College and Post-College Careers 101 – A Letter to my Younger Self

First off let me say, that when I took up drinking as my hobby, I had one of the worst hangovers that I’ve ever had. I let go of the hard drinking for now, and just have a glass when I’m feeling really depressed. I was saving the bottle for a happy occasion, but as I feel myself getting slower mentally and my birthday is approaching, the hope for the happy occasion has long since subsided.

To be more engaged with others when I was in a happier place when I moved back in with my parents, I volunteered to interview high school seniors as a part of my college’s alumni association. Then I was excited for the students and really wanted to encourage them on their pursuits. Now I feel like I have nothing to offer. I have failed. How am I supposed to sit across from them and explain how invaluable a college degree is, the experience, blah, blah, blah? I can’t, but I can offer the truth. I can bring them back to reality and tell them what I wish I would’ve heard at their age:

1. Where you go to college and what you study matters.
People say it doesn’t matter in the long-run, but they completely skip over the fact that a recent graduate needs to first enter the workforce before they can even think about the long-run, not to mention the HUGE amount of debt everyone but the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor will amass. (Not $30K but more like $100K, but in my case $300K when you add graduate school.)

First, where you go to college…

If you want to be able to work in any state in the United States, you’ll need to go to a school that’s respected and known in every state in the United States. You will need to look at the university rankings on USNews, Forbes, etc. This becomes especially important if you want to work on Wall Street or in Consulting, or at any other well-known financial or business institution. If that is your goal, you’ll also want to stay away from getting a graduate degree from any school whose undergraduate program is not in the top 10, with some wiggle room given for the top 20, or top state schools since there is  bitterness towards people who go to top 10 schools and more recognition that the cost of college is ridiculous when compared to the returns. That will bring down your resume and remove opportunities that you could have probably had with just your undergraduate degree.

On the other hand, building off of the bitterness towards the top 10 schools, if you go to a top 10 school do not venture out of the major metropolitan areas. Outside of the major hubs, there is a preference for local candidates from community colleges or local state schools. This preference is very strong in places like Florida which is generally seen to have a weak educational system at all levels, and neither it’s state schools or private universities are highly ranked with the U.S. (In Latin America people will say MIT and FIU in the same sentence, but then people from MIT have no idea when an FIU is, but in Latin America, you get extra points just for attending school in the US.) So if you know you want to live in Florida, go to college in Florida. You must be sure you want to stay in Florida, because your chances of leaving Florida are slim. You can compare that to degrees from state schools in California, North Carolina, or Texas, which have more national regard.

Second, what you study…

Do not major in a qualitative area. People stay study what you enjoy, and follow your dreams. If your dream involves majoring in a qualitative area, go to whatever school you want, as long as you don’t have to take out any loans. The other option is going to law school, but you MUST go to law school. Do not do what I did and delay law school for a lackluster MA degree. If your focus is on law school, you’ll need to get into a top 25 school if you want to eventually work as a lawyer. You can go to a school not in the top 25, but you should NOT take out any loans to do so, because that would be a waste of money. Taking out loans for law school if you get into the top 25 is a safer bet. Yes, it is betting.

The place for your dreams in college, are the electives, minor courses, and you extracurricular activities. You also should not choose an “easy” major so you can get a good GPA. Your GPA matters, yes, but so does your major, not the courses, but your major.

So, major in a quantitative field, especially if you are a minority. Also, learn another language, but only one, so that people do not think you want to be a teacher or a translator. No one likes an overachiever. Top 10 schools generally do not offer a major in business, so if you are looking for national mobility, consider these majors: computer science, economics, engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, math, finance, or statistics. You can double major if you want, but having a double major alone is not something to brag about. Do not worry about studying abroad, nobody cares. If your foolish like me and want to live in south Florida or such similar places know for its low intellectual capital thinking that it might not be all that bad, look at the market. The locals are only going to understand what the locals know. Here, the market is tourism, real estate, business, and sales. Majoring in business, hospitality, real estate, or finance is your only option. Absolutely do NOT come to Florida or similar places with a non-standard degree, meaning, at my college, you could create your own degree. That’s not useful for Florida, as it will not be understood. Stick to the basics and what is easily understood.

2. You cannot make an investment with loans.

Going to college is not an investment in your future, it is a necessary evil and a business transition. A friend’s mother when to MIT and I am pretty sure she did not pay more then $11K for her education. Overall, I believe back then, it was a couple thousand per semester. (That’s an amazing ROI for the baby boomers.) She graduated MIT and her starting salary in an engineering role was $20K. (Notice the specific and clear major leading to the job that had the degree/major in the title.) Her starting salary was higher than the cost of her education. That is not going to happen today. I think MIT is about $50K/year, and the starting salary is probably not above $70K with 70K being generous. Total college tuition will always be higher than your starting salary. Accept it, and move on.

