There’s a reason they call Economics “the dismal science.” “Mark,” an anonymous quarter-lifer, reports.
I am 27 years old. I am one of the lucky ones. I made it out of college without debt because my parents planned well enough to cover my undergraduate tuition. This grace is not lost on me and I am grateful. At graduation, I was on top of my own little world. Back then, hard work, talent and planning lead directly to success.
But, I graduated in 2008. A degree in Economics gave me a unique insight to the plight about to fall on myself and those in my age group. My quarter-life crisis is reflected in a tiny paycheck, if I can manage one at all. The culture around me says that at 27, I should be closer to stability, closer to a normal life than at that moment of college graduation. At least, I should be on a career path I want. No such luck.
It took two years beyond graduation to begin to crawl out of the hole I landed in after the crash. I spent most of those two years feeling sorry for myself. Eventually, I decided that I did not want to waste away in my parent’s house with a beer belly and a fading hairline. I tried everything I could think of to find work. I took extra classes to expand my education. I got extra certifications in subjects I had little interest in, but offered a marginally better work opportunity. I pressed staffing agencies to help me snag something, anything, longer than a month. Those efforts amounted to very little.
In all this flailing, I steadied myself with physical exertion, martial arts and fitness. It was a simple world. I worked hard, I adjusted for my mistakes and I improved. The anxiety evaporated with my sweat and a bit of confidence re-emerged. The stress demanded mental engagement that brought my mind out of the empty, drone-like state it succumbed to when I was working another dead end job. But, it was only an escape. It never took long for reality to reassert itself.
All this instability took a hell of a toll on my psyche. Eventually, I came to a point when the advice of others rang hollow. This was a new world, the old rules and guidelines were irrelevant. The older folks who had been there before, and had wisdom to spare, suddenly were standing beside me at the job fair, more despondent than I was. At that time, I could hardly see another way around the problems I was facing. I wanted to panic. I came very close.
From that bottom, to where I sit now, much has changed but very little has improved. I am in a new city that I picked on a criteria of job prospects and vibrancy. As a person, I am as lively and complete as I have been in a long time. All the “involuntary leisure time” I’ve had, brought opportunity for personal reflection and improvement. Plenty of time to digest engaging books, indulge in fulfilling hobbies, learn new skills and see interesting sights. I’ve managed to collect a few more good stories to tell to my friends. Truthfully, in most any measure beyond my wallet, I am thriving.
I’ve been an intern, a clerk, an auditor, a call center rep, a construction worker, and for a short time, even a bouncer. However, I have never been offered a full time job. Despite grinding away in mostly white collar roles, with a white collar degree, my earnings have barely exceeded the poverty line each year. Even better, my attempts to find employment through temporary jobs have begun to work against me. In my work history, employers see someone who can’t commit, instead of one doing anything to find work.
It is fair to say, that I haven’t gotten anywhere yet. Many people look at my lack of a career path and attribute it to a character flaw. I’ve felt that sting most prominently in the dating scene. In the reflection of American culture, which measures men most by their occupational prestige and financial standing, I do not amount to much right now. It is not fair to say that I haven’t tried.
The dismal science has tinted my view of the world. At this point, I’ve resigned much of the control of my little world to forces unseen. All I can do is improve my odds and hope the roulette wheel stops on my number. Adjust my resume one more time, try one more angle in a cover letter, attend one more networking event and hope something, anything, sticks around for a little while. Otherwise, the crisis will continue.