Friday, April 29, 2011

Life After College: Laura


All right. So earlier in the week I was freaking out about my Quarter Life Crisis. Graduation is a huge transition, and I bet I'm not the only one who's a little bit nervous about it. Knowing that many of my readers are of late high school or college age, or just starting out life as 20-something on the go, I decided to start a bit of a mini-series about recent grads and how they made it: the good, the bad and the ugly.

This week I spoke with my buddy Laura. Laura writes at Ruby Bastille and Average Fantastic and is becoming a fantastic wedding planning for her own wedding (everyone go "awww!"). Here, she discusses graduating with a creative writing degree, your need to network and her love of Blizzards.


-Where did you go to college? 
I went to Linfield College, a small school in a small town in Oregon.  Go Wildcats!  (My sister is on their tennis team now, so I can say that without sounding like a tool.)

-What was your major?
Creative writing. People give me funny looks because it’s not the most practical-sounding degree, but hey, I know how to use an apostrophe.

-When did you graduate?
I graduated in May 2009.

-What was second semester senior year like, work-wise and emotionally (in relation to school, moving, etc.) 

Oh gosh, that seems like ages ago.  That’s one side effect of graduating: time seems to slow down. It feels like college was five or six years ago, not two. 

Final semester of anyone’s senior year is likely to be totally insane on both counts.  Luckily my workload wasn’t too bad – in fact, I had so many credits taken care of that I got to study Japanese that year, and even when a schedule mishap left me short one credit, I was able to take community service and work at a pet shelter.  Even my thesis class (for which I essentially wrote the first third of a book) wasn’t too stressful because our professor didn’t expect us to produce a completely finished novel in less than a year.

Emotionally, that final semester was definitely challenging.  It’s very hard to come to terms with dissolving the ties you’ve made and the life you’ve established during those four years of college.  I remember one moment in early May, between classes, when I was talking to a freshman girl who I’d only recently become friends with.  On my way to my next class, I realized that I was never going to get a chance to know her well because I’d probably never really see her again, and I deeply regretted not spending more time with her when I had the chance.  That was not a fun afternoon, realizing that soon my friends would be scattered across the globe and that things would certainly change between us.  Fortunately I still live within driving distance of my two best friends, and I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have that little lifeline.

-When did you start looking for a job and somewhere to live? What was that like? How long did all that take for you?
Even though the economy was in the toilet when we graduated, I decided to do an internship abroad.  My career goals always included working in a college setting, preferably with study-abroad programs, so I went to Ireland to work in a university’s international education office.  I was convinced that once I came back with ten weeks of real-world unpaid work experience, I’d have no trouble getting into the field.  Surprise!  I’m still not in it, but that’s a story for another day.
Kevin, my boyfriend of three-ish years at that point, proposed to me when he came to meet me in Europe after my internship.  That was in September 2009.  At that point we hadn’t really decided where to plant ourselves, but once I decided to apply to grad school at OSU, it made sense for us to move back to Oregon.  We ended up in Salem, where the housing was cheaper and the economy a modicum better than it was in Corvallis, and we officially moved into our apartment in November. 
At that point, sheer dumb luck kicked in.  My dad was working at an Oregon bank, so he offered to send both of our resumes around the bank to help us find work.  By December, after five or six weeks of applying for jobs, I’d scraped up a part-time job at Blockbuster (unrelated to the networking), but that was a lousy job with only 8 hours a week.  Luckily, the networking kicked in and I interviewed for a temp job at a state environmental agency.  I think I interviewed twice for that job, and was rejected twice, before somebody at their office got mono or something, which required them to hire another temp – me.I kept getting lucky.  Oregon’s economy still hasn’t improved much, but the agency kept me on for another 6 months, essentially doubling my time there.  And when those six months came to an end, one of my coworkers told me her daughter was leaving her job as a receptionist at a real estate agency.  I interviewed and started working there last August. 
So, if I get to drop some advice in here, it’s this: start networking right now.  Work on campus or volunteer in the area.  Chat up your professors, because you may come asking about jobs they’ve heard about.  Do job shadows or informational interviews, and stay in touch with those people.  Burn no bridges, because while the economy may be improving slightly, networking plays a huge role in how you get a job.  Some ridiculous percentage of jobs is never posted publicly – eighty percent or something – so who you know and how well you know them is critical. /soapbox