That being said, without a college degree, in most places, you will not even be able to be an administrative assistant. I say most places, because in south Florida, you can have a MA and work for some of the best companies in the country and be under-qualified for the role of administrative assistant. Then, in DC many interns are recent graduate school graduates.

I am not going to say do not take out a loan. (shocking) I have $300K in loans. I applied to 9 schools, and got into 8. None of the schools offered me a scholarship, and so I still got to go with my first choice, which happened to be the best out of the ones that I got into. I could’ve gone to a state school, but then my options would’ve been limited as they are now. You can decide whether you prefer to be debt free, or disengaged and always the smartest person in the room. (There’s a saying that if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.)

If you take out a loan that is greater than your expected salary, you have no choice but to major in a quantitative field as mentioned above. After all, you are also getting hands-on financial experience. (That’s a joke, no one cares about how you manage your personal finances expect for when there’s something negative in your background check. I mean, I’ve traveled all around the world, but yet I’m somehow not qualified to arrange other people’s travel… I digress…) Also, BY NO MEANS, should you be taking out a loan greater than your expected initial salary to attend a school that is not ranked in the top 50. I thought this went without saying, but from recent experience I guess it doesn’t, your starting salary will vary based on location, industry, degree type, major, and school.

So schools will tell you that college is an investment. Not true. I thought maybe it could be true, because you invest a little bit now for much more later, but if you personally have nothing when you’re 18 and are relying on credit, you’re gambling, not investing. I’ve made investments with cash, from a part of my actual salary, not based on an expected salary that was not guaranteed. Gamblers use credit to roll the dye and see what happens. With college financial aid, you’re using loans to gamble for and with your livelihood. Also consider mortgages and the housing market… With loans you are gambling. Do NOT get caught up in the word investment. Accept that the loan is a gamble, the Department of Education and Sallie Mae are loan sharks, and move on. (I mean, explain why I can still qualify for an educational loan, although I won’t qualify for a personal loan until I am 60 at the earliest??? I wouldn’t want one by then anyways…)

3. GPA might matter, but it depends.

If you want to go to a top-ranked consulting firm, you will need at least a 3.7. Go anywhere but a community college, and get a 3.7 and you will be fine. Overall, you do not want to get below a 3.2. Do not stress over the GPA, but focus on the coursework, as going about it that way will probably help your grades. Grades are about 50 percent what you actual do and 50 percent what your teacher thinks about you. Attending office hours and getting to know your professor goes a long way. Try to be genuine with it, and you might also want to get to know them a little bit more before you start speaking up more frequently in class less they view you as a challenge or a brown-noser.

For graduate school and professional school: the lower your GPA, the better your standardized test scores have to be.

4. Graduate school.

If you go to a top 10 school, do not go to graduate school right away. If you have undergraduate loans, do not go to graduate school unless they pay you. When applying to graduate school, the ranking of the undergraduate institution matters as you consider wether or not you want to attend. The same principles regarding location and major mentioned above apply to graduate school as well. You can use graduate school to relocate and enter a different field. Unless you are a business or prelaw major, only get a graduate-level degree that COMPLEMENTS your undergraduate degree.

If you go to a top 10/20 undergraduate school, your graduate school should be in the same tier otherwise your skills and aptitude will be questioned. If you attended an undergraduate school that was not ranked as high, attend a graduate-level school of a higher rank to increase your options. Especially, now, doing so will make you appear wise, as it will be assumed that you attended a lower ranked undergraduate institution to save money and that is one instance where what you do in your personal life matters for your career. You will also appear to be a hard-worker who persevered despite less opportunity, etc., etc.

 

So, to wrap this up, college is not about you finding yourself and exploring your interests, it’s about being employable. Some people are lucky enough to go to those places that allow them to be universally employable, but if that is not you, you’ll still have to strategize to make sure that you are employable locally. You’ll need to look a college as a business and adjust your mindset. My “friend” called me a “free spirit” because I said I was moving again even though I said I was moving for a specific job. I was offended, because I think that all she hears is that I am traveling to another location, not relocating to work. But, she was probably right. I had dreams like her and was going by my feelings, which led to ruin. She was the smart one who had dreams and married up. Being practical is all there is, and dreams will follow, maybe. That is the status quo. That’s what people understand. Accept it, and move on.

