Generation: Limbo

On August 31st the New York Times published on article about my generation’s job woes. And reading it – not only did I feel like I was staring into a mirror, I felt relieved and vindicated.

Meet the members of what might be called Generation Limbo: highly educated 20-somethings, whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.

I’m so sick of the term “boomerang generation,” because (although I feel that the amount of entitlement in my peers is unprecedented and drives me bonkers), for the most part the reason we have to move back home is because we can’t get work. And why can’t we get work? There are two reasons: less jobs and the boomers lost their retirment and can’t leave the work world, which means other workers can’t promote and the entry or smidge-higher-than-entry level jobs aren’t being vacated to make room for the recent college grads.

I graduated from undergrad in the winter of 2006, and it took me months to find an assistant admin position while I waited to get into grad school. Even though I did get a job, the time it took me to find one shocked me. I had been sold the “College gives you a step up!” propaganda. And there I was struggling to find work that, really, a robot could do. I didn’t need a degree to sit at a desk all day and then re-organize the storage room. And this was all before the recession really hit. By the time I got out of grad school in the fall of 2009, I was fucked. Regardless of my two degrees, regardless of my internships, my steady employment, my literary journal staff membership, the publishing industry was a mess, and the country was flooded with over educated, under paid people in their 20s.

So this article from the NY Times saying,

Amy Klein, who graduated from Harvard in 2007 with a degree in English literature, couldn’t find a job in publishing. At one point, she had applied for an editorial-assistant job at Gourmet magazine. Less than two weeks later, Condé Nast shut down that 68- year-old magazine. “So much for that job application,” said Ms. Klein, now 26.


“We did everything we were supposed to,” said Stephanie Morales, 23, who graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 with hopes of working in the arts. Instead she ended up waiting tables at a Chart House restaurant in Weehawken, N.J., earning $2.17 an hour plus tips, to pay off her student loans. “What was the point of working so hard for 22 years if there was nothing out there?” said Ms. Morales, who is now a paralegal and plans on attending law school.

Some of Ms. Morales’s classmates have found themselves on welfare. “You don’t expect someone who just spent four years in Ivy League schools to be on food stamps,” said Ms. Morales, who estimates that a half-dozen of her friends are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A few are even helping younger graduates figure out how to apply. “We are passing on these traditions on how to work in the adult world as working poor,” Ms. Morales said.

After graduate school I moved back to Seattle and got a job working at a bakery because I couldn’t stomach working for another office job that didn’t mean anything. I had done that since 2006 and all through grad school. I wanted to have a more physical job that left me time to write in the 1 bedroom apartment I shared with Claire. I originally wanted to work in a bar because I never had and I thought it would be fascinating, but everyone who couldn’t get jobs in the daylight work world fell back on their old bartending ways, so even those jobs were impossible to find without massive experience. What ended up happening was: Poverty. I could pay rent and my bills, but pretty much nothing else. And writing? Forget it. I was exhausted from being on my feet 9 hours most days. And my days off were spent running errands, doing chores, and trying to have a social life on no cash. I couldn’t focus on writing when I was worrying about how to buy groceries for the next week, on top of buying Christmas presents.

When I moved back to San Francisco I thought things would be different. There were so many more help wanted signs hanging in the industry windows that I was qualified for. And so, so many more qualified artist-types, over educated and all vying for those entry level jobs just to give them some sort of leg up, something to build on, some morsel that says, “all those loans and all that time is worth something.”

But the struggle isn’t all bad. It puts life in perspective and has given me the chance to figure out just what kind of lifestyle I want, where I want my priorities to land.

After all, much of the situation is out of their control, as victims of bad timing. Ms. Klein contrasted her Harvard classmates with the ones of her older sister, who graduated from Harvard seven years earlier. Those graduates, she said, were career-obsessed and, helped along by a strong economy, aggressively pursued high-powered jobs right after graduation.

By comparison, Ms. Klein said her classmates seemed resigned to waiting for the economic tides to turn. “Plenty of people work in bookstores and work in low-end administrative jobs, even though they have a Harvard degree,” she said. “They are thinking more in terms of creating their own kinds of life that interests them, rather than following a conventional idea of success and job security.”

