How I Learned to Control My Own Story While Holding Out For the Job I Want
When I graduated with my master's in communication in June 2016, I was still looking for that perfect full-time job. I had a few strong leads and a relevant part-time job through the summer, so I was nervous but not too scared. One thing I was looking forward to was joining a small alumni group that plans workshops and other activities for current students.
In this alumni role, we're supposed to share the benefit of our professional experiences, often through (but not limited to) networking conversations. Conversations I'd had as a student with past members of this group usually started off with hearing what their day job is, and me saying, "Wow that's cool."
So before meeting the incoming class I had about three months to find that job where new students could have that same conversation with me and say, "Wow, that's cool." Except, it didn't happen.
I got really close - twice. I even had the incredibly maturing experience of turning down a solid job because I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me. But I found myself three months later welcoming new students without having the “really cool” job I wanted to talk about. And I was getting in a really bad place about it. I definitely had a more than a few pity-parties for myself.
But as I worked through those emotions, every time I questioned myself I ultimately knew that I was still on the right track - I want to be putting my communication skills to work making the world a better place, not in a corporate setting but with a mission-driven organization that has a goal that I can get behind. I didn’t want to give up hope - or come across to others like I had.
I had to find a way to talk about my current situation in a positive way that lives up to the excellent master’s program I just successfully completed (<-that’s me trying to remind myself to celebrate my earned successes). I thought about how we create our own reality, so I knew needed to take control, and it felt like the only thing I could control was the telling of my story even in those small chit-chat situations.
How I Figured Out How to Talk About My Less-Than-Ideal Situation
Here’s what I did: I thought about what I learned, and referred to notes from classes and workshops and reminded myself of key takeaways. (You read that right - I'm actually taking something learned from a class and applying it to real life.) Then I sat down and made notes about what I wanted to communicate to people whenever I had to answer “What’s the latest with you?”
I didn’t want to just say, “Oh….I’m hanging in there...I guess.” Nor did I want to give too much detail about the long list of jobs I’d just applied for (or didn’t, because I felt too depressed that week).
To be able to answer the “So what do you do?” question, I needed to make sure my answer was:
- Easy for someone in any field to understand what it is that I do
Short and positive (no one wants to listen to someone drone on, especially if it’s starting to sound negative)
Open-ended enough that someone can tell I’m open to new opportunities, without sounding like I’m begging for a job, a lead, or to be hired as a freelancer
So I came up with my story:
“I coordinate internal communications at the university [the one everyone knows]. They offered me a contract to stay after graduation [shows growth and that I am in-demand], and I’m also expanding my freelance work while I look for the next full-time position I want [opportunity for follow-up without being pushy].”
This establishes what I do, that I am progressing in my career, and invites different follow-up if desired, but not necessarily. This has worked well for me and I find that I often get the follow-up question about either my freelance work or job search. [Pro tip: if the follow-up questions aren’t really going anywhere and I’m getting tired of being asked about my situation, I just quickly turn it around to ask about the other person.]
Why I’m Writing About Being in a Tough Place
I’ve learned it’s important to call it like it is and recognize that things won’t always go right for us right when we want them to. I had one expectation but had to work through a different reality until it matched my expectation (or at least came closer). I think this “space” I was in matches with the cocooning phase that the Hudson Institute teaches about, and it’s a hard, potentially isolating mental place to be in.
But the reason I'm writing about this is because of those moments when I realized I'm not alone. Others have gone through this and come out in a better place than they could’ve hoped for. Those are the moments that really help, and so I'm hoping that this will help someone else who's started saying, "Oh, I'm hanging in there."
We Create Our Own Reality
So if this is you, good luck, hang in there, and take control of your own story as much as you can. And hang in there because yes, after eight long months that job I was holding out for finally materialized. Reality, created.