-What was going through your head on graduation day?
 Lots of things, none of them very profound: where my family was in the stands, if my cell phone stuffed in my bra was visible through my robes, if my robes were on right, if you could see my sorority letters on my second sash, if I would trip on my way up to the stage, who would be sitting around me, etc.  It wasn’t until afterwards that I really started to think holy &$#%, I’ve graduated.  It was exciting and a little scary – like standing on the edge of a diving board.  Sure, there might be sharks in the water, but you gotta jump, right?

-What would you tell people who are graduating with a "useless" major? (English major right here)

Honestly, I was never afraid of graduating with "Creative Writing" on my degree because I had so much other work and leadership experience during college.  It did feel a little funny during college to have to field those awkward "what are you going to do with that major?" questions, but after college, people really weren't too concerned about it.  Those one or two words on your degree don't matter nearly as much as the activities, employment, club leadership, class projects, student body involvement, etc. that fill up your resume.

However, as a fellow major in the seemingly useless field of English, you can tell the nosy people that you're learning communication skills that you can apply to a huge range of jobs, which is true.  Employers everywhere are looking for good writers, and there are an awful lot of bad writers out there.

No matter what you majored in, though, you chose that major because you enjoy it and wanted to learn more about it, which should be all the answer you need!

-Are you doing any work in your field? How do you feel about it either way?
Nope.  I’m still a receptionist.  Actually, I’m technically the office manager now, but it’s still nowhere near what I want to do with my life.  Getting into the international-education field has proved to be a lot harder than I expected, even with all the contacts I made through college and my internship.  Since most jobs require a master’s, I applied to grad school twice and got waitlisted both times.  That’s a hard thing to deal with and I’m still debating applying again, both because rejection sucks and because I’m tired of waiting for my life to really start.  Waiting for grad school forced us both into limbo, in a town we don’t enjoy living in, where the job market is lousy and the weather is lousier.  We want to move on with our lives.
I’m still writing, of course.  I work on The Book and occasionally poems during my lunch break and after work.  I don't expect to have a career in writing (although I certainly wouldn’t mind finding one), and while I would prefer to be able to dedicate more of my day to writing, I’m content with what I have at the moment.  I'm going to keep my eye on the job market and apply for whatever comes up.  Writing is my real passion; international education was (is) the passion that will pay. :)

-What was the best part about getting your own place? What really sucked?
The best part was finally having complete independence.  Yes, I’m still living with someone, but he’s my fiancé and therefore my other half. J It’s a lot easier to negotiate chores with one fiancé than three roommates.  We go to bed when we want, we have friends over, we stop at Fred Meyer when we’re out of milk, we leave our papers lying around, we cook for each other, all that fun stuff.  Oh, and we have a cat, which was illegal at school.  Plus, we didn't have to move back in with our parents, which happened to a lot of folks who graduated around that time.  We're pretty proud that we managed to carve a life out for ourselves, even if it's not the most fun or fulfilling life at times.
The worst part has probably been loneliness.  One of our college friends lives in our apartment complex, and another is less than an hour away, but that doesn’t exactly fill the void left by having three roommates, a sorority, classes, and clubs in which to see people.  Working full-time means we don’t have the time or energy to make new friends, even though we should probably try.              

-How did moving out effect your relationships?
Kevin and I weren’t engaged when we graduated, but we had already planned on getting married.  Moving in together was certainly a big change for both of us, but I’m glad we got to work on strengthening our relationship amidst the drama of a bad economy by living together.  
I think moving out was hard on my mom because while I was starting out on my own, my sister was starting college.  I see my mom during the holidays, and I’ll probably see her a lot between now and July as we work on wedding stuff, but it’s been a big change for both of us.  My sister, on the other hand, is less than an hour away at Linfield, so we can meet for dinner sometimes.

