In 2008, I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Martin, bright-eyed and hopeful, with a shiny new degree. I was a Baccalaureate in Fine Art, a graphic design major, and the world was mine for the taking. I’d taken prep classes training me to interview with prospective employers, I had an excellent resume that had been thoroughly peer reviewed, I even had a list of awesome candidates I’d be applying for, companies who would count themselves fortunate to even hear me on the line for a phone interview.
If all this sounds a bit contrived and ridiculous, don’t worry, it was. Graduation was like culture shock. I was slammed in the face by the harsh reality of a recession economy. Trying to start a new career in the winter of 2008 was like trying to prove Yang-Mills and the Mass Gap. Not happening. I had worked as a sports and news photographer for my university during college, so I struck out as a freelance sports shooter and lived on my parents’ couch for over a year.
Turns out, even a legitimately skilled and equipped photographer wasn’t making much money in ’08-’09. I mostly scraped by doing media press kits for local rock bands and my dad’s financial generosity. In the early spring of 2010, I picked up my first full-time college job. I was commuting over 100 miles round trip to work at the front desk of a Comfort Suites in a nearby city. I got no benefits, no lunch, no breaks, and $8/hr. At the end of the day, at least it was a job.
For 10 months, I spent as much money on gas commuting to a hotel job as I made working there. I gave up 5 nights a week of potential photography money, including weekends, to stand behind a desk with a name tag and a tie and tell customers they didn’t qualify for discounts and to give me their money. I was encouraged to cheat and lie and manipulate clientele to make sure the hotel generated the most revenue possible. It was an undeniably horrible experience, and left me feeling morally compromised.
All was not lost, however. After 10 months, my dad was able to help me find a higher-paying job right down the street at my former university. Less than a year later, the social skills I developed working at the front desk of that hotel helped me travel alone across America to a new city and start a fiscally and morally fulfilling career in Apple retail, one I’ve been passionately enjoying for a few years now, and which has afforded me the opportunities to educate and train myself for a future in the technology industry, hopefully with hardware engineering.
Fear not, readers. Graduated a couple weeks ago and shocked that employers aren’t busting down your door to offer you a $20,000 signing bonus and stock options? Don’t fret. Jobs still don’t come easily, but with grit and hard work you’ll find the careers you really want. Still in college, or thinking of going back? You have two lovely options. Make sure to get a STEM degree, these fields are the future of our global economy and will provide real career opportunities. Don’t want to return to school? America is desperate for skilled laborers to take on jobs doing everything from home-plumbing to maintaining our nationwide system of hydroelectric dams. Try entering a trade school!
My first job wasn’t glamorous, your first job might not be either, but it will always lead to a better future if you’re willing to work hard and earn the life you think you deserve.