Nearly four years ago to the day, I sat in my childhood bedroom moments before my high school graduation imagining the glories of adult life. I aspired to live independent of my parents’ bank accounts and watchful eyes. My life, as I dreamed it, would be filled with a brightly colored wardrobe and overpriced accessories, all kept in a super-chic loft that I had purchased after landing some fabulously well-paying job.
Now as I graduate from the University of Virginia with a supposedly highly valued degree in foreign affairs, the only emotion I feel is shame. I spent the last four years of my life investing, networking and striving for perfection so I could earn my degree and take the world by storm. Instead, I am moving back home and asking my parents to support me just a little longer, because—like many of my fellow graduates this year—I haven’t been able to land a job.
All my life, my dad’s career served as an example of the rewards I might have from hard work. Now, as it turns out, he’s my example for how to deal with being unemployed. After 30 years in a career that he loved, my father is jobless—bought out in one of last year’s many rounds of newspaper downsizing. I was initially disheartened that he suddenly is no longer able to do the work he loves. I felt cynical that the respect and admiration of his colleagues held no influence over the bad economy. But right before my eyes, my dad is readjusting his life plans—just like me. And I find myself marveling at his willingness to adapt and his ability to maintain his good-natured spirit.
The good-natured spirit thing has been tougher for me. I constantly wonder, “Would I have a job if I had taken an extra econ course or volunteered more?” For the first time in a long time, I am without a plan.
This idleness is no small thing. I grew up with a fully scheduled existence full of soccer practices, play dates, violin lessons and dance rehearsals. Kids in my generation came out of the womb with a to-do list and cross trainers. I knew I would not start my career at the top of the corporate ladder, but the denial of any entry into the job market is slightly depressing. I keep wondering what I did wrong.
I am sure my dad sometimes wonders about his choices, too. But he also has a balance and optimism that I struggle to maintain. We were sitting at the dinner table one weekend recently discussing my dad’s career when he told me how grateful he was for all the opportunities he’s had. It was a hard pill to swallow. How can anyone feel grateful after being let go? But I soon realized that I needed to get with my dad’s perspective on life.
Trying to start my career while my father remakes his is great life lesson for me. As teacher and student, we are, in many ways, equal right now. Sure, my dad is an established writer, and I have yet to make a name for myself. But we are both out there, making our way together. We buffer one another from rejection, and we support each other’s successes, no matter how small.
After several conversations with my parents, I have accepted the reality of a recession. This is a situation that comes and goes. As my dad says, an 8 percent unemployment rate means that 92 percent of people who want a job have one. True enough. I remain determined to join the ranks of the employed. My first job after college may be serving coffee on Capitol Hill, but I still have plans for myself.
Right now I am enjoying this new bond with my dad. Neither one of has a concrete plan for the future yet. But I feel a sense of hope when I think back on his career. And he feels hope and excitement when he thinks about the potential for my future. I learn from his patience, and he learns from my restlessness. This situation we find ourselves in is unexpected, for sure. But we’re making the best of it together.
Amanda Fulwood is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia. She can be reached by e-mail here.
READ Sam Fulwood's piece on unemployment, the new bonding experience.