Less is More

I was going to write this post yesterday, under the title of “The Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t”, but as I stopped procrastinating on my job applications, another idea came to mind.

I moved to D.C. in December 2013, with the intention of moving to Florida in May/June 2014. I also decided that I would stop applying for full-time jobs because of the agony it caused me. And as I was copying and pasting across résumés and cover letters, and revising my LinkedIn profile I felt myself becoming more and more depressed and realized why I had stopped trying.

I don’t like the Washington DC metro area. I have family here and we would come here a lot over the summers, and it does have its charms, but it’s just not a good fit. I only came because I was offered a job, and because I had to get out of Boston where I was being harassed by a Trinidadian mother who spent her days being a religious hypocrite, a busy-body, and one of those people who feels they have all this wisdom when in fact at above a half a century they have the intelligence of a naive child still in elementary school. (I don’t mean to be harsh, but she is very cruel and represents the things I detest most in this world.) But back to DC…

DC has jobs, but it also has segregation, ego, arrogance without qualifications, men with goat beards, and an over-priced housing market. It’s pretentious and I pay $1295/mo for a small studio in which the cable doesn’t work because snow melts into the cable boxes, there’s a draft from the window and the melting snow creates mold and flushes insects through, and in the summer there is a major bug problem as they all come up through the cracks in the floor covered by the rug. And this is in Arlington Country, one of the most expensive in the nation, and I am not living in the projects. This is “prime real estate.” By comparison, I can/will pay $1275/mo for a 1 bedroom in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, FL, about 10 mins from the beach. It’s managed by the same company that manages the apartment I’m currently in, ironically. (The transfer process was nice, and while they do have some crappy places, they have some nice ones too.) With the apartment I’m in now, they clearly feel that less means more profit for them, which they can get away with in Arlington, VA. Also, I can expect to make as much as I’m making here, but that’s a whole different conversation.

While I had every intention of leaving Washington, DC, I decided to do a quick search on jobs. I only found two that matched what I was looking for, so that reaffirmed my belief that D.C. does not have jobs for me. I applied to the two that I found and am giving them two weeks to get back to me; so far, I have heard back from one, a rejection. Why two weeks? Based on my experience, that is all the time HR needs to decide if a candidate will be a good fit. If HR has a basic understanding of how to add value to a company, then they will be pro-active in pursuing a candidate before they’re hired by someone else. So if you don’t hear anything within two weeks, then they’re not interested; it’s like dating, even though you shouldn’t wait two weeks for that. If you hear back after two weeks, then you know that their HR is lacking. I heard back from an internship after I had already switched to my second job in DC, yet I applied to both at the same time. Even if the need for a new hire wasn’t as great, if people do they’re job well, then they’ll try to secure someone for the spot, like with apartments, you want full occupancy.

So the one company I heard back from in DC responded saying they were very impressed with my résumé, etc., etc. After the job market crash, it was the norm for employers not to respond to candidates, not even with a mass email, now I feel some are trying to engage with responses at least mentioning something positive about the résumé. If I wanted their opinion on my résumé, I would have asked for it. What I was looking for was a job. I was flown in for another interview where the guy said I was smarter than him and said I would be great for one of those top consulting firms. He was a nice guy, I was flattered, but what I wanted was a job, not flattery. And the consulting firms were not looking for someone like me because my GPA was not a least a 3.7, and now I’m too “specialized.”

With the job interview that I was flown in for, after I had a phone interview with some random HR person over the phone and didn’t get called back for the next round, I called the number they had provided to speak with someone. I was polite about it. The only thing snarky I said was that I could do PowerPoint in my sleep. During the phone interview, the person was asking routine questions that lacked substance, and it was clear she did not know what the requirements were. She couldn’t even test my Spanish or Portuguese. Just like Excel, languages have to be learned, and frankly its a lot easier to learn Excel at an advanced level than it is to learn Spanish or Portuguese. I asked my mother to teach me pivot tables just for the interview.

The company that responded to my last attempt at finding employment in DC related to my interest and skills by basically saying I was overqualified received a response email in English and French. The job was related to security issues in Haiti, but ironically, they did not mention anything about knowing Creole. That should have been a sign there that they were already quite limited in their understanding of the basics of the country and the Latin American and Caribbean region. They could have also been assuming that few people know Creole, which is true, because in the DC area someone who knows a foreign language well (reading, writing, and speaking) is very hard to find. I should have at least gotten an interview, so I just described the candidate they chose who probably over-stated his language skills, and then I offered my foreign language services. I provided the French in the email so they could have something to use to actually test his skills. (I went for an interview once where the level of French for the person who tested me where so basic, that I talked faster and threw in some complex pronouns so it would end quicker as she would realize that she was not able to evaluate me. I was very disappointed. This was a non-profit in DC.) I did not say anything to them about that.

