Life post-graduation has been one of routine uncertainty. The fruitless pursuit of brief job descriptions. The depressing reality of unemployment. The desperate inner question of when that will change. The near-sighted (irrational) fear that it never will. I’ve heard of this neighborhood of adulthood. And it’s what I had been dreading all along — ending up here.
The weeks inching towards my Dooms Day — May 27th, 2014 — were filled with anxiety for what leaving school and being a member of adult society actually meant. It was an anxiety that grew like weeds, quick and unruly, from anticipation. And then after graduation, I felt numb and disconnected. I didn’t want to think too much about it, didn’t want to face the fact that I didn’t know what I was going to do. For the first time, I had no clue what my next step was.
I am a creature of habit. Of reinforced, consistent habit. Raise a child in the habit of academia for sixteen years, and then open your palms and toss them into open space. What do you expect will happen?
It was terrifying. What would I do in this interim? What would become of this pause?
I tried to convince myself that it would be easy. A family-friend, Irene*, worked for this phenomenal child welfare agency. That was right up my alley — a field I needed experience in, a field where I can put my degree to practice. Irene told me to send her my resume and cover letter, told me they should be calling me right away. Easy breezy, nothing to worry about. So I sent my credentials over in the beginning of July and played the waiting game.
End of July tiptoed passed us.
Mid-August blew by.
I was in a state of disillusioned denial. I sat on my couch watching too many episodes of SVU while clinging to the possibility of this call back. As the end of August crept closer, my mom began hounding me. She would get home from work at six and see me sunken deep into the couch, head barely peeking out from my cheetah printed snuggie.
“Is this what you have been doing all day? Is this what you plan to do for the rest of your life? To just sit here watching TV?” I rolled my eyes, because obviously she didn’t understand. I wasn’t not doing anything. I was waiting.
But everyday the same thing would happen and I started panicking. I would wake up expecting a call, but my phone was tauntingly silent. The thoughts started rolling: what if this doesn’t come through. In what world does it take more than a month to respond to a personal reference? Should I apply through the website rather than banking on a referral to get my foot in the door? Should I give up and just try other places all together? I would pace back and forth in this internal state of anxiety. Then my mom would get home and interrogate me on my life plans. She had her speech memorized. Her keys would click and unlock the door, she would see me in a pile on the couch and always on cue, she would dip into her monologue. And every time this happened, I would shrink more and more.
I hated hearing it. It made me think of a middle-aged gamer living in her mom’s basement, wiping cheese puff dust on her sweatpants and waving the nagging away with a sticky controller. Obviously, I had watched too many mediocre movies. I only ever bought a PS2 for Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. My remotes were pristine (read: unused). But it was hard to distance myself from that image of developmental idling when I kept nodding her away, my toes peeking from my snuggie while I lay sinking into the couch and kept hitting “Play Next Episode” on Hulu.
So the next day I woke up early, rolled up my proverbial sleeves, and started job hunting.
I started with Monster.com. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so I just typed in my zip code to see what kinds of jobs were available around me.
That was a mistake.
Specialist. Technician. Manager. Inspector. Thirty minutes in and I was sufficiently overwhelmed. I shut my browser down, grabbed my snuggie and turned SVU on. I was on Season 12. I was making progress!
I started asking around, seeing what my other friends were doing. My resume got passed around, but I got no responses. No calls. Nothing.
On Tuesday morning, by some grace of god I was feeling motivated again. I got up early and sat, wrapped tightly in my blanket as I tried the online search again. I approached it with more direction this time. I used my college’s careers database, looked up advocacy centers and other child welfare agencies, and emailed countless HR offices. I felt more calm. More pro-active.
And so every day I would email one or two more organizations, and then put them in my bookmarks folder. Watching SVU after doing all of that was a lot more rewarding. I felt like I earned that emotionally disturbing episode. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Applying to jobs like it was a compulsion. This is what life post-college was about!
And that was all fantastic and great, except that my ‘have applied’ list was getting longer and longer as each day passed, yet my ‘response list’ was still at a fat daunting zero.
The fear that had nestled into my nervous system the moment I decided to pursue psychology began to swell. Every time someone asked me what it was that I wanted to do with my degree, I would wave off the question with a vague non-answer like “psychology is a hugeeeee discipline,” or “there are sooooo many options.” But I was always assailed with an underlying concern, a concern that would hijack my breathing, my ability to think straight. A concern that I always brushed off as an “I’ll deal with that later.”
And now, here I was, ass deep in that “later.”
After about a week, my phone rang. I uncurled myself from my couch and ran to pick it up. When I saw it was my friend Maria*, I became optimistic. She had given a copy of my resume to her boss for a receptionist position at her office. Things might finally be turning around!
Maria told me that she had just gotten hired for another job as an assistant director full-time, and that they were hiring. She told me to send her my resume again so that she could give it to her new superior. In the back of my mind I was like holy shit, it is official. I am the only human being on the planet incapable of getting a fucking job. I couldn’t help it. My self-esteem was shot. But I put those thoughts aside and sent her my modified resume.
Thankfully, Maria’s new boss called me the next day for an interview. It wasn’t the full-time position I was really vetting for, but it was for a great after school program with an ambitious mission and work with children, which was what I needed. I looked up some interview questions, rehearsed my answers to a mirror, and starched the collar of my only white button down shirt.
I walked into the wait room the next day, nervousness pooling at the tips of my fingers, but the director seemed really personable. We went into one of the classrooms and he asked me a couple of basic questions. He looked at my resume a bit longer and asked me a few more before saying, “you know what? I’m not even going to ask you anything else. I want to offer you the position.”
