What I Learned from a Year of Unemployment after College

woman working in the fields flowers

When I graduated from college in 2012, I thought a world of opportunities would become open to me. I had made all the right connections, held leadership positions, was top of my major, and graduated summa cum laude. Surely, I would breeze through career opportunities like a hurricane of success!

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But no such thing happened – at least not in the beginning.

Toughing it Out

In fact, it was a rough year after school ended, even though I gave up my vacation to stay in Jamaica and hunt for a job.

I didn’t want to return after stretching my legs for four months in the U.S., only to find all the good positions taken. But it seemed that for recent graduates, there was just none to be had.

Since I no longer had my college apartment, my rent sky-rocketed, and inflation sent general cost of living up with it.

In a few months, I found myself literally budgeting meals, and using candles in the dark at night to avoid turning the lights on. I didn’t want my utilities to run sky-high too.

I mostly stayed home, rarely ate out, and my only monthly treat to myself was one pound of gummy worms I used to buy at the local supermarket for about US $2.00.

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The Silver Lining

I could have spent the year moping and bewailing the cruelties of Third World life. But instead I decided to turn my unfortunate situation into a benefit, by taking the time to work on my writing.

While I’m extremely grateful for my college education, it had made it almost impossible to write. How could I dare to read Anne Rice or work on novels, when I had five textbooks to read cover to cover and three projects to turn in by the end of the semester?

So for the first time in six years, I had all the free time I needed to focus on an inexpensive hobby – and best believe I made the best of it.

In less than a year, I had finished four novels and started on a fifth. I told myself, “I’ll finish this in the next three months” and clearly had very good reason to believe I could.

Then, I found a job.

The Downside of Full-time Employment

I was excited. I had finally entered the world of work, though to be honest, at roughly US $6,800 per year it was hardly anything to be excited about. Thankfully though, my parents continued to help out and I was able to lead a relatively comfortable life.

I worked hard and kept my goals in sight, but try as I might I just couldn’t find the time or energy to finish that novel.

I crept along at a snail’s pace and would sometimes take such long breaks, that I would need to re-read the whole thing before I could write again. Fast-forward to three years later, and I’m still on that last book.

Amazing isn’t it? – how one writes four books in eight months, and then can’t make it through the final book in three years.

Well this year, I plan to finish it by the end of summer the year, for sure. And yes: I’ve said this every year since January 2013 and I’ll keep saying it until it’s done. Mark my words.

Because the fact is, every year I get closer and closer to my end goal. At 79,006 words I’m almost 80 percent done.

What I Learned

I learned two lessons from this experience.

The first is that failure happens when you stop trying. And the second is that in spite of this, success often comes to the people who know when to give up and move on.

We should all keep working towards our biggest dreams and ambitions, but along the way, you will also need to know when to let go of a fruitless venture, and try something else. This is true for both our professional and personal lives.

Most of us will go through unemployment, underemployment, or a financial rut at some point. If that’s you today, have patience, keep looking, and never be afraid of re-inventing yourself or working towards something else.

I truly believe that there is no better time to take risks and try new things than when you have nothing to lose, because if you’re already all the way down, it can only go up from there.

For more college-related posts, check out my website College Mate – your survival guide to college.

Originally published January 25, 2016 on Alexis Chateau.

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62 thoughts on “What I Learned from a Year of Unemployment after College

  1. One of the reasons that I’ve been able to write as much as I have been lately is that I’ve been forced out of the workplace due to medical reasons. I’ve looked at it as a mixed blessing. Fortunately we’ve been able to survive without my income while I try to get a handle of this writing thing. It’s also been something I’ve wanted to do for years and now can finally devote the time it’s needed.

    While I haven’t finished any of the projects I’ve started yet, I’ve learned what I didn’t want to work on and what types of projects I do want to write. It’s an exciting, nervous, wonderful time of life right now.

    1. I’m glad this is something you can relate to as well. And even more glad that you’ve learned to see it as a blessing.

      I think you did mention your medical problems before, and I’m sorry to hear they haven’t gotten better. I hope they do soon, and I hope you manage to finish some of those projects before you get back to work.

      Thanks for dropping by again. Always Always a pleasure!

      ~ Alex

  2. As hard as it it is to accept…everything happens for a reason.

    I am sure you will finish your novel this year. And I look forward to reading. If it is anything like your blog, I am sure it will be great.

    1. Haha, thank you! I’m sure I’ll finish it too. I just need to stick with it and get it done. Too many pet projects on my table, I guess.

      Thanks for dropping by again!

      ~ Alex

  3. This is great, honestly, and goes to show that life’s experiences help you grow and learn, no matter how negative. I have not graduated yet, but what you have said, I will take greatly into consideration. I do wish you the very best in completing your novel!

  4. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Great piece. Success and failure are truly like the two sides of a coin. You’d only know if you will succeed or fail if you take action and do something about the dream in your heart. Just as you’d know if you’ll get a head or tail only when you toss the coin. Well done Alexis!

  5. What a great post! I too have struggled with the post-grad life, but went another direction; I just kept going back to school, somehow convinced that the secret to finding a well-paying and fulfilling career was to keep getting degrees. I can’t say I regret it; I made some amazing friends, met my wife, and had some wonderful experiences… But now I’m coming to the realization that perhaps I don’t want to be in an office with a 9 to 5 and all that. My wife, Clarissa, and I are in the midst of trying to figure out what we want to do next and whatever that is, we’re hoping to make it an adventure!

