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Class of '09: Finding Our Bliss?

[Suzanne Merkelson, an On Point intern this fall, is a graduate of Colby College, where she was editor-in-chief of The Colby Echo. We asked her to share her thoughts about our show on jobs and the Class of '09.]

For me, listening to today’s show was the audio equivalent of looking in the mirror. I too am a member of the Class of 2009’s “Lost Generation.” Only I don’t really consider myself lost. Like some of our guests, I am spending the fall interning—at On Point. I’m also working three part-time jobs—retail, a restaurant, lifeguarding—to pay the rent here in Boston. Once the new year rolls around, my calendar is completely empty…I’m hoping to do some more journalism internships or freelance or maybe apply to grad school or maybe even join the Peace Corps. I might move to New York or DC or Catalina Island or China or the Pacific Northwest.

It can be easy to feel lost, especially when you hear those horror stories. People with graduate degrees and decades of experience are unemployed. Personally, I’m trying to enter an industry—journalism—that’s essentially being dragged under by the bus of technological change.

But I didn’t graduate with the highest expectations. The economy started to tank at the very beginning of senior year. My peers didn’t spend senior spring the way our friends in the Class of 2008 did—nervously trying on business suits and driving down from Maine to New York or Boston for job interviews. Job interviews were few and far between. Some said that 2009 was the worst year ever to graduate college.

The BusinessWeek article that started this conversation paints a pretty grim picture. The Class of 2009 may face significantly depressed income levels even years from now when—fingers crossed—we all have real jobs and have paid off student loans and maybe even have health insurance.

But maybe our generation’s experience with un- or under-employment just manifests what the recession has been telling us all along: we couldn’t sustain the level of affluence reached by our parents’ generation. We might even end up more like our Great Depression-era grandparents. I already feel that my experiences since graduation—being grateful for every hour of work I can get my hands on, networking like my life depends on it, grocery shopping on a serious budget, giving up luxuries that used to feel like “essentials” (coffee, for instance)—will frame the decisions I make about employment for the rest of my life.

I received some advice during graduation—“follow your bliss,” the wise words of Joseph Campbell. Without a “real” job, you have to make your own opportunities. Which is what many of my friends have been doing. Volunteering with Americorps. Working at organic farms across the country with the program WWOOF. Teaching English in China and Thailand. Starting a tapas bar in Portland, Oregon. Even waitressing or working retail to save up for grad school.

The Class of 2009 is hearty. We don’t get fazed by much anymore. September 11 was our first week of high school. Hurricane Katrina our first week of college. Our political consciousness was shaped by the Bush presidency and officially awoken by the candidacy and election of Barack Obama. And I think we’ll definitely reach a point where we’re no longer “lost” but leading everyone out of the woods.

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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Wow Suzanne, your last paragraph…

    For what its worth, my advice in a very tough job market is to travel, teach English overseas, or find something that makes you happy outside of the tough reality we heard on today’s show.

    Even people who could easily camp out in their parents’ homes should not get stuck there but instead, get out in the world and make something of this down time while our economy gets back on track. Who knows, you may end up finding the love of your life or the job of your life outside the US.

    Good luck to you.

  • Judi Knecht

    Suzanne,
    Thank you for posting this. I really enjoyed reading what you wrote!
    Cheers,
    Judi

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/robert-black/12/751/176 Robert Black

    Suzanne,

    Thank you for standing up for our generation. I too enjoyed your last paragraph;

    “The Class of 2009 is hearty. We don’t get fazed by much anymore. September 11 was our first week of high school. Hurricane Katrina our first week of college. Our political consciousness was shaped by the Bush presidency and officially awoken by the candidacy and election of Barack Obama. And I think we’ll definitely reach a point where we’re no longer “lost” but leading everyone out of the woods.”

    I am a 2009 graduate from near Detroit, Michigan. 2009′ers think they are the only ones with this problem but this is not true… The recession knows no boundries. Try competing with 28.5% unemployment in Detroit. Try competing with laid-off professionals seeking to feed a family. Our time will come…

    I do not believe that our class, or most of them, are whining about not finding a job, especially near Detroit. It has become a part of life that more and more people are okay talking about. These are tough times! It is just the realization that going to college doesn’t entitle you to a job! This has been a humbling experience and college go-ers need to get their act together to market themselves as best as possible. Applying to jobs on websites is not enough… Detroiters have known that even before the crash. It is time to get-real job seekers. Ask yourselves what you can actually bring to an organization and why they should hire you.

    Join a professional organization, volunteer, mentor others, call old friends and old bosses, tell your job hunt story to everyone, start a business, consider the armed forces, work part-time, go to grad school, attend job fairs, get on linkedIn, research current trends… This is common practice here and apparently its just catching up with the rest of the country…

    In a time of hardship one must see the light of opportunity…

    Remember it was the children and young adults of the Great Depression that actually fought and saved the world from tyranny in WWII. They would become the “Greatest Generation” and would in turn live out the highest level of prosperity the world had ever seen.

    Our generation will be great. We will break all misconceptions that have been placed on us. In time, as the baby boomers let go, this generation will have great things in store for the future of America, if only people could be more positive…

    Great article and good luck to you in your hunt. Stay positive and seek opportunity in these tough times.

  • http://www.wooglaw.com Laurie Woog

    Suzanne, your piece is entertaining (but sobering) and informative! Keep up the good work,
    Laurie Woog

  • http://sbglicksteen.com Sarah Beth Glicksteen

    Great piece, Suzanne. I’m a fellow soon-to-be-unemployed 2009 journalism grad, so I read about unemployment in the industry all the time. Still, your last paragraph gave me goosebumps. Stay tough, and good luck to you!

  • Trevor

    I am an unemployed member of the class of ’09. I have a B.Sc. from one of the best universities in the world, but I am constantly passed over for entry-level jobs in favor of people with experience or advanced degrees. I can’t even volunteer with AmeriCorps because it’s all filled with career volunteers. So I spend my days practicing my poker skills, which has paid more dividends than my job search (I won $10 in a free tourney).

  • Laura Tarlow

    Suzanne – far from a lost generation – but one that through the multitude of events brings you back to basic core values that will produce inspirational results as your generation leads. Very encouraged by your piece. Thank you

  • Nick Cunkelman

    Very thoughtful piece Suz. Interesting to think how our perspective will be shaped considering this climate and the events of the past 10 years. Fantastic last paragraph too.

  • http://www.thecolbyecho.com Elisabeth Ponsot

    Wow, Suz, what a great piece! Thanks for reminding us why we keep pushing every day. Here’s hoping the class of 2010 will be just as strong. – Beth

  • amanda friss

    I always thought you’d be one of those leading us “out of the woods” no matter what the economic climate. Kudos on saying so well what many are thinking, doing it in a positive way and sharing it with the world.

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