He continued speaking but all I heard was a church choir, a harp somewhere in the distance. The lighting in the room became more angelic, I could one hundred percent attest to that. I was employed?!I was fucking employed! No more sitting at home marathoning SVU, no more living off of $18 dollars in my now expired student Chase account. E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-D! He asked me if I verbally accepted the offer, and after my gushed yeses he let me know that he would be calling by the end of the day, after he contacted my references so that we could expedite the paperwork process. Of course I was like yes whatever, I’m employed!
As I was sitting with a dumb grin on the bus ride back home, my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. It had only been an hour, tops, since the interview had ended. I thought that was odd, but I figured he had some last minute questions about my application or something. I picked up the phone and the woman on the other end told me she was calling from the original child welfare agency Irene had submitted my resume too. The one that I desperately wanted and waited for and whose silence subsequently led to my quarter-life crisis. Mhm, that one.
You cannot make this shit up.
In proper Katherine fashion, I started hyperventilating. She asked if I had a few minutes for a couple of questions, and I told her that I couldn’t hear her through the static on my phone and the clunking of the bus. But mostly it was the blood sloshing in my ears and brain. I almost fell off the bus and sprinted home, and the moment I stepped inside my house I caught my breath and called her. She screened me over the phone and invited me in for an interview two days later.
I tried not to get too in my head about it. I mean, technically I was employed. This is just for fun, for kicks. If something comes of it, cool. Fantastic. If not, I’m already employed. Whatevs.
That little pep talk of course did absolutely nothing to ease my nerves. Where I had only prepped for one night for the first job interview, I sat in a pile of highlighters and printed website suggestions, using every waking moment to previse, chart and rehearse potential questions I pulled from glassdoor and other social work websites.
As the elevator beeped to the eight floor, I looked into the reflection of the walls to make sure my shirt was tucked in nicely. The doors dinged and opened, and I walked up to the young receptionist. She gave me a thick packet to fill out. In the wait area, there were two other twenty somethings filling out some paperwork. I wondered for a moment if we would be group interviewed. They looked so mature, so natural in their suits. I sat down in my repeat interview outfit and filled out the paperwork, which included a hypothetical home visit and my written assessment.
Uhm, glassdoor did not warn me about this.
After shakily filling out the packet, I waited to be called in to my interview.
The first room I was pulled into seemed to be a feeler interview. I thought I was pretty extensive in looking up case planner interview questions and prepping accordingly. About 3% of the questions I had prepared for were asked. The other 97% came out of left field. Thanks for nothing, Google. After that short interview, she told me to wait for my other interviews.
Other interviews? I was officially caught off guard.
I walked in thinking I was applying for case planner, and after some dialogue, two of the women that were interviewing me expressed that they believed that vetting for a position as a sociotherapist would better fit my educational and research background. Which was awesome, but was also something I had not planned for. Something I had not prepared for. I tried to hold my own, to think before I spoke, and to be authentic and thoughtful and warm. After the interviews I had to prove que yo hablaba español, which I thought was thorough. Good for them. And after about an hour and a half, my interviews were over. I thanked them, and with a smile on my face, left.
But that smile faded as I walked out of the building, trapped in a giant cloud of uncertainty. I was definitely thrown off my game. The position I had applied for, case planner, I knew I could do. But sociotherapist was a challenge I hadn’t even considered until that moment.
I didn’t want to think about it too much. I unplugged my brain, got home, slipped under my snuggie and another season of SVU. I shut off my thinking for the night.
Which was good. It let me get excited. I woke up Friday morning and started looking up how long it takes for organizations to get back to you after an interview. And I started seeing web search results for post-interview protocol. Which all stated that thank you letters were a must. Thank you letters.
Let me tell you a little about me. My physiological response to stress is maladaptive. Embarrassingly maladaptive. Shaky voice and dry mouth and situational amnesia. And so obviously while I was going through the series of interviews for a position I hadn’t even anticipated fighting for the day before, I experienced all three. Which meant I couldn’t for the life of me remember the names of any of the women who had interviewed me.
So I went on a cyber expedition.
I did that thing where I ended up on page 16 of my google search, a true testament to my desperation. These employees were traceless, not a damn smudge print on the entire web. I kept searching until my eyes started to fatigue and my head started to pound. It was 4:30pm and I figured they probably ended their workday at five. Since it was Friday, I knew they wouldn’t see my email until Monday. I decided to draft the thank you emails and contact Irene in the hopes that she would be able to tell me who was who based on the bits of physical details my memory decided to retain. I also mentally let go of any possibility of getting this job. I fucked up.
And just as I hit send on the email to Irene, my phone rang.
It was Lorraine calling from the agency, offering me the full time sociotherapist position. Lorraine! That was her name. But also WHAT. WHAT!
She gave me some details and I told her I would call her back with my final decision because 1) I didn’t know what exactly I was supposed to negotiate with a full time job. Insurance? Salary? There are things you were supposed to make sure are included, right? and 2) I had to breathe.
I hung up and I started hysterically laughing. Like tears streaming down my face, cracking up.
And then the panic sunk in.
Sociotherapist. They think I can be a sociotherapist.
Annnnnnnd then, holy shit. I am already employed. What do I tell the after school program? What do I tell the nice guy who hired me on the spot and wanted to expedite my paperwork process? Which job do I actually want?
I took a deep breath and picked up my phone.