-Have you ever had a Quarter Life Crisis? What was that life?
HA. Ahaha. Yes. Oh lord yes. I think I go through one every six months or so. 
I first heard about a "quarter-life crisis" during my senior year and I thought it was a silly thing that only happened to people who couldn't cope with being away from mommy and daddy for the first time.  Surprise!  It actually kind of sucks to have to fight to prove yourself in the real world, and sometimes your biggest victory is being able to mail your rent check and say "I earned that money on my own."  Which is a huge victory, to be sure, but when you've been gradually lowering your expectations to accodomate the lousy economy, you start feeling pretty bad about yourself.  We've been told all our lives that we have something to offer to the world, but a lot of times it seems like nobody wants or needs you, which is an awful feeling. 
The worst one for me was getting waitlisted from my dream grad school two years in a row - I wasn't outright rejected, but I wasn't good enough, ever, to make it in.  I wasn't worthy.  It really dragged me down for a while, but I started looking elsewhere to apply my skills and convincing myself that I WAS worthy, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There's always a chance for improvement, always another door opening, all that warm-fuzzy stuff.  I'm feeling better about how my life is going now because I was able to look for new open doors rather than staring at the one that had closed.

-Is there thing about the "real world" that no one told you but you wish you'd known?
No one is looking out for you anymore.  This isn’t something I would have necessarily wanted someone to tell me, but it’s something I’m glad I’ve figured out.  I’ve been very lucky in that most of my employers have been very nice people, but I’ve had to keep in mind that they do not have my best interests in mind and they are not concerned with what’s going on in my life.  They are not my friends, and I am not theirs.  It sounds ruthless, but it’s important to keep that relationship in perspective. 
Also, stuff is expensive!  Food prices are ridiculous, Internet costs an arm and a leg, and the heating bill can be scary in winter.  Fortunately, I'm one of the lucky kids whose parents want to keep them on their family plans for insurance and cell phones.  I'm not looking forward to having to manage those expenses.
-How do you have fun on (what I imagine is) a limited budget?
Netflix.  Not even joking.  We dropped our cable last fall and never looked back.  Netflix has proved to be way cheaper and more fun than cable and Blockbuster combined.  We can catch our current shows online, and I appreciate not being able to just turn on the TV for the sake of having noise.
Honestly, we’re not the type of people who go out much, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about having fun on a budget.  Plus, Salem is kinda boring.  We coupon-clip and sometimes go out for Blizzards or ice cream.  We keep an eye on local events – there’s some pretty neat stuff in the summer, like an art fair and the World Beat festival.  I shop way too much - that keeps me happy.  We get Groupon, which sometimes has cool stuff.  A local radio station sells half-price gift certificates, and we've gotten a few inexpensive dinners that way.  Other than that, our idea of fun is to just sit at home and play video games or watch a movie. 
Sigh.  We're already old people.


What was graduation like for you? Anything you're dreading about it if you haven't been there yet? Any questions for Laura? Fire away!


rubybastille said...

Oh goodness, I wrote an essay. I'm sorry! I hope this is actually useful to someone! It was fun to think back on the last couple years instead of constantly obsessing over what's going to happen next.

D. said...

This is going to be a great series, Vanessa! I'm (only?) 20, so this is really helpful.

tywo said...

I graduate next year, and I'm very scared!
Thanks for sharing this.


Anonymous said...

Such a great interview! I graduated about 6 yrs ago w/a hybrid degree that my class was the guinea pig for so we all had that scary feeling of what do we DO with this? our last semester.

Anyway, I totally identify with the loneliness & it helps a bit to know it's not just me. I'm still in my hometown but not close to anyone I went to high school with, & my college friends moved away. It's sad sometimes when my life feels so defined by work. :(

But it's great to hear you're managing life after college so well even though there have been set-backs. Keep writing! So important.

Much love to everyone who's almost to this place, been there, & right there now.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! I'm about to graduate and am having regular freak-outs about what in the world I'm going to do next. This was a nice dose of realistic thinking - the world does not end if things don't work out perfectly.


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