My UVA education not only helped me sustain an intellectual curiosity that has continued to grow even after my four years as an undergrad, but also gave me the knowledge and skills to deal with real-world problems in all aspects of life. The one thing that it failed to prepare me for, however, was unemployment (and underemployment) after graduation.
Many of us envision our early careers to involve a clear trade-off between money and personal ideals only to later discover that this worldview can be very misleading and discouraging – especially when we find ourselves instead struggling to secure a job offer even after earning a degree from a prestigious university like UVA.
After a long year of constantly reaching out to companies and recruiters, interviewing, and sending out thank-you notes, I graduated without a single offer letter. Even though I did eventually find a full-time job, I am by no means in a position to give any practical advice on obtaining success or even just an entry-level job. I would just like to offer a more holistic view of the unemployed life by navigating three ways of coping with (or, if you’re good, embracing) post-grad uncertainty:
1. Stop thinking about past mistakes.
There were many things I could have objectively done better during my four years as an undergrad to better position myself in the job market. But I have learned that it is pointless and even unhealthy to focus on these things unless they can be used to avoid future mistakes.
At a certain point, our past mistakes become neither informative nor motivating. If the “could haves” cannot be turned into future goals, then we are just aimlessly dwelling in the past. There are no more future final exams to take, so why think about all the times we failed to study sufficiently?
The goal is not to shift the blame from ourselves to our situations. Rather, it is to eliminate the need to blame altogether, at least when doing so doesn’t motivate us anymore.
2. Start doing something now.
We are constantly reminded of the role that luck plays in our successes and failures. But there are so many small things we can just start doing, independent of our job status, that can eventually define who we are. Being unemployed often meant I had way more time to make myself a better person.
After graduation, I found myself more motivated than ever to read and learn. I also had the time to take online courses, volunteer, exercise, and sleep well. Busyness was no longer an excuse I could make to avoid self-improvement.
More importantly, I had more time to spend with the people who cared most about me. I frequently called my parents and my brother, who have all been unconditionally supportive, as well as close friends who were also adjusting to their new, post-grad lives. I took this newfound free time to do a lot of soul-searching and to reaffirm the values I wanted to live by. It was truly a privilege that many people with set paths or busy schedules simply didn’t get to enjoy.
3. Be open-minded about the future.
Luck is often the true driver of good outcomes. We cannot plan to be lucky, but we can plan to put ourselves in situations where we are more likely to be lucky. Instead of only making goals that are dependent on uncontrollable factors, I have found it helpful to expose myself to unfamiliar situations where I might learn something or even find new opportunities.
I look back and am still astounded by how kind the people I encountered were and how lucky I was to have met them. I am even more amazed by the unlikely events that have led me to my current position. The worst part of graduating without a job, at least for me, was neither the lack of income nor the loneliness; it was the uncertainty of what my future was going to look like.
Obviously there is no one silver bullet for all the problems associated with unemployment, but I have learned that trying to view uncertainty as an opportunity rather than a burden is probably the most important challenge anyone can take on.
Jerry Chen (CLAS ’14)
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