I wrote another response email in Portuguese to a consulting firm looking for people who were multilingual. These people clearly have no one to test the skills they desire. While they say they want someone who’s skilled in areas they are not, the candidate can’t be too impressive because that will mess with their ego.

I don’t find my résumé impressive. I don’t find anyone’s résumé impressive. What my résumé shows are my interests, and the jobs I took related to my interests so I could find some enjoyment between 9-5 as I worked to live, to create the lifestyle I want, and increase my investment portfolio so that one day I will not have to work for people who are egotistical and narcissistic. All I want is money and happiness, and probably in that order, especially since I have already done a good amount of traveling which gave me happiness, so now it’s about the money.

So people, acquaintances and recruiters, have said positive things about my résumé, but yet I’m not getting hired for a full-time job, so how about they tell me what part of my résumé screams I do not deserve a full-time job. That information would be useful, because that is the point of the résumé, to get a job, not to impress people. On my own, I have come to the conclusion, that my résumé is too impressive. My cousin told me my intelligence was intimidating. She’s about the age of HR recruiters, so I’ve decided to go with less being more, especially with the Florida market with people placing Associate Degree as a requirement when BK has even decided to put a BA as a recruitment for cashiers.

So in my résumé, I include what they want to hear. I did that before with key words, but now I have to omit the education. I don’t want them to be impressed, I want them to be comfortable. I can’t give myself a male name because that would be unethical, so I have to strive for comfort and sticking with the status quo in the other areas. Plus, my first MA is not really relevant except to say that I am educated, which has done very little to help me find a job. At this point, it’s weighing me down. I should sue for a faulty product.

This is not the first time that I realized that less is more. A friend of mine had gone to the Middlebury Language Schools twice and applied to the Peace Scholarship both times. She speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, and some Italian and Arabic, so, the first time she talked about using language to connect with people on a deeper level to allow for connection. She did not get the scholarship. She told me that the recipients seem to be pretty homogenous and some of them had ideas that they never followed through on. So two years later, she decided to be a little more artistic and push for some emotion.

She’s black and from the inner city, but her parents are upper middle-class, like in the category without an end number and just the “& over”, and they both went to MIT. The income wasn’t enough to pay for her elite college and living expenses though, and Middlebury did not know anything about her parents income/background. Some people get intrigued when they find out she’s from the inner city and confused if they hear her parents went to MIT. So she used some of that. I should also mention she went to a private middle school and high school. She said her passion for languages and relating to people clearly got her no where, so she played the race card. She talked about the constant struggle of trying to pursue her education while being surrounded by gangs and violence as she grew up in the inner city. (They were nearby, just like serial killers in the suburb, but she did not spend her days running and ducking from them.) Then, she got wait-listed for the scholarship. If she had only talked about starting a coop for single mothers in the inner city and some place in subsaharan Africa, without a business plan, she probably would have received the scholarship.

So the conclusion is: for money, fit the stereotype. The job application process is not the time to be you and try to alter the status quo, say what they want to hear. Nuance is not their fortée; simple is better. That’s what being a good fit is all about, there’s a silhouette that you have to fill, which has nothing to do with being ambitious and trying new things, I mean clearly because I have been looking at places with a multinational focus, but yet they continue to hire people who don’t have an appreciatiation for multiculturalism.

Working Full-Time as a Part-Time Employee

I’ve been interviewing prospective freshmen for my alma mater, and I don’t wish I was them, but I wonder if I used to be that hopeful. I know the college process is beyond stressful now, and where you go and what your GPA is will determine whether you get that entry level analyst jobs, or end up flipping burgers at Burger King, a position that now requires a college degree. I don’t want to be a college freshman and know that, I like how I was thinking that college was about exploring my interests, as naive as that was. It was less stressful.

So these students, or at least most of them, were very ambitions. They talked about contributing to the greater good by working for non-profits or the Peace Corps, they talked about unifying countries, and creating their own businesses. I remember on one of my scholarship applications, to Wake Forest actually, where I wrote about wanting to start a homeless shelter that was self-sustainable, and served as like a transition house out of homelessness. I saw a similar concept on 60 minutes. I could put the business plan together and start fundraising, but seeing as no one thinks I’m fit for a full-time job, would they really invest in this goodwill endeavor? And then how can I even help the homeless when the only reason I wasn’t homeless was because I moved back home for about 15 months? A side note: I did not receive any scholarship offer from Wake Forest, and they wanted me to pay just as much to attend their school over a top 10 school, so pretty much, that’s why I said “no” to their admissions offer.