Kamel and I talk all of the time about what would happen if we had money and then lost it. We want to focus on not being super attached to things. Living in a small apartment has made us really good at organizing our life (we have 1 closet… 1 in the entire place) and knowing what we HAVE to have and what we really don’t. Having kids and time to spend with them is more important to us than a job that demands a ton from us and pays us tons. Shopping at Target instead of anthropologie so that we can travel and make memories is an easy choice to make. And when we do get opportunities to further our careers, when I get the chance to quit my temp job and race for the seemingly impossible crack in the closed career door, we sacrifice to support each other.

The numbers are not encouraging. About 14 percent of those who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010 are looking for full-time jobs, either because they are unemployed or have only part-time jobs, according to a survey of 571 recent college graduates released in May by the Heldrich Center at Rutgers.

“They are a postponed generation,” said Cliff Zukin, an author of the Heldrich Center study. He noted that recent graduates seemed to be living with parents longer and taking longer to become financially secure. The journey on the life path, for many, is essentially stalled.

So we wait, and we watch, and we scramble for every opportunity we can sniff out. And I think that makes us better workers, I think in the end it means we’ll know what it really feels like to work our way up, to value the careers we’ve had to be patient for. And hopefully, we’ll treat those in food service, those working with the public, and those at the front desk with respect, because we’ve been there and done that and we know how much it can suck.

45 thoughts on “Generation: Limbo”

  1. This is exactly how I feel. Day after day I feel like a failure because I have a PhD that I don’t use, but recently I’ve decided to try and make the most of my freedom. My contract at my current job (which I hate) runs out at the end of the month and i’m genuinely excited. I’m lucky enough to have a bit of savings so I can take some time and try to find something that I really enjoy. Even if i have to do soem crappy day job to make it happen.
    Here’s to working hard and appreciating the results!

  2. So perfectly put. I graduated in 2008 and have been working at a job I can’t stand since then for this reason. I am so grateful I can support myself, though; I know some people have it so much worse.

    1. I also think there are people who are WILLING to support themselves and work the crap job because it’s important to them, and those who aren’t willing to swallow their pride. I think there is a time for pride swallowing and time to know your worth, and it’s really important to know the difference, and some people don’t because they have families who are too quick to jump in and save them.

      I don’t think this is everyone, and 95% of the people I know don’t have this parachute, and they are all making the best of what they’ve got, but I think more people than usual do have a support system that hinders them, instead of encouraging self-sufficiency.

      1. I’m really torn about whether I’m being stubborn and refusing to work a job “beneath me” or whether I am right to wait out for the right fit. The more desperate I become, the more I feel like taking a job beneath my skills and education.

        You know one of the things that holds me back from those lower status jobs — my high school 10 year reunion. It’s next year. I feel a bit shallow, but I don’t want to walk in there and tell people I’m a secretary. Anyone feel that pressure?

  3. I graduated with two degrees in June 05. I moved to WV because I had no where else to really go. I applied and applied for job after job (shitty office jobs, bartender, etc) and finally got a job rolling burritos because my roommate was in a band with one of the owners. I ended up working 3 jobs to pay the rent/ save money to get the fuck out of that nightmare. I would work at the burrito joint 6 days a week, wash dishes at a Spanish restaurant 3 days a week and work until 4am a Video Poker bar 3 nights a week. It was possibly the worst run of time in my life.

    I moved to the west coast for better opportunity and all I found here was temping places. So a week on here and there and then two days and then nothing. I got my foot in the door eventually at LeapFrog where I was a paper pusher for a year (also in contention for worst period of time in my life) and then got laid off. 6 months of applications and cover letters and phone interviews and still nothing.

    I got in at the absolute bottom, bottom, bottom at LucasArts. Multiplayer lab test. Fun job, but definitely the third layer of whale shit at the bottom of the ocean level and have clawed my way up to being an Assistant Producer. The working world is a cruel place for the young.

      1. In WV the pay is so incredibly minimal that if you want to get even the slightest bit ahead that is what it takes. Just before the burrito rolling job I also had a summer job running a weed eater at a paper mill 🙂

        1. one summer i ran a wading pool at a public park, all by myself, where junior high kids were giving each other head in the bathroom. I kept overflowing the pool….