    1. Thanks Wade – I’m glad you liked it. I figured a lot of college grads could benefit from knowing that this is a universal struggle for most of us.

      I have two degrees myself and want to go back to get my masters and PhD before I turn 35. I’m not getting them for professional reasons though – purely for personal development.

      I’m sure you also learned a lot in your experience! What plans do you guys have on the table so far?

      1. Well, we’re contemplating shifting our careers quite a bit. I’m currently working in an archive, but that’s temporary anyway, ending in May. I’d like to spend more time outside, so something with historic sites or National Parks would be lovely for me. Of course, that’s quite competitive, so it’s hard to say how feasible it is. We’re also bouncing around the idea of taking a year away from work and essentially living as nomads for a year, but there are a lot of logistics to work out before we figure out if that’s something we can really do any time soon. If nothing else, it’s incredibly helpful to have the conversations as it helps us start to sort what kind of life we want to lead moving into the future.

      2. You don’t mind being outside when the cold bites? I love the outdoors – until winter hits. That does sound like a great opportunity though. You should go for it, competitive or not. Smaller towns might be less competitive.

        If you don’t have kids the nomad life would be great, but of course you’ll have to figure out how to make money while on the road. Savings run out pretty fast when you’re traveling, I’ve learned.

      3. Yeah, the financial struggle is real! We’re still trying to sort out those details, but there’s a lot of brainstorming to do well before we make a decision. I don’t mind being outside when the cold comes a rustling; I’m from the Midwest, so cold winters aren’t new to me, and I’ll be posting a new article next week about my recent winter overnight in the woods. I still love being outside in the winter, but it definitely requires more layers and it’s always great to come in and get warmed up at the end of the day!

      4. Tell me about it – I know it all too well. You guys should look at the skills and talents you have and see what you can get paid to do for other people on the road. I also heard of people getting boarding and food with farms and other organizations they volunteer with. Just tossing ideas out that I heard of. But the fact that you don’t mind being outdoors and doing manual stuff will work in your favour.

      5. That’s the hope! We’re looking at the possibility of doing some work on organic farms via WWOOF, and she has some yoga connections, so we’ll see what we can make fly!

      6. This sounds like great entrepreneurial activities. I hate to see people thinking we can only make a living as employees. Sometimes being self-sustained works out much better. You gotta keep me posted on that. For some reason I am never able to view your blog. I’ve tried multiple times. Did you transfer to a new address? It always says “Nothing Found”. URL: https://dailyintrepid.wordpress.com/ =/

      7. I did recently migrate to a new address, but I thought I had successfully migrated followers over and set the site redirect to work properly… Guess I have more work to do on that front! Sorry about that! You can find me at IntrepidDaily.com now, and I appreciate that you’re still reading!

      8. That’s probably why, but I just did the same with zero issues. What I did at the time was after I bought my domain, I just changed my primary address from the wordpress one, to the alexischateau.com one and that worked for me. How did you do it?

      9. Oh, and I agree, I think your post would be incredibly helpful to those starting out after getting their degrees! I know it would have really changed my perspective when I first got out of school!

      10. Yes, I wish someone had told me that too when I left. Even though I turned to writing to stay productive, it was really disheartening not being able to find a job for almost a year. You feel like it must only be happening to you.

      11. Exactly! And it’s not, it’s a big part of starting out post-grad, but that’s not the expectation that we’re given!

      12. True – to be fair though, my college did its best to warn us, but I thought since I graduated cream of the crop, I wouldn’t have the same disadvantages as everyone else. Turns out it actually made me overqualified for starter positions, while still leaving me under-qualified for the big positions.

        Is that what happened with you too?

      13. I wasn’t the cream of the crop necessarily, but I was right up there with the cream, but for me it was that no one ever told me about the importance of internships and experience. To be fair on my end, if I had been more proactive about things, I would have figured it out on my own, but despite stellar grades, I never got around to any of that important experience stuff. I worked all through college, so it never occurred to me. The end result was over-educated, under-qualified right as the economy shifted and positions for historians were drying up. Still, that education was some good stuff!

      14. I knew of the importance of internships and experience, but if no one wants to be the first to hire you, how do you get that? Luckily, I had some summer jobs to make up for that but nothing really at the level I needed.

        I don’t think you should blame yourself for not being proactive enough. The school’s job is to prepare you for the working world. It’s their job to know and tell you what to do to land a stellar job to match the grades!

        An education in history is impressive though. Did you specialise in any particular area of it?

      15. I was a bit all over the place throughout my studies. As an undergraduate I focused on Medieval studies. My first time in grad school I focused on modern American culture. Then my second MA is in Historical Administration, which is akin to museum studies and management of historic sites and organizations. I actually have a lot of transferable skills, especially when you look at my (admittedly varied) job and volunteer experience. Unfortunately, a lot of people see history degrees on there and assume all I can do is recite dates and facts (which I’m actually terrible at). So, applying for work takes a bit of public relations to get past my own degrees at times!

      16. Medieval was my favourite too. I wasn’t too keen on modern anything, although I did look at that a lot from a sociological perspective for class.

        It’s true though that employers often don’t know what to make of history degrees. If you haven’t already, you should probably put your work experience before your history degree lol. That way their first impression of you comes from your work experience and not your degree.

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