After graduation, I moved to Washington, D.C., with bright eyes and a full heart, intent on changing the world. I had dreams of being a dynamic classroom teacher in a struggling school, inspiring students to read, learn and explore. The world, however, had a different plan for me. When the school year began, my heart emptied quickly and my eyes grew dull. I was unprepared, miserably unhappy and unhealthy to boot. So I made the most difficult decision I had ever had to make.
I walked away from my dream of leading a classroom and suddenly found myself lost and without purpose in one of the most powerful cities in the world.
Fresh off of my first true failure and unsure of what to do next, I thought back to what I loved to do as a child. I was a bookworm as a kid and loved reading, writing and learning. Helping others was also important to me. It seemed clear that a job in education was a good fit. I thought I was well-qualified and relatively experienced for my age, and I assumed I’d land a new job quickly.
I was wrong.
As is true of many big cities that are popular destinations for recent graduates, the job market in D.C. was oversaturated with qualified applicants. It seemed like everyone had a master’s degree and two years of experience — except for me. Interviews were a dime a dozen but job offers were elusive. Faced with having to pay next month’s bills and feeling like I’d never find a full-time job, I went on the hunt for a part-time gig.
My part-time jobs ended up being a big confidence boost and a great place to learn transferrable skills. I honed my supervision and customer-service skills as a swim school director, gained experience in a fast-paced, high-volume environment as a front-desk attendant at a gym and rediscovered my passion for education while tutoring at a local college. There’s no shame in working odd jobs after you graduate as long as you’re learning from your experience.
With my fresh, new confidence, my job interviews began to go better. I realized that employers had been able to sense my desperation to get a job — any job — and that the rejections weren’t a personal attack. I found that the more I interviewed and the more I got rejected, the more resilient I became. It took me less time and less mental energy to bounce back from rejections, which meant I had more time to plot my next steps.
Though my part-time jobs added up to almost a full-time work week, I still had lots of time to explore D.C. I went to free events all over the city, made new friends who were in the same boat as me and signed up for a half marathon.
These things gave me the perspective I needed to realize that the career I wanted wasn’t in D.C. and wasn’t going to happen right away. I knew that being an educator was still the right path, but a traditional classroom wasn’t the right venue for me to exercise my passions. The things I had experienced as a jack-of-all-trades, part-time worker, along with the introspection that came as a result of making a risky career decision, ended up pointing me in the right direction. A career in higher education was more uniquely suited to my interests, so I applied to graduate school.
When I interviewed for graduate schools, it was crystal clear that all of those jobs I had interviewed for and been rejected from previously had paid off. My interviews for school felt strong — I had had lots of practice and I knew what I wanted. I had lost the tone of desperation and gave genuine answers to questions, instead of the rehearsed, generic responses that were typical of my earlier interviews. Others noticed too, and I got accepted at a school that was a good fit for me.
Looking back, the year I spent in D.C. was nothing like I had expected and everything that I hoped it would be. Quitting my job was a big risk, but it paid off in more ways than I could have ever imagined.
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