  4. Omigosh I LOVE THIS perspective and this article. ITS SO TRUE. It hits home in so many ways, with almost every person in my life! the doing and the learning and the struggling we did to get degrees sometimes feels like it takes away from the years I could have had in building experience in a field. I know we are educated and have 4 years of experience studying something and our minds are open and we know HOW to learn and treat people and communicate, which in the end HELPS us reach and strive and MAKE the career we are patiently waiting for, but it sucks to know that a college degree is meaning less and less. I know 3 or 4 of my former coworkers, who were working so hard for little money in preparing the youth of the future (I mean, children are the future! ha!) and they qualified for welfare, and took those food stamps with no shame! But seriously, college grads working in the feild they were prepared for qualify for food stamps!? What!? So I think the note you ended on was so incredibly important, that the receptionists, and assistants, and baristas, and public workers, and even your trash man, they DESERVE the respect that so many people (and sometimes even you!) dont get on the daily 🙁

    ps: this totally touches on a conversation I’m having more and more these days about trades! the TRADES! The idea that there are so many trades/skills out there, making furniture, running a small business, HVAC etc etc etc that we NEED as a society, we want those things (entitlement!), and we expect only the best service and craftsmanship and skill, but then we look down upon the workers, people shy away from encouraging their children to do such things, theres a certain amount of distain for working class. Its crazy!

  5. yeahhh. I graduated in 2005 but had no idea what i wanted to do with my life, so I took any job I could get. Which I suppose wasn’t as hard back then as it is now. I could have been ok but I stumbled into a different job in 2007, which I figured out was a mistake JUST as the economy was going to shit. So I’ve been stuck here, a bit afraid to move. I’m hoping that by going to grad school Next year, by the time I’m done the economy will be a bit better and I won’t be an over-educated 30-something, in a dead-end job with listless prospects..

  6. Oh Lauren, I hadn’t read that article. Thanks for sharing it. And you are so right, we are there with you as well. Figuring out, learning to enjoy life and finding what will really be important for our family. I wrote about the stupid situation and how it was making me a crazy person and how we are figthing against it and it is somewhat refreshing to know this is not our fault, it is the system, it is for now out of our hands. (Which does not mean we should stop trying).

  7. I worked as a barista for 4 1/2 years while I was finishing up school (and also full-time for the first year when I moved to Seattle that I took off to get in-state residency). I’m so thankful for that time because it made me appreciate things, and the people who do those jobs. I’ve always said that I think every person should have to work a food service/customer service job so they could really understand what it’s like.

    I’m also beyond appreciative of the fact that I do have a job right now. That upon graduating, I was able to find a job instead of being in the position of a lot of college graduates. If I didn’t have this job, we never would’ve bought our house… Granted it was in a position that I didn’t really want, but if it meant getting my foot in the door, then I’d do it. An at times difficult year later, I’m at the same company, but in a department doing what I’ve wanted to do. I get to write copy and content, edit, strategize online marketing and advertising, and basically gain a ton of experience. Is it in the industry I want to be in? No, not at all. Are there days I get really frustrated? Absolutely… but I remind myself that I’m lucky I have a job and all of this pressure and frustration will pay off on my resume for the future.

    I also think that sometimes our generation forgets that your first job is never ideal. It’s never exactly what you want and you need to work your ass off to get where you want to be. It’s about getting your foot in the door and moving your way up from there. I feel fortunate I even got my foot in the door in the first place, but I went in with the attitude that I will prove myself to this company and it landed me in a job that I’m finally able to gain the skills and learn things I’ve had an actual interest in learning. It took a year of working really hard and it’s finally starting to pay off.

    Sure, it’s not totally ideal, it still isn’t and won’t be because of my industry, but I’m going to keep working my ass off, learn as much as possible, and see what happens from here. I’m just thankful to have the opportunity.

  8. The idea of curating a life which suits and pleases you hits close to home. I’m leaving my current job (as an administrator at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship) soon (two weeks!) and my dad offered to help me get a job in finance in NYC. My boyfriend and I both looked at him confused, why would I want to work in finance, I didn’t study finance, I have little to no interest in it. And plus the hours are insane, it’s not fulfilling work and seems to be pretty soul crushing. “Why would I want to work in finance?” I asked my dad. “Well, don’t you want to make a lot of money?”

    My boyfriend and I sort of looked at each other– of course I want to be comfortable and not have to worry about money too much. But my goal in life is certainly not “to make a lot of money.” It’s to be fascinated and interested and interesting and happy! Maybe these weird times, not being able to get a job at a magazine or a publishing house or whatever, pushed me to scramble a little- and gave me a little space (funemplyed time) to consider and think about what I really want to do.

  9. Thank you for this post, Lauren! I haven’t read the article in full but I am so glad you shared. I was lucky to get a job on campus after graduation where I had been volunteering through school. It wasn’t the field I thought I wanted to be in, I was overly ready to change locations and expand my horizons, and I was definitely overworked and underpaid as is the cliche. When my contract ended there, I was ready to move on. Instead I found myself defaulting back into my hotel front desk role I had worked through college. It was livable, miserably, but livable. I know I was lucky to be employed at all, but it sure does a number on one’s self worth.

    When my fiance got a university teaching job half way across the country, we jumped on a chance to get out of Montana. I was amazed how hard it was for me to find a job at all, much less anywhere near a helping profession field. I did find a great job after 6 months of searching and am now excited to go back to grad school, something on which I had always planned. However, I’m terrified to give up this position, in any form. I know there will be semesters in my near future where I can hopefully find an internship that will balance my 30 hours a week there with my current full time position. It is going to get interesting. I’m already halfway kicking myself for pursuing more education when I know and have lived the situation from the article. I’m trying to stay hopeful. I love school, but I’ve got to wonder if this next degree will be worth the time, sacrifice and money. I suppose time will tell?

    Anyways, thanks for this post. I think it is relevant to so many people our age and it is always nice to have the camaraderie, especially in the struggle.

  10. After reading my blog, my mom just sent me this email. She wouldn’t comment, but I asked her if I could copy/paste:

    I thought your blog was well written and thoughtful. Good work. Lots of “food for thought” . These times are very similar to the early 80’s when I graduated from college. High unemployment, high inflation and high interest rates back then. Working part time was the only way to survive and get a foot in the door.

    You two have a good perspective and I love that you are going down this road together. When you can enjoy your life when you have so little, it sets the foundation for a strong marriage.

    Something good will happen for you LAuren. Remembe if there is 10 percent unemployment, there is 90 percent employed. You have the advantage over the ivy league people because you are scrappy, like a street fighter, not afraid to get down and take that crazy job. Keep looking they are out there.

    1. Right on Lauren’s mom. I was there with you and it wasn’t easy. We had a two page list of bills that we had to pay, vacations were in the back yard, and at one point you were working two jobs and I was working three. One day shift, and two on call grave yard. Ha. I wasn’t sure what time or day it was, but we were together. Lauren, you have an advantage of knowing what you need to do, are willing to do it, and are not making excuses for what you have or don’t have. You have a great ability to see beyond the first layer of crap to get to where you need to be. Hang in there. Things will get better. If not… there is always a spare room in our place.


  11. I really found this article (and your companion piece) interesting but I can’t really relate. Instead, I’m in a entirely different situation. Ready for my story? Okay…

    I graduated from high school in 2004 with no real idea of where I wanted to go in life. I was working retail, had quite a bit of money saved up (five grand is a lot for a 17 year old, okay?) but I didn’t have any financial support from my family.
    Because I was 17, I still lived at home but I paid my way through the local Community College, worked full time, and rode the bus to the next town to attend classes because I didn’t have a driver’s license. I felt like a fully responsible adult but I wasn’t treated like one at home…even after I turned 18. So, I got a second job, kept going to school and finally had a car!

    Then, at 19 I got sick of being bossed around/ treated like a kid at home so I moved out! Yay! Yay? No. The freedom was great but now I was paying rent, bills, groceries, school and gas to get to my two jobs/ classes. I entered burnout mode and not long before I turned 20, I had a nervous breakdown and quit school. I was doing really well, majoring in journalism/ photography and editor of the paper, but I was drowning in stress illness.

    So my boyfriend (now husband) and I moved out of one overpriced suburb into a more moderately priced suburb and I applied for an office job. With my minimal college education, I was hired and I’ve been here ever since! Fred applied for a graphic design job (with NO degree) and was hired as well! HOW LUCKY WERE WE?

    Staying in those jobs allowed us to make more money, save enough to buy a house, and send Fred back to art school. I don’t discount how fortunate we are.

    Here’s the problem though, I’m stuck at this job…at least until I start making enough money with photography to work from home. I want to work in a different environment and make the kind of money that I’m worth but I can’t because I don’t have a degree. There are personal assistant/ office manager jobs that ask for experience in Microsoft and Adobe products (which I’m basically an expert at) but they also require a BACHELOR’S DEGREE. Really? So my 5 years of experience (plus 5 years of managerial experience) doesn’t mean shit because I didn’t go to school? It sucks. It really, really sucks.

    The best part is when people tell me to just “go back part time”. It doesn’t work that way! Going part time means ammending my work schedule, and making less money. Plus, this article is so true that making the sacrifices to finish college doesn’t really guarantee a solid financial future.

    It’s almost a catch-22. If you go to school, you miss out on work experience and can’t get hired. If you DON’T go to school, you miss out on having a degree and can’t get hired.

    So now, I just wallow in my “25 with no degree” status and realize that some people have it WAY worse than I do and I should just suck it up and show up to work on time.


    1. My BF is 25 with no degree too. He is in a similiar pickle too. How do you convince someone that your 8+ years of work experience actually matter? We’re also in a position where we are talking about what it would look like to put him into school and the number crunching is scary business. His job is flexible enough at this point where he could maintain most of his hours and go to school. But that means working nearly full-time and going to school full-time. I did that for three years and it was the worst experience of my life. I wish there was an easier way but independent wealth seems far off…

      1. I did that for three years too! Go us. And i’m so glad it’s over. And I can’t believe how fucking ridiculous it was, looking back. I totally earned those sobbing nights of WHAT THE FUCCCCK.

          1. Lauren, the real question is: how were we not better hommies when we actually saw each other every day? I guess growing up made us cooler.

            And HELL YES to being a FT worker/student totally sucking. The worst part was I kept wondering why I sucked at life and crying over it. In reality I just literally had NO TIME.

  12. I definitely feel lucky that I’m finishing grad school knowing that I have a great job to start in January. A huge part of it is that I study a field that’s in demand (accounting) and that I happened to land an internship last year when most of my classmates did not. And why did I get to even just interview for that internship? Because of my undergrad degree in Communications. The degree I felt stupid for getting when I hated all my options after graduation actually HAS paid off because the skills I got from it are desperately needed in my new field.

    Is accounting the job 17 year old me dreamed about? No. But its a job I enjoy, that challenges me, that I am good at, that will pay me good money and help us have babies and travel and take classes and all the things I could never afford when I worked for a non-profit at a “fun” job.

    My biggest advice to my friends who struggle to find work is to make a plan and go with it. It took me 3 years and $10k to get here, but I am SO happy. Pre-grad school I didn’t want to wait 3 years to start a new career, but I researched everything and realized that’s what it would take.

  13. I find it incredibly frustrating that people think just because I have an undergraduate degree and a masters degree, coupled with experience, I should have no problem finding a job.

    I don’t know what I was thinking when I purposely went into a field that had few jobs BEFORE the recession. Now it’s just laughable.

    I want to switch fields and get out of this one, but that would mean taking a major step down. This scares me. I also feel like I would be letting down all the people who mentored me and believed in me over the years.

  14. Ahh, I could have written a similar blog post (slightly a lot less eloquently). B.A. in ’04 – no job no job no job. Job as a technical writer making $10/hr. Not worth it. Back to grad school! M.L.A. in ’07. No job all summer. Finally broke into my industry. I think it helps that I live in smaller towns, so I’m a bigger fish in a smallish pond. But I’m sorry to say that my graduate degree neither helped me get jobs nor increased my earning potential, and that really kind of pisses me off.

    Not to mention, just because I’m working in my “industry” – which, I use that term extremely loosely – doesn’t mean that I feel like I’m living my best life… the one that would make me happy or the one that would fulfill me the most. I’m making a decent wage and I’m living for the weekend, while getting a decent level of enjoyment (that is to say, about 17%) out of my work. Luckily, because I work in a major institution of higher education, I have a lot of opportunity for opportunity (yes, I mean just that) so I’m hoping some of it comes my way in the future. I recently had the opportunity to co-teach a workshop to graduate students on writing for the general public, so those are the kinds of things I’m talking about that lie outside of my PR/writer/editor job.

    I feel really lucky for what I do have though; I know it could be a lot worse for me and is a lot worse for a lot of people out there – people who are smarter, more talented, and more ambitious than I am. I think it’s really disappointing to see the state of things for smart youngish people out there today, and I hope things get better soon. =/

    1. I thought my grad degree would help me land jobs, but now I feel like it can also hurt, esp when i’m just trying to get starter stuff and I feel that people look at my resume and think “oh, too qualified for this… she’ll leave soon.” when really I’m like ANYTHING GOD HELP ME ANYTHINGGGG.

      1. I keep wondering if that’s why the entry-level jobs I’ve applied for NEVER call me back. I’ve considered leaving it off, but it is my resume, i.e. it’s a huge chunk of my post-hs life, work experience, references, etc.

  15. This post could’nt have come at a better time…2 nights ago I had a major panic attack about my current school status. After graduating high school I received my Associate degree from a community college, with no real focus. I hated school so when I got an office job that gave me the ability to support myself I quit school. I worked in a office for almost 5 years, at the time I hated it, the florescent lights and all. The moment I got the chance I sold everything I owned (literally) and moved to Austin, TX. Soon after I decided I needed to go back to school to make something of myself…fast forward 4 years and Ive attended 3 colleges in 3 years, with 3 more years until I finish a Bachelor’s in Nursing (yup! thats 8 years to get a Bachelors, mostly due to transferring schools and changing my major…I should be a doctor by now). I choose Nursing because I feel like its recession proof, however I hate the classes. I hate science! I am not good at science! When I was a Psychology major I was so much more interested and happy…yet does just a Bachelor’s in Psych yield a job? I still dont know. People have been telling me to stick it out and in 3 years Ill have a good job…but I dont know if I can last that long, being a server while paying for school is the hardest thing Ive ever done. Living expenses plus an additional $700/semester for books is insane and not do-able. Now looking back I would love to have my office job back, a steady pay check, weekends off, no homework stress…ahh the life.

    1. I did the BA in psych in an attempt to have a degree in a “profession” and then by the time I graduated, I realized that to work in that field I would need at least a master’s or more. So I decided to do other things and have never worked in the psych field. My impression is that nursing would be much, much more stable career-wise. Good luck!

  16. This post is clearly so timely, judging from all the other comments.

    I was one of the lucky ones when I graduated college (in 2008, right before the economy really took a nose dive). I got a job almost immediately, not in my chosen field, but a job was a job and since the non-profit I was at was so small, I got a ton of managerial experience and responsibilities in two years that I don’t think I would’ve gotten otherwise with only a bachelor’s and a bunch of odd part-time jobs under my belt. Part of my job was overseeing our hiring process as well, so I learned so much about how to give a good interview, how to write the sort of cover letter that gets you an interview in the first place, etc. When I left that job for grad school, I felt like I’d learned a ton and had really solidified a bunch of skills. I felt extremely hireable.

    And yet. About a month ago, an opportunity to apply for a dream job pretty much fell in my lap. I applied; I got moved on to the final round. I had no doubts that I could do this job – I had exactly the right skill set and experiences the company was looking for, plus passion for the industry. I knew I gave a great interview. I graduated from a great school and am studying at another great school.

    And… I didn’t get the job. And this shocked me (despite the fact that I’ve been on the other side of the interviewing table and I know how many good candidates I’ve had to turn down and how you can’t take the rejection personally, etc.). It was the first time that the state of the job market and the competitiveness of having that many (over)qualified people looking for work really hit me. It was a super-sobering realization that even though I’m a much better candidate now than I was 3 years ago when I graduated, it might be harder for me to find a job now, much less a dream job. I’m still looking, but I think where before I would’ve just blithely quit grad school and dedicated myself to full-time searching, now I’m a lot more hesitant to give up what little income I’m bringing in. I’m a lot more afraid of having a resume gap.

    In all though… on good days, I’m grateful, stubbornly, for the state of things. I’m glad that if our generation has to learn that the myth of education is really a myth, that we are doing so while still young and tough enough to push through. I’m glad that it makes me grateful for opportunities, rather than feeling entitled to them. I’m glad that it’s teaching me to hear and accept “no,” and to keep trucking along until I hear a “yes.”

  17. tell me about it. TELL ME ABOUT IT. REALLY. i work hourly contract full-time and freelance more than 40 hours per week and i bought into the whole – you can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard mentality. i worked hard. i put my mind to it. i took on debt. and wtf. i posted this comment a while ago that a user posted on Ruben Navarrette’s super offensive blurb on Gen Y in the workplace – his comment was pretty genius.

  18. Since everyone is sharing their stories (which is awesome I feel much less like I’m the only one out there fighting the good fight), I’ll share mine.

    I graduated from high school a year behind Lauren (go Cougs!) and immediately went off to New York City to big, expensive Dream School. My parents told me that they had enough money for one year of Dream School or all four years of big, modestly-priced State School. Being 18 I chose New York City. It was an amazing, amazing year. I feel in love with a city that will always be a part of who I am. I experienced a level of freedom and independence that shaped the person I became. Overall? Net gain. BUT it made the rest of my college education really hard.

    Unfortunately funding for the remaining three years of Dream School didn’t magically appear. I moved back to Seattle, lived in my childhood bedroom and worked a full-time version of the part-time job I had in high school. I met the amazing man that is now my boyfriend of 5+ years. Overall, net gain. But, Jesus f-ing Christ, that year was HARD. That year of giving up the way I thought things were going to be, being smacked upside the head by reality, working while all my friends were in school was the hardest year of my life. I felt like I had done something terribly wrong. I felt like I had made a stupid, stupid choice. Oh and my grandma died. It would take a lot of money to make me relive 2005-2006.

    I graduated from college in 2009. I managed to find the job I have now through my own hard work but a big step up from some old fashioned nepotism. I had someone refer me for a job. The job isn’t fantastic, I’m bored most of the time but I get a paycheck and I feel like there is room to grow. And I know this won’t last forever.

    But there is a part of me that is mad. Mad it has to be so hard (and I’ve had so, so many things work out in my favor). Mad that my talented, hard-working friends can’t find jobs. Mad that my amazingly smart boyfriend can’t afford to be challenged by higher education. Mad that I may not get to retire. Mad that my parents have to work longer. Mad that the politicans want to slash food stamps when 1 in 6 Americans rely on them for supplemental nutrition. Mad that I can’t find an apartment that doesn’t cost a bazillion dollars or is miles from nowhere.

    I’m trying to be open to Lauren and Lauren’s mom’s words about it making us stronger. I’m trying to get to a place where I can visualize the future and it’s bright with a nice place to call home, a modest vacation and a healthy savings account. I know I’m capable. But seriously, how strong does one have to be?

    1. I was mad for a long time. Sometimes I’m still mad. Really really mad. I feel cheated and lied to and fucked over. I had professors telling me to go to grad school, it will open up so many doors, I could TEACH with my MFA. And I wanted to SO BADLY. But I can’t. Because the market is flooded with writers who want to teach. I got NO help from my university to help me navigate the job market. It was all on me and my own networking. And it makes me so angry.

      But, anger is just not productive. At a certain point I had to accept reality for what it is and push forward, I had to make my own path, or at least start digging at one, and not the faux path that everyone says is there but really turns out tobe a dead end. We can’t go about things the way our parents went about things, even if they swear by it because it doesn’t work anymore. I can’t be mad anymore. It is what it is. Things will open up, they will. And that was the first article I’ve read that didn’t blame me for my “self centered ness” or my “need to find my artistic center” and really showed the reality – that some people are taking the break from a career and running with it, and some are pissed and frustrated working 3 jobs to figure it out.

      I choose to see the silver lining because when I was angry and crying and feeling trapped, I was angry and crying and feeling trapped and going no where all at the same time. It doesn’t do anything for me to pound my fist against the wall. I have to find a window to break instead. (metaphorical… since the doors don’t seem to be working)

      1. I’m trying to chose the silver lining. And most days I’m there.

        But in the past six months I went from one friend that was unemployed to six friends that are unemployed. And the economy is supposed to be slightly better here than other parts of the country. Add that to a whole bunch more people that have grown out of their jobs or are over-qualified for there positions and you’ve got pretty much my entire social circle. So we plug on….

  19. I graduated in 2006 with an architecture degree. It took me 3 months initially to find a job, which wasn’t bad. But then the economy crashed and no one was building. The place I was working for closed down, and luckily I was able to get a new job right before that happened.

    3 months later, I got laid off. Last in, first out I guess… I was unemployed for 6 months before I took a part time job at my boyfriends graphic design firm. Thank god for them! The staff web developer taught me all he knows, and I’ve been working full time there ever since. So glad I was able to do this, learn a new, really valuable skill and stay employed.

    But when I wasn’t working, man was it bleak. There were no jobs, and the ones that I was close to getting kept getting taken by people within the companies that were going to get laid off. What a mess!

  20. Holy monkey grapes, do I hear you. The one thing I feel grateful for is that at least my degree (theatre) set us up to be unemployed. Having to spend months working retail while I look for “real job” still sucks balls, but at least it was something I was emotionally prepared for.

    It looks like you have the right mentality about it. If anyone can get through it with your spirits and dignity in tact, you can!

