Rebecca Rider column: Job panic

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2016

Life’s tough when you’re an English major. Especially when you’re a recent college graduate looking for a job. After I completed my course credits in December of 2013, I spent two years, off and on, job hunting.

To be fair, I wasn’t very dedicated to the search. I still didn’t have the three to five years’ experience every entry-level position seemed to require. So I hoarded experience and took a few detours.

I studied human rights issues for a semester in Denver, Colorado. I spent two months very seriously considering an internship in Riga, Latvia working with trafficked persons. I spent a week and a half driving from Seattle to Los Angeles.

In between, I filled out applications, submitted resumes, wrote what felt like hundreds of cover letters and had a few highly disappointing interviews. People always talk about the scarcity of available jobs, but I’ve found that they don’t mention the scarcity of good jobs — and there is definitely a difference.

After a while, you start getting discouraged and second guessing yourself. Maybe, I thought, all of those people who told me there was no career in writing or journalism were right. Maybe my mother was right.

About six months into a serious job hunt, I thought I’d missed my opportunity to switch career tracks – what would I even do? I couldn’t think of anything. It’s a depressing place to be.

At that point, I found myself driving in the great American West. In case you’ve never made the trip between say, San Francisco and Flagstaff, let me tell you that there’s nothing. It’s empty hills, the biggest mountains I’ve ever seen and a lot of desert.

But people lived there. The towns are small and battered, but they’re there. After the first few, I started to wonder what people did for a living. These towns didn’t have newspapers, hospitals, schools or corporations – they barely had gas stations.

But people lived there. They were ranchers, or ran businesses from their homes or ran the gas stations or the town’s lone, grubby café. It wasn’t a grand life, and maybe wasn’t even a very interesting life – but it was there.

There’s nothing like getting lost in the desert at night, walking along the highest pass in the Sierra Nevada or standing next to a Giant Sequoia – a tree that’s over a thousand years old and will one day collapse under its own weight – to fill you with an almost comforting sense of fatalism.

Life goes on, and in the long run – the long, long run of centuries and millennia, my job troubles didn’t matter.

So what if I was having a fruitless job hunt? I had a part-time job, I enjoyed freelancing. If writing didn’t pan out, I could always do something else. I could go back to school, or just find whatever full-time work I could in the meantime. Maybe I’d put my years of psychology classes to use and go into therapy. Maybe I’d dust off my lifelong love of science and study biology. Maybe I’d end up running a grubby café in the middle of the desert.

I’d always wanted to learn as much as I could, about anything I could – so if one career track didn’t pan out, I’d find another. I’d always enjoyed meeting people, so even if I did end up in that dim, grimy café, I think it would still be a pretty interesting place to work.

It didn’t help the job hunt, but it helped the panic. When I landed back in Charlotte-Douglas airport I figured that I’d find something, eventually. And that would have to be good enough. As they say, life goes on.

And few months later, I got my first job – but that’s another story.