So I used to be just as hopeful as those students were when I was their age. It was refreshing to see that, and I believe that they can accomplish their goals. Most of them were guys, all of them were white, so they had that going for them. They would get into good schools, and all they needed to do is get an A- GPA. I probably would still like to open that homeless shelter eventually. Deep down inside I still feel the desire to help others, and hope for the future, if I didn’t I probably would have already committed suicide, because that’s when it usually happens, at the very end when all other options have been exhausted.

Right now, my focus is being content in the space that I am in. I am trying to stay in the present, and not plan or think too far ahead. I am also working on being less ambitious, because when your expectations aren’t as high, the fall is not as great.

Over the summer I temped for a little bit, which helped me to realize that I could make the money I needed without working full-time. It’s all about the profit margin: hire someone who’s more than qualified as a temp, and you can save a lot of money while getting a more than qualified employee. Funny story: for one job I did, I was calling parents reminding them to submit applications for a new school. I got to speak in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, so that was nice. (My coworkers were impressed too.) I also thought the school was pretty interesting and liked being able to speak with parents about it. I absolutely did not like being on the phone all day. Some hiring manager there took me aside and suggested I apply to the Office Manger position. I asked her what type of commitment she was looking for, and she said about 2 years, and I said I would think about it. She was a bit shocked, and my mother said she was probably wondering why a temp would turn down a full-time job. I had plans to move to Florida, and as I said I did not like being on the phone all day.

I considered it, but it wasn’t the job I was looking for, or the right location, so there are two strikes. I would have to apply, it’s not like they were offering me the job even though they already had my resume, and by that point thinking about having to write another job application would literally make me sick to my stomach. Also, what would be the benefits? In thinking about it now, I guess I could’ve just applied, got it, and then quit when I wanted to, but I liked them so I didn’t want to do that. The pay would’ve been decent, not really enough to maintain a good work life balance (the cost of living in Boston is well above the nations average). I would’ve had benefits, but I can get that on my own with ObamaCare. I was living rent free too, so I didn’t need to show any income to qualify for housing. In hindsight, I should’ve just applied and if I got it just quit when I wanted, but pretended to be interested career development and growing within the organization, blah, blah, blah.

My contact at the temp agency was really good this time around. She would call pretty frequently. I had tried them out for a month or so before grad school and never heard from anybody. So this person even called me when I was out of the state on “vacation”. I got a two week job as a Teaching Assistant, and I just didn’t know how my having another job would impact my relationship with the temp agency, so I kept it to myself. Again, I was working with bright-eyed, hopeful teenagers, and that was refreshing. I did it because I do enjoy teaching, I would like it on the side in some way, which I am working on a bit now. To be honest, it feels nice also to be appreciated for the things i am passionate about and for people to at least occasionally think it has some merit. I mean I’m not looking for praise, but to be grouped together with someone who thinks the singular of “españoles” is “españole” and to be passed over for a job with the State Department that was given to someone who majored in Public Diplomacy and claims fluency in Spanish, but who could not converse in the language in Cuba and is one of the most culturally insensitive people I have ever known, but then have an attentive audience, even if it’s just kids, gives me a moment to appreciate again what I have accomplished.

So back in Boston, I went back with a consulting firm that I had started with in the spring. It was an on-call position and there was a lot of cold-calling. I wasn’t enjoying it and I wasn’t cutting it. They met my asking price, and I got paid more for my languages, but the hours weren’t consistent. So I had a temp job with the local government, and left the consulting firm for benefits, and consistent hours. That’s probably when it started to be more about the money.

The temp job with the state government turned into a seasonal position to go through until the end of winter. I was processing unemployment insurance as a glorified customer service representative. (Note: the demographics of those applying is not what people would think, and certain people actually don’t apply because of fear of the government.) What I learned from that experience: the local government will hire anyone and they’d rather higher internally than recruit, probably to save money, but some people are being overpaid. What I also learned: there are stupid people in this world, plenty of customer services reps do not know what they’re talking about, I loathe headsets and will never wear one again in my life. To sum it up: I hated my job. I did enjoy using Spanish and Portuguese, and even providing the written translations that the Mass government failed to provide. I got paid well, I guess, less than with the consulting firm, but I got overtime and benefits, but picking up trash for $7/hour was more enjoyable. Management was horrendous, my manager would sigh whenever anyone asked him a question. Oh, and I had tried to negotiate my salary and was denied, lol. We were getting $14/hr as temps, so I think the assumption there was $21.57 was a step up for people who had been temping for years maybe and don’t have a college degree. I had actually applied for the full-time equivalent of the position and never heard anything. While I was there I applied to two different positions within the state government, one in legal, primarily because it was interesting, and another in health because it paid more. I interviewed with the one in health pretty much because they were told to interview me, but I failed at it because I talked about analysis, which was in the job description, but all they do is data entry.

