20something profile: Chelsea
There are two pieces of advice my dad has always told me in regards to a career:
Do what you love, and the money will follow.
You’ve just gotta get on the highway. Then you can choose your exit.
In this case, the highway represents that first job that gets you the “relevant experience” practically every job posting, even entry-level, has in the fine print.
While these are nice ideals, sometimes they are a bit lofty for the realities of having to pay rent and bills. But alas, through a lot of struggle and misshapen jobs, my dad proved to be right.
Perhaps like many twenty-somethings, I naïvely assumed since I’d always been successful in school and in getting internships, I’d easily get a job in my field. I mean, that’s what we’re taught from elementary school all the way through college: get the grade, and you’ll move to the next level. So naturally, it seems safe to believe graduation will result in a job.
I think no matter what you’ve studied or where you live, the struggle to find your place in a still-recovering economy is a tough one. I always found myself frustrated with this catch-22: Companies want experience, yet if you’re fresh out of college, even with a few internships under your belt, how are you supposed to have that relevant experience of often two to three years?
Trial and Error
After getting my master’s in professional writing in Oklahoma, I found myself with dreams of a big city, a bit of a culture shock, and a totally different vibe. So I set my heart on San Francisco.
Some may call moving there without a job stupid (looking back, I agree). Others may call it brave (I also agree). My almost-two years there were the hardest of my life. Living there forced me to grow up, become self-assured, and also made me question everything — myself, the world, our country’s economy, and maybe most of all, what I wanted to do and the worth of my hard work up until this point — because my degrees, 4.0, and portfolio of work started to seem pointless.
In order to at least survive, I got a job in retail. There are a lot of things I told myself throughout my struggles at this job, like when I was mopping the floor and cleaning the toilet on the eve of my 25th birthday, feeling totally unhinged from where I thought I’d be at this point of my life. Or when a woman yelled at me for directing her to the nearest coffee shop since customers couldn’t use our bathroom and acted like I was an uneducated idiot.
It’s amazing how people will treat you. Perhaps this job was a schooling in the importance of kindness and patience, and that you never know someone’s backstory or what they’re going through. These are the sorts of things I told myself: that I was at this job to learn something, even if it was a lesson I’d rather not learn because it was so torturous.
After seven months and still no editorial job bites, I started working at a tech company doing glorified fact-checking. I was a writer updating a database of other writers and journalists. So all day I read LinkedIn profiles of people doing exactly what I wanted to do and I thought, “Why isn’t this me? What am I doing wrong?”
At this point, I’d basically given up on the U.S. I’d always wanted to live abroad and began to seriously plan moving to South Korea to teach. It’s ironic how our country, which promises opportunity for all, has dramatically failed so many of our generation in this promise.
Change of Course
I truly believe there is something about taking a course of action one way or another that makes the world conspire to work in your favor. Because just days after I paid a lump sum of money for a TEFL certification course (by the way, won’t be getting that back), my luck changed.
A magazine contact I’d reached out to months earlier finally e-mailed me back. One of their magazines had an open editor position in Phoenix.
I didn’t even think twice. This was the job that got me on my dad’s metaphorical highway.
I will be forever grateful to my boss for seeing what I and so many other entry-level candidates hope for: that someone will see me for the potential I have as an intelligent person who can and will excel — and I did. Just ten months later I took an exit off this highway into a new direction at another magazine.
This may sound cheesy and obvious, but it’s the truth: Sometimes, you just need one person to believe in you, to fight for you, but first you always have to believe in yourself. And try. Even if it’s overwhelming and seems to be going nowhere.
So, I will, perhaps, modify my dad’s advice just a bit.
Do what you love …
…and be kind to people and yourself; follow up; try calling instead; put your feelers out with family, friends, and local meetups or professional groups; ask, otherwise the answer’s always no; and finally, have faith and remain steadfast…
… and then, even though it may take time, the money and, more importantly, a sense of rightness will follow — and so will a highway with plenty of exits when you’re ready for a change of scenery.