Lessons from Unwanted Advice

A few months ago I was at a party with some extended family.  I had gotten up at 3 AM to work an eight hour shift, so by the time I got to their house at 1 PM, I was already burned out and exhausted.  Folks were asking me the uncomfortable question, “What are you doing these days?”  And I responded that I was working at a coffee shop, maybe looking into going back to grad school, looking for a better job, blah blah blah.

That was when a step-cousin stepped in and started giving me advice about how to find a job.  I get this a lot from people, and it’s totally fine if they know what they’re talking about.  I try to learn from every experienced person I meet.  But this cousin was still in undergrad, still in that idealistic mindset that was so reminiscent of where I was a few years back.  She wasn’t majoring in the same thing I had, and she wasn’t looking for jobs yet.  In fact, she wasn’t even paying for her own education–she got a free ride because her mother worked for the school.

“Well my college has a career center!  You should go there!”

I think you’re looking in the wrong places!”

“I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of what I do!  I mean, how could you ever get sick of teaching?”

For real.

I nodded and smiled, and let her say what she wanted to say.  I was too tired to argue.  I just wanted to pat her on her naive little head, tell her, “Aw, it’s so cute that you think that’s how the world works.”

But here’s the thing.  I was her a few years ago.

I was one of those who had a job lined up by graduation.  I went on Craigslist, found a job working for a sculptor in the town where I wanted to live.  I interviewed the week before graduation, and everything neatly and unrealistically fell into place.  A week after graduation, I had my dream job in a cool city, and it had been so easy.  All these people who claimed they couldn’t find a job?  Well clearly they were just lazy.  Clearly in my experience, the jobs were out there for the taking–you just had to get out there and take!

It took less than seven weeks for that facade to come tumbling down.  The people who had hired me even told me that to a certain extent, it was pure luck that I got that job.  I had responded quickly enough to be one of the first ten people.  The job was filled from the first ten or twenty resumes and the other hundreds, no matter how qualified they may have been, went unread and were thrown out.

Suddenly I was in the shoes of those who I assumed were lazy and unqualified.  It was a bitter pill to swallow.  Just because I’m jobless or underemployed does not mean I am any less qualified, inventive, diligent, intelligent, or conscientious than the next person.  So much of getting a job these days boils down to qualifications and luck, and when everyone is qualified, all that’s left is luck.

But I learned three important lessons here:

  1. The unemployed are not to be judged.  Your experience is not everyone’s experience.  And this can be attributed to pretty much everything in life.  Keep an open mind.  Be compassionate.
  2. There is nothing wrong with being the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed undergraduate student.  Be excited for the future.  Have big dreams.  There are already so many cynical people out there.  Be happy even when the cynics (including the cynics you carry around inside) get down on you for it–I definitely need more work in this arena.
  3. When dealing with overly-talkative, intrusive family, take a deep breath, nod, and smile.  Then politely excuse yourself.

What lessons have you learned thanks to your unique experience?