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How to Embrace Uncertainty in the Job Market, From a Recent Grad

So, it’s the second month of 2021, and if you’re like me, you’re a recent college graduate… without a job. 

Maybe you’re waiting to hear back from graduate school (also me), or perhaps you’re finishing up your studies and are surrounded by friends with full-time positions lined up for next year. It’s even possible that you do have a job, but aren’t where you had hoped you would be in your career, and you don’t know when you’ll make it there. Yeah, I’ve been there, and I’m still there. And though it can be tough to figure out how to best make use of the in-between time, I’ve racked up quite a few tips and tricks for making the most of the uncertain climate. But before I move forward, let’s take a collective deep breath. Whether you fit into one of the above categories or another entirely, it’s important to know that wherever you are is okay — don’t forget it! 

That’s not to say you shouldn’t set professional goals for yourself in 2021 or strive to reach them, but chances are, though you may not have the “ideal” completely ironed out, you’re probably on your way. And as everyone and their mom has told you (a new phrase I recently picked up), “Things have a funny way of working out.” So if you’re going to come away from this read knowing anything, let me offer you my best piece of advice: trust in the process, yourself, and, even though I know it sounds a bit cheesy, the universe. If you put yourself out there and say yes to opportunities, regardless of size, you’ll figure out where you are in time.

Trusting the process is, however, much easier preached than practiced. I may be authoring this piece, but that is not to say I haven’t struggled with the looming uncertainty of my professional future. Yet I’ve also learned how much of a gift this time can be. I can’t be the only one who has heard from an employed elder that I should enjoy the in-between, for when the grind starts, it doesn’t end until, well, retirement. So I want to help you find a way to embrace an uncertain future and make the best of the waiting. Tom Petty sure got something right — the waiting is the hardest part — but doesn’t that also give it the highest potential for reward? My thoughts exactly. One day, when you look back on your post-grad self, the frightening and exciting world of opportunities stretching before you, you’ll be glad to know that you made the best of it. That, I can guarantee.

Network, network, network

There will never be a better time in your life to stalk LinkedIn. Connecting with professionals in your field of choice is always a good idea. The more people you meet and the more stories you hear, the better-informed you will be for any job application or interview down the line. 

Can’t seem to make yourself sit down and do it? I totally get it. Start by scheduling in a one-to-two hour timeblock each week to make connections and research job opportunities, companies and the people working there. Then, make a goal of how many people you’d like to connect with in a period of time, and divide it up by weeks, whether that be one email/phone call per week or five (more than that, and okay, go off) over the span of something like three weeks to six months. Keep a running list of the people you are speaking to each week on your desk, so you’re reminded daily of your progress and how much of a boss you are. This way, you can hold yourself accountable for continuing to follow your professional passion or plan without it taking up as much daily headspace. 

My ultimate tip? To incentivize yourself to keep on-track, try stalking one crush on LinkedIn for each professional you speak with. Just be sure to anonymously search… unless you want them to know that you’re looking at their page, and in that case, live your truth.

Get a job

That sounds redundant, given that you may be a recent grad without one, but maybe try something in an unrelated field for a while and sharpen soft skills in the process.

Did someone say retail therapy? And I don’t mean shopping; I mean selling! Retail is a great industry to work in because they often have full-time, part-time, and seasonal positions open, and if you work with the right brand, you can sometimes make extra cash with commission (don’t get me started on the employee discount).

Or maybe you’d like to save a bit on meals? Often, if you work for a restaurant or coffee shop in the area (and especially if you are part of a smaller staff), you can get food at a discounted price or for free during shifts. Any of these jobs would give you something to do; a purpose of sorts, even if it’s not what you expected to do after graduating.

Sign up to volunteer locally

Whether it’s at a homeless shelter, a food bank, an animal shelter, or as a tutor, nothing feeds the soul quite like doing good deeds for others. Immersing yourself in the community is a great way to give back and get involved, especially if you’ve recently moved and are looking to meet new people. Plus, it’ll help occupy time with something meaningful and productive that’s not searching for your next big career move. I recommend using the site VolunteerMatch to find something that’s right for you.

Take a course in mindfulness meditation

Is there a better time to get centered? Nope. The moment you find yourself on the 9-to-5 grind, it will take much more time and energy to dive into a mindfulness practice, but the benefits will be even more vital. So get a head start! Since you have the freedom to be able to dedicate a part of yourself to learning how to be more grounded and accepting, there is no better time. 

At the moment, I’m taking a class via Sounds True, an online service with hundreds of courses to help you access “spiritual awakening and personal transformation” through teachings from renowned instructors. Looking for something a little more low-key? Other great resources in meditation include ones right on your phone like the Calm app and Headspace (which has a student plan!). Or just sit in subtle awareness of your breath and body for five minutes once or twice a day and see what happens.

Exercise on a routine basis

Having trouble fitting all of these new endeavors into a schedule? Try setting a workout schedule ahead of time to create a routine for yourself. For me, a routine is key to keeping grounded and not feeling anxious about future life-stresses. Choosing a time and sticking to it will not only help you feel at ease, but will illuminate your potential for accomplishing goals. In turn, it’ll build some confidence (you can set goals and achieve them) that will seep into your professional life, too.

Begin a journaling practice

Journaling might seem daunting at first, but it’s really quite simple, and there are plenty of benefits. Start by picking out a cute notebook and just jot down some thoughts. You never know what you will learn about yourself in the process. It’s a great way to relieve stress and keep a catalogue of all the ways you are working to grow in your early 20s.

As a writer, journaling has always been my happy place; I fall asleep easier on nights when I sit and simply let the ink flow. One tip, though: to access true self-learning, you’ll want to be honest about any feelings, fears, or insecurities that may be weighing you down. Though it could be scary at first, just remember the great thing about journaling is that once it’s on the page, no one else (not even you) has to read it!

Try therapy

Ready for a level-up? Maybe you want a sounding board, or a professional to help you get oriented. Journaling can help you stay self-aware, but seeking out the aid of a professional in a safe space can make the difference between being aware of a feeling or problem and taking the action to change it for the better. Plus, a common misconception about therapy is that something has to be “wrong” for you to begin. In truth, therapy can be a preventative treatment. What you learn about yourself and begin to process now will be a toolkit that future you can utilize for success.

Get on top of those personal projects

How’s your closet looking? Not so good, huh (or great, and if so, awesome job). For most of us, though, the closet gets overlooked as days grow long and busy. Take some time to go full Marie Kondo on that collection; go through old clothes and items that no longer spark joy and donate or consign them. Even if they don’t spark joy for you, they may for someone else, so don’t throw out those clothes!

Finished that? Keep going! There’s probably a cabinet that needs to be fixed, or a room that needs a refresh. Re-decorating and organizing your space will propel you towards greatness. Your space should mirror your hopes for the future. Wild and chaotic prints, funky throw pillows, or minimalist decor all hold future-you’s spirit waiting to be unleashed.

In order to get these projects done, try planning to complete one of them per week or month, or however long your in-between period may last. It’ll help you feel productive, and you’ll probably need a breather from all the LinkedIn stalking anyway!

Catch up on doctor’s appointments
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Byron Cohen/ABC

Let’s be honest, when was the last time you went to the dentist? Do you need a physical? Is there something health-related that has been bothering you for a long time? Now is the perfect time to seek out a medical professional on your insurance or in your price range, and get those check-ups in, one-by-one.

Make a master list of TV and movies 

Though I assume you have always had one of these in your head, take the time to write out a giant list and make an event out of completing it. In theory, you actually have the time to watch what you’ve been meaning to for so long, but be sure that what you choose actually piques your interest. If a series or movie isn’t adding value to your life, don’t feel obliged to watch it. Remember, it’s okay to take a step back or say no to a show, even if it’s trending on every major social media platform. Be purposeful with what you watch, and I promise you’ll find more fulfillment than you might have believed possible (even if that means marathoning the last 10 seasons of The Bachelor – like I said, you do you!)

Though the period of time between graduation and your first full-time job can be frightening and stress-inducing, it’s also the perfect time for self-discovery. As I said, be sure to trust in the process, and in the meantime, try some of these tips. Embrace the uncertainty; future-you will be glad you did!

Elizabeth Sander is a National Writer for Her Campus and a recent graduate from Tufts University, where she earned a BA in English and French. Elizabeth served as a Her Campus Editorial Intern for the Fall of 2020 and loved every minute. When not writing articles about all things culture and style (or the occasional personal essay), Elizabeth spends time creative writing, reading and working on flying crow pose. Next up on Elizabeth's agenda is Columbia J-School! Find her on insta @elizsander or for meals inspo @confinemnt_kitchn
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