My unintentional gap year, part I

non-linear progression.

I surfed my parents’ couch hard after I graduated college.  I had no plan, no money, and no idea of what I wanted to do or be when I grew up. The mere thought of reading another book, or writing another paper would trigger my gag reflex and cause my skin to crawl. This was the first time in my life that I did not have a plan and it was both scary and liberating.

I was clueless. My first few months were spent catching up on trash TV, and not thinking about school. My immediate family members were all employed full time, and my younger sister was entering her junior year of high school so I spent most days at home alone. After a while it got really boring, and I used all the cash (I’m sure it was less than $1,000) I stashed away while I was still working on campus, so I began to look around online to see if anyone was hiring someone with a background in  Geology and Africana studies. It turns out that there was no such demand for my particular set of skills, even in the big Apple, and job application after application was returned, rejected, or ignored.

I WAS OUTRAGED. I had been promised that getting degree would be the key to upward mobility and success! I thought that finding a job would be easy. I knew that the economy had tanked a few years prior, but I went to THE Oberlin College — according to the equation I had bee given I should have been turning down job offers and they should have never turned me down. I was clearly emotionally unprepared for the reality of a job search. Thank goodness that I had family members who were financially stable enough to house me and feed me. 

I soldiered on. I eventually gave up seeking entry level jobs in Geology and moved on to jobs that required a high school diploma. I had been pitching to the particular niche of environmental geology and hadn’t been leveraging the hard and soft skills I had gained at Oberlin to look for work outside of my field. In hindsight, I would have probably had greater luck if I had looked outside of geology. That month I learned that there aren’t very many rocks to climb in New York City, and my degree title did not line up with the employment market in my home town.

I interviewed. After the first few rounds of applications yielded no results, I sent applications to every job posting in areas that I could reach by train, and even began attending job fairs in the city.  After the fourth month of searching, I landed a job interview in retail. I responded to a general application request at the local job fair and interviewed with a hiring manger within that same week. I put on my best business casual attire, used $2 in quarters to pay my fair, and rode the 28x bus for 30 minutes to get to the Fordham road shopping center. It was my first time entering the corporate office suites there, and after a 15 minute wait I was greeted by the hiring manager in the reception area.  He was slightly taller than I, had salt and pepper hair to match his gray suit and tie. The wrinkles in his face disappeared when he smiled, shook my hand, and let me know that he had also gotten a liberal arts degree at a small college in Ohio, before he moved back home to the Bronx.  

We had a genuine conversation about the transition between being at home and at school, and the ability to see multiple view points. He lamented, multiple times, that I was largely overqualified for the position and asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to work at his store and if I was considering moving up to a managerial role. (If I knew then what I knew now, I would have said yes to the idea of a job with more responsibility and pay — but I probably wouldn’t have applied to graduate school that year if I was earning a reliable salary). I told him that I would take anything that got me out of the house (this was not an exaggeration, and was probably folly on my part). I felt seen and valued for the first time in my search.

He must have liked my honesty, or had seen a bit of him self in me because training, and my first shift in a department store near 5th avenue started later on the  next week.

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