But the highlight of my time there was when I left. I think the next time I will be this happy might be when China becomes the world’s largest economy. So in the call center, where I was working, we had “phone police”. You had to press a certain button depending on what you were doing. I wasn’t bothered at first, I think because all they cared about was numbers, and I was meeting the numbers in English and Spanish. I might have been applying for jobs at the same time, but doing what I did did not required a lot of brain power. One time the guy came around and asked about why I wasn’t on a call. I said I was doing a translation and he went away. This was like a week or so before I left. I had just applied for a job that was hiring immediately in a location far from the disappointment of Boston. I got a call on a Friday. I recognized the number, put myself on lunch at 10:30, and was told I go the job! I could not contain myself. I confirmed the salary, now since it’s about the money I should at least make more than what I did before, but I hated my job at the time, and being in Boston, so I was somewhat flexible. The salary, er, hourly rate, was perfect. I had found out I got accepted to school for the summer, so the timing was perfect too, the job ends just before then. Of course the phone police comes over. He said what he said. I said ok, and logged off the box. He was a nice guy, took his job way too seriously, and could’ve been focusing on the people who clearly weren’t doing their work, so I let it go. I went to my “wonderful” manager, and said I’m moving. I had thought about telling him what I thought of him, but that would’ve been a waste of my breath, and that’s who he is and he probably won’t ever change. I was giving him my badge, and he said I might want to keep it if I come in on Monday. I said nope, I’ll just use my vacation time. He let me put it in for that Friday. He asked for an email to send to HR, and there I explained that I got another job, which probably explains the hold up with transferring my retirement funds, that and not giving 2 weeks notice. But what did they expect with hiring all the temps in my group, even the ones who were surprising failing at the job by low and high standards, not letting me negotiate my salary, the horrible management, and harassing me with the phone police. I left and I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to move the following week.

My job now is great. It’s in DC. I am completely against the cost of living here, even though it is better than Boston. It’s capitalist at it’s best. Southerners are fascinated by DC and northerners feel they can fix the government, so everyone, but me, really wants to be here, and that helps to drive rent up because of the demand, then the jobs, and the new apartments also help drive the rent prices up, and then even the cheaply made becomes ridiculously expensive. I though, am happy to be out of Boston, further south, better compensated for my work, and without a headset.

As I said, this is just a temporary position. I’ve come to grips with that. I have been looking at full-time positions near my new school, which is in a state far from DC, and have remained somewhat hopeful. Based on my experiences in the past year, I know that I can survive on just temporary assignments, so I’m wondering what I would actually gain from working full-time. It would pretty much be the job security, at least on paper, because I’m done with the government and non-profits, so the private sector can let you go whenever they want. That security would be nice, but again at this point I become sick when I think about writing another job application. I actually applied for some temp positions and internships for the summer. One place got back to me, about a full-time position in the DC area, that I didn’t even apply to. The money’s nice, so I guess I would be stupid not to stay for that. I had applied to them right out of grad school I think, unless I’m confusing them with another company, and was hesitant about applying to them again, never heard anything, and thought it would be nice to string them along. So I haven’t heard from them yet, it’s only been a day, but I’m not holding my breath. Even thinking about the possibility that something could come of that is a waste of energy that I’d rather use for something else. And at this point I don’t need the job. I have money coming in, loans are deferred, I was able to get rid of all ties to Bank of America finally, and I happen to have a decent investment portfolio. I would very much love to tell the companies/organizations that overlooked me just because my degree doesn’t end in “S” or say “Economics” to: [insert expletive here].

