an uphill battle right now. Instead, they’re spending more money to be in school for longer. I am one of the very few who aren’t doing that. I’ll be 26 in the autumn, and while I loved school, I am definitely ready to get back to work. I love the field that I’m in, and I now have the college education to rise in it. I don’t want to be in school for the entirety of my twenties when I started so late, and I shouldn’t have to do that. I paid for these degrees and they came with a promise that my life would get better for it. Yet it’s mid-August and I have yet to find a full-time job that’s even remotely related to what I’ve been working toward.
I’ve taken many part-time positions instead, none of which require a college degree. I am not earning extra because I went to school, and the one thing that is keeping me from freaking out right now is knowing that I’m not alone. It’s a rough time to exist, period, but especially if you’re also trying to grow in your career during multiple crises. I don’t know anyone from my school who’s having a different experience. So they’re all pouring into graduate programs (which makes them more selective), moving back in with their parents, or taking jobs that work for tips. It’s tough out here.
I have never had a hard time finding a job, and have always felt wanted by employers. Since graduating though, it’s been hard to find anything to apply for, and those that have accepted my applications didn’t offer acceptable pay. I shouldn’t go through school for four years, go into debt, and pause my career all to see that it hasn’t paid off after. I might as well have not gone to school.
Now, here’s the thing—I’m glad I went to school. I learned so much about important things. I gained amazing skills for my trade and my life, and I know I’m now qualified for jobs that I wasn’t even qualified to apply for before. I know that this is a tough time, and it doesn’t reflect the value of my college education. It mattered that I went back to school, and it will eventually pay off. But right now, it isn’t. None of us are reaping the benefits that were supposed to come by now. We’re waiting, and hopefully our time comes.
So for now, I have a couple of part-time jobs with two more that will begin in a month. I freelance to keep progressing in my career, sell my clothes, make and sell sustainable goods, and have a photography print shop online. I’m cobbling together an income in order to just pay our bills and buy groceries. It’s not a time that I can build up a savings—I went through it all while looking for employment. Again though, this is not my personal battle. This is a global problem that young Millennials like me, and Gen Z college graduates are having to face. It’s defining our lives right now, and it’s been a kick in the gut for those of us entering a phase of life that was supposed to be filled with us thriving. What is like to graduate college in 2022? Brutal.
College graduates everywhere are having a rough time. We aren’t thriving. We aren’t making money. We aren’t seeing the benefits of our expensive education yet. I am privileged because I am getting by despite that, but a lot of us aren’t. They’re moving back in with their parents, falling behind on bills, or struggling to buy groceries. I am not in that boat, and it’s important that I focus on that. I had the intention on graduating, getting a remote job in my field, and focusing on moving forward. Now, I’m trying to learn that this is not an in-between stage, because it’s my life. I am living just as much as I will be when things start working out. I am finding joy in little things, exploring new skills in the jobs I took outside of my field, and reconnecting with the fact that I am scrappy and capable. I can get through anything, and this isn’t something to “get through.”
I’m trying to make the most of this time. I am exploring new interests while I wait for things to look up, organizing my home and selling anything that I don’t need, and learning to be flexible. My plans are probably not going to work out, because I made them in a different era. I’m trying to enjoy this phase instead of obsessing over that fact. I’m trying to just live in this era, despite the struggle, and remember that I have a lot to be grateful for. My partner and I have a home, and we love each other. We live in the middle of beautiful mountains, have our health, and have a full fridge. I am centering my thoughts more on gratitude every morning, and building patience. I may not get a full-time job in my field when I thought I would, and our plans may all be on hold for a while, but that’s okay. Someday, I’ll look back at this time as a time when I was young and just starting out, and it will be beautiful to me. This is a time to exist and find happiness in, not to view as limbo to get through. As long as I have a home, food, and enough money to pay my bills, it’ll all be okay.
I’m fighting discouragement daily, and I’m trying to not feel like a failure. We all are, as pandemic-era college graduates. I am just now deciding to try and roll with it, after months of fighting against this inevitable struggle. My advice to fellow graduates? Take this time to explore. It will eventually be our moment, and we’ll get to have our career. For now, let’s take a breather and see other things. Take a local job that will teach you a new skill. Learn a new language in between bussing tables. Name three good things that happened to you at the end of every day. We need to get by right now, but there is still a little space for goodness. I don’t know about you, but I need to focus on that goodness right now.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn