July 07, 2009

this recession thang + (recent college grads + soon-to-be college grads) = (oh dear + hyperventilation) / optimism - crappy job market

So... I actually started writing this on Canada Day (the first of this month), but it's taken me longer to write because I wanted to do the subject justice.


So children, here we are in what many are calling the worst economic mess since the Great Depression. Currently, if I stop to think about it for too long my head starts to swirl with thoughts of

2. Shit. Shit shit shit.
3. Where does that leave me when I graduate in two years?

But let's back up. Why am I panicking?

It all started a month or so ago, when I well, found myself without a job for the summer. My fault. But moving past that, I came to a realization that my career goals weren't where I thought they were in the first place. And when I say realization, I mean a major-identity-crisis-realization. The reasons why it happened are not important because no matter the cause, here I am, not knowing what's really next.

This is (yet another*) source of panic, as I like to plan things way in advance. The only kinds of surprises I like are of the birthday, valentine's day or non-identity-threatening/if-it-must-be-somewhat-sinister-at-least-it's-benign variety. You should seriously look at my school planner. It's not neat, but it's as comprehensive as I can get... for the next year and a half. Holiday flights are pre-planned; days off from school are penned in; birthdays are written in block letters next to the dates; appointments are written in AND reminders for said appointments are written in at least a week before the actual appointment; if I miss classes, I document it; if I have a meeting with a professor, I document it; if I went out for dinner on Friday night, I write it in... you get the idea.

In any case, a friend recently put me in perspective that the place I am in now-- in terms of not knowing what's next-- is really where a lot of college students find themselves. There's plenty of company where I'm sitting. But here comes the question that makes me mentally hyperventilate before I go to sleep: in this economy, is it still possible to have no concrete career goals? Is it possible to still be relevant to the working society despite having only vague notions of "what's next"?

(I apologize: my questions are worded in a rather loaded manner... I have a propensity towards melodrama when emotionally distraught. And torn. And upset.)

I was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation today, and there was a program about how recent college grads are coping with the current job market. Many of them have found themselves jobless upon graduation or are working in fields where they use very little-- or even none at all-- of the knowledge obtained from their major field of study. People are going back to school to get higher degrees to become more competitive applicants or to obtain second degrees that allow them to make very different career choices from their first degrees. And even getting a higher degree isn't a guarantee sometimes, depending on the field of study.

I realize that there's always a certain degree of struggle and angst (or at least stress) when trying to first break into the job market as a young professional-- anything worth having isn't easy to get. (I know that's a quote from somewhere... and I also know I just botched it. Sorry!) But the job prospects aren't as good anymore, and the economy is a difficult beast for debt-laden college grads just starting off.

On the flip side, the built-in flexibility of unsureness may be a plus-- as mentioned before, not even an advanced degree isn't a guarantee of finding a job, and in this perspective, could be even more of a burden, as I would imagine the pressure to pay off debts accumulated over grad school through relevant means is increased. A problem if "relevant means" are nowhere to be found.

I've been kind of wandering through my writing: back to my point. What I mean to say is that this recession, while generally a negative thing, can also give people like me-- college students and recent graduates-- an opportunity to critically think about "what's next"... and I mean in a do-or-die kind of critically. For myself, I've been questioning things I'd always taken for granted, like going to graduate school or being a researcher. I've lately been having second thoughts about going into the research field, and that's something that can only be accomplished through a higher degree. The money is also a concern, but it was only a factor that led me to my thoughts of going on another path.

So who knows? Maybe the recession is a good thing. I do know for sure I'll be making an appointment at the career center at my school to help out with the worries I have about leaving a path I thought I was going to take.

But one thing is now clear: I've always been on-and-off about this, but now I'm even more firm about my desire to go back to Japan and teach English. I'm not sure when-- it may be right after graduation or a year or two after. I also know I want to live in a big city after graduation and just
live. I know my parents will be adverse to that idea, but who knows what may happen from there? The points at which we decide to walk off our intended paths may just make us as fulfilled if we were to stay. Because that's all that really matters-- to make ourselves feel fulfilled. Sometimes we just have to be realistic about the path we choose to achieve that.

It's really interesting being in this place; more than a year ago, I went to a writing workshop for one of my classes. One of the writing advisers was a girl in her senior year that was also an advisee of my advising professor (he's now my secondary one, as he's in the English department). I got into a conversation with her, and of course, I asked what she was doing after graduation. She said she was going to live in Seattle with a couple of friends and work as a waitress. I was incredulous when she told me that, mostly because I was so fixed on the path I wanted to take. I don't remember what we talked about after that, but one thing I remember is just how at ease she was about her plan.

Now, I find myself in a similar situation.

For me, this "recession thang" all boils down to this: THIS IS LIFE. Things happen all the time that make you give yourself a good and hard second look. Recessions happen to be one of them. Of course, you need to make practical adjustments for the current situation. I for one will be sticking to a budget next year, particularly since my parents will no longer be paying for my schooling and I'll be all out on loans (I don't begrudge them-- they just bought a house, among other things). I'm leaving my credit card at home, and by home, I mean in Maryland, all the way across the country (I'd cut it up, but I do need to build credit). I'm saving half of what I earn from my TA job next year. I'm going to be taking a second job, hopefully as a coffee house barista somewhere off-campus.

And most of all, I MEAN it.

So, let's revise my equation, shall we?

this recession thang + (recent college grads + so on-to-be college grads) = (oh dear + hyperventilation) / optimism - crappy job market = LIFE

We'll get through this. Billions of people before us have, and billions of people after us
will, will, will.

P.S. Shout out to President Obama-- thanks for increasing my federal subsidized student loans + giving my parents a refund for first home buyers! Holla!

* what am I going to do with my degree now?!?!