So that brings me to the title of this message. I keep thinking I’ve been out of school for a while. It has been a good amount of time, but it hasn’t even been 2 years yet, and I have not gone without money. I think what probably threw me was the expectation that degrees from more than good programs, an above 3.0 GPA, foreign language skills, work experience, a book, and some decent networking would have led to a full-time job by now, and having to live at home or be homeless. I’m glad the living at home is done with. Plan C/D is unemployment insurance, and I can actually give people decent advice on how to “handle” that process. So I can get what I need by doing part-time, investing some of what I earn, and going back to school if the job market is a bust yet again. I am actually moving to Florida which is where I need to be to work on my languages. I want to be in a place where people look at you sideways because you don’t know Spanish and not because you actually know it well. And I do think about the loans, and other people think about the loans, but I’m convinced that no one owes more than me, and actually, putting my undervalued intelligence to good use, there are completely legal ways around that. So right now, I’ll just coast and be. I’m off the depressants so I have to be more mindful of my highs and lows, and I have what I need. It’s not ideal, but it could be worse, and it has been worse.

The “About Me” Post

Who am I, what have I done, and who do I hope to become?

Now that I have introduced my blog, allow me to share a bit more about my educational/professional background and my career expectations:

My field is international affairs. I know it sounds broad, and I mean it to be.  I chose this field precisely because it is broad and can involve pretty much anything, but with an international focus. In college and graduate school I tended to focus on politics, social issues, and economic development. For my future career, I would prefer something that emphasized research, analysis and writing, and the use of foreign languages. Again, I know, very broad, but that should be that I have a wider range of opportunities… but I guess only in an ideal world.

So, I hold a Bachelor of Arts, as I mentioned before, from a top 10 school in the U.S. (I think top 14 globally), where I double-majored in International Studies and Spanish and minored in Political Science, and graduated with honors in my first major. I earned a Master of Arts in International Affairs, also from a top 10 school, in the U.S., in International Affairs (see fpa.org), currently not worth the paper it’s written on. I say it’s not worth the paper it’s written on, because it has yet to be a factor when I have applied for jobs and actually gotten an interview, and then I have left it off my resume, and limited the descriptions of my jobs, and managed to at least get hired for part-time work in retail and entertainment.

In addition to the cheap paper with fancy words on them, I attended the Sorbonne in Paris so I actually speak French unlike the people who claim to when they don’t (I’ll address this later, what happened was amusing… after). I studied abroad in Ecuador, Brazil, and Cuba where I also did thesis research. (On my resume I say “sanctioned study abroad in Cuba” for people who want to ask me if I went through Mexico or Jamaica). I also attended Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT) on two separate occasions for Chinese and Portuguese.

More recently I have worked for the federal government and an international development organization. I didn’t apply to unpaid internships in college and graduate school except one that I unfortunately accepted, which was with the Department of State (I’ll explain why this was unfortunate later). I didn’t apply for unpaid internships because (1) I couldn’t afford them, and (2) I don’t really think I “needed the experience” and the latter is the only argument those hiring for unpaid internships lead and close with.

The first job I ever held, that wasn’t babysitting, was with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts picking up trash when I was 14 years old. And up until I graduated from graduate school I had always held a job except when in high school (not including senior fall) and then the two summers I was at Middlebury College when it wasn’t allowed. The second time I did attempt to work at the supermarket though because I was required to use all the money I had left in my bank accounts to attend.

So what led me on that path of international affairs?

My mother would say things to me in French and Spanish when I was growing up and I happened to be around the Spanish language and Hispanic people a lot, so I got this crazy idea to be fluent in Spanish and French, specifically by the time I finished high school. I also had a dream of living in France when I was 7 years old I think. So I made a plan.

In sixth grade I decided that I would stop taking Spanish at my new school and take Latin so I could learn other romance languages more easily, switch back to Spanish in high school and then start French in as soon as I could. This is what I decided in sixth grade in addition to deciding when I was in elementary school that I was going to live in France. As far as my plan for the languages, all that was accomplished including fluency, despite being told to take more history classes and physics. I never took physics. I pursued my dreams instead. And as for living in France, that kind of happened by accident. I had an opportunity before the Sorbonne and remember being so mad at my father when he wouldn’t let me go. The reason was valid though, because we did not have the money, but I was very naive then. It was in France that I decided to major in international affairs in college, again pursuing my dreams.

Why no unpaid internships?

In Massachusetts, you can (or at least could back then) work at 14. So, my parents said you can work, so work. They were not going to have me being idle over the summers. The job available then was “groundskeeper”, i.e. picking up trash in a low-income area. I am an excellent swimmer, so when I was 16 I started lifeguarding. From 14 years old on, I paid for my own clothes and entertainment, unless my parents decided to give me gifts. And boy was I shocked in college to hear about people getting their first job the summer after their freshman year in college. And now these people are in consulting firms earning a nice chunk of change or complaining about how people like me are unemployed or underemployed simply because they didn’t do the work. I knew the meaning of work long before them an can explain it in 5 different languages. (I can say it in seven — add Italian and Arabic).

So in college, I took that work ethic with me, and plus I had to pay for incidentals, and ideally start saving to pay off my loans, which didn’t happen. (I do admit that I could do a better job at saving my money). I worked while in college, not as much as others, but more than most. And like those putting in the max hours, I did it not for my resume, but for my wallet. That’s ironic because society now favors the brown-nosers and the resume fillers, but I digress…

Loans:

First, I’m disappointed with how little people actually know about loans. In brief: You do the FAFSA you get an EFC (expected family contribution) number, you now how much you can apply for in federal loans. Low income families qualify for federal loans. For the rest, particularly the middle class, how much debt you have and how many children you have… no one cares. I know, I know, those things are within their control, but were they within mine as the child? (in reference to the debt) If you have good credit you can get a private loan (yay!). Also, you can drive an expensive car, i.e. Benz, Jaguar, and still receive aid. Also people were all excited about need-blind admissions in 2005… that was not a novelty.

I applied for scholarships for undergraduate school. Didn’t get any. I wasn’t smart enough. Had I gone to public school I might’ve been. I had gotten straight A’s until I switched to prestigious private school where I got a quality education but no perfect GPA. Makes me wonder what would’ve happened had I gone to a public university… who knows. I could’ve been more stressed out by the SAT, more interested in school rankings, financial offers, but no, I wanted to chase my dreams and my high school guidance counselor wanted to maintain the numbers.

Where I am now:

So thankfully my parents have good credit, mine right now is decent, frankly considering the amount of loans I have, I don’t see the point in trying. By the time I pay off my loans, especially at this rate, I’ll be able to improve my credit maybe two times over… But my parents used their good credit to get me private loans for college. I think I am a co-signer (I don’t like to look at the statements too often), and I do believe that I should at least be helping to pay them off. Considering all my education and experience, I thought I could be doing that by now. So that’s about $33K x 4 years, you can do the math, plus interest. It should be $40K but I did get a $4K scholarships, to be used for the four years (the scholarship was disorganized so it was discontinued), and then $7500 in Stafford Loans that I took out on my own. My parents have been paying off some of the private loans already because they just can’t move into deferrment and forebearance like those federal ones.

For graduate school I owe the government about $115K. So no, that’s not the $32K average the media likes to throw out there. Nor is it the debt that my peers talk about when two years after college they post on Facebook: “I’ve finally paid off my debt!” I had listened to them gripe in college and thought we had shared pain… they don’t know what finally is, just like they didn’t know what work was. Had I had this in credit card debt, I could declare bankruptcy… And this is why I say my Masters is not worth the paper it’s written on. It has not expanded my options, it has actually made it harder to find a job, two years there was more than two years at my undergrad institution, and I think my graduate school actually over-charged me. They have over-charged me before, which I addressed.

*****

So that is a bit of my back story and why I started this blog with “A Dream Deferred.” I started out with dreams, a plan, and thought I did all the right things. I have been told I have an excellent resume, but… I find myself wearing a cheap uniform to work while showing guests to their seats, and working for Victoria’s Secret and being told I’m not qualified for supervisor because I don’t have the right experience… (To press buttons at a cash register, really?) I find myself making just above minimum wage, right back where I started when I was picking up trash. So, what then was the point of my education? I used to go to work and talk about international policy, Chinese investment in Latin America, and now? I work alongside mostly college drop-outs, without a plan, who don’t know how to dress for an interview, and focus on spending the little money they earn on fixing up a cheap car and alcohol at the club. What separates me from homelessness are parents who despite being more conservative than I am are not so conservative that they believe all children should be put out at 18.

I believed in education, I especially believed the mantra of “think of it as an investment in your future.” What future? To address what I alluded to in the first post, I have contemplated suicide, but to be truthful, I had thought about it before college, although with my current situation the thoughts had become more frequent. I do consider myself a rational person though, and I weigh the pros and cons of situations, and currently there are more cons for suicide: the financial and emotional burden on my family, plus the fact that for a number of reasons I can’t kill myself although I do think about the relief that death would bring to me… For a couple of days now, I haven’t thought about it though. When I don’t go into work, and when I don’t think about the over-priced paper I bought, I think that’s really when I can live day to day. It might also help that as I was writing this I realized I know where in this world to go to not be found, and I could survive there. I could give my parents the money they needed for my undergraduate education and forget about graduate school and its uselessness… I mean, up until now I have done what I was supposed to do, and it has been said “to do the same thing repeatedly and expect the same results is insane.”