    1. YES. Before the economy fell apart, I was doing theatre for years, and there were some rough financial times. The “starving artist” joke is really not too far off… Now I am still trying to pursue theatre (in a new town and new country, so I am starting over again) and and am thankful to be working some part time jobs (that I like!) at the same time…

  21. I LOVE this post, Lauren. I am going to link it on my fb page later.
    Like you, I am BIG time paddling this bullshit “I went to college and have no career to show for it” boat. And holy crap, is it hard work to paddle. Nevertheless, there is always comfort in knowing one is not alone. Being able to say, “yeah, The Man screwed me over too!” is surprisingly empowering.
    Now that the bf and I live together, I am truly learning what it means to build a life. And since he is a huge saver and budgeter, I am learning what it means to build a frugal life. Combining his frugality and my need for “but this looks soooo nice” isn’t always easy, but the challenge is fun. We too have ONE closet it our whole house, and boy did I feel accomplished when I fit a laundry basket, two wardrobes, 35 pairs of shoes and a vacuum cleaner in there.
    Props to all of us in Generation Limbo.

  22. It’s so interesting, because there is some micro-timing going on. I read this article and was fascinated. Obviously I’ve made some choices around working for myself/ doing creative work/ quality of life, not to mention we’ve had some hard job stuff around here in the past few years. But what I said when I looked up from the article was, “Oh god, what if we were five years younger?” I graduated in New York City in 2002, in the midst of another horrid recession, and it was hard. I did the bakery/ poverty gig (though hilariously at one of the most famous bakeries around, though it still paid nothing). I did the temp gig. I did the $11/hour no insurance assistant gig. But then the economy got good, so in our mid-twenties we were able to get jobs, and build skills, and gain experience. So now, in our early 30’s, we were on slightly surer footing when things collapsed, because this time we had skills, which we did NOT have last time around.

    So I’m rambling but in sum, my thoughts: A) Things will get better, and the hard times do give you skills and survival. B) The article is right, it’s interesting and amazing the way the recession is shaping all of our choices, and C) I’m just personally fascinated by the way the timing is shaving out these micro-generations of experience. I have no idea what it *means* but I think it’s interesting.

  23. Graduated in 2004 from a small state school in Wisconsin, BA in English. I married my high school boyfriend just one month after my graduation and took a job working at a credit union for 7.50 an hour, part time. I worked there for 1.5 years, eventually making 9.00 an hour before being fired for being “a bad fit”. Basically, my boss told me that I was overqualified for the job and that they wanted to find someone that they knew would not leave for a better position.
    I went back to school to get a teaching license, assured by the program director that teaching jobs would be on the upswing in no time, despite cuts in funding. I got my teaching license in June of 2007 and didn’t get hired for a full time teaching job until the end of August 2008. In the interim, I answered phones for a few different companies starting at 9.50 and making 12.50 by the time I took my teaching job.
    The teaching job that I eventually secured was at one of the worst districts in the state, with an incredible turnover rate. I was hired 3 days before school started and was the only applicant for the job that was not a sexual predator. As you can imagine, my confidence was not boosted much by the position. On top of that, the school was 2 hours away from the home that I shared with my husband. I had to get an apartment in town and spent my weekends at home with him. For a number of other reasons, we divorced at the end of that year.
    When I moved to my school’s town full time, I really came face to face with how awful the school and community climate were. I couldn’t continue to teach in a place that so distorted the values of education. In addition, I finally had opportunities that I had put off because of my marriage. I decided to leave my job to go back to grad school.
    My new boyfriend and I moved to another small town, between his job and my school, and spent the next year living on basically his income. I worked part time at a grocery store, the only job I could get, making minimum wage for the first time since I was 16. With the federal minimum wage increase, I was now making 7.50 an hour, 6 years after graduating from college. Needless to say, my self esteem was not at an all time high.
    Now, a year later, I’m attending school full time and have an assistantship on campus. We actually have enough money, between student loans and our meger assistantships, to pay bills and even go to the movies once in awhile but we are both nervous about what is on the other side of those graduation doors. Am I getting a master’s degree, only to get another job at another Piggly Wiggly? I cannot fully express the fear and uncertainty that I feel about all of this and I often have to focus only on what is happening today, to prevent myself from being overwhelmed with life and the scariness of it all.
    I comfort myself with the fact that knowledge is worthwhile for its own sake, not only for monetary gain. Without that, and the love of my family, my mind would have been lost long ago.

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