On Saturday, May 9, 2009, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre. The depth of the second-largest economic recession since the Great Depression occurred just months prior. It decimated wealth, shuttered businesses, and destroyed jobs.
To illustrate, here are a few headlines from that time:
- “Job Losses Hint at Vast Remaking of Economy”, New York Times, March 6, 2009
- “Global Economic Shock Worse Than Great Depression”, Huffington Post, May 8, 2009
- “Financial Crisis is the Worst the World Has Ever Faced”, The Telegraph, October 6, 2011
- “Worst year for jobs since ‘45”, CNN Money, January 9, 2009
Sound a bit familiar? I don’t mean to draw exaggerated parallels to what we face today. To be sure, the health and political landscapes alone show there are stark differences.
However, as the bad news continues to mount, and media outlets continue to proclaim the sky is falling, I felt compelled to share my 11-year career journey since the ‘worst financial crisis the world has ever faced.’
At the time, theatre was all I had ever done and all I had ever imagined myself doing. I poured my life into it. I dreamed about it. I felt called to it, not unlike many of you in student affairs and campus housing. I went into nearly $50,000 worth of student loans to get my degree, convinced my path ahead was linear and mostly predictable.
Yet, here was May 2009. I landed a temporary, one-and-a-half-month contract at a theatre in my hometown. I would be living with my parents and had virtually no other prospects in sight. I imagined my first job out of college as a member of the tour management team for Britney Spears or Cirque du Soleil.
Not so much.
Economic and personal circumstances marked my next 11 years with a careening slate of occupations. From the time I graduated until now, here’s what I’ve done for money (in order):
- Stage manager
- Marketing assistant
- Stage manager (again)
- Economics research fellow/analyst (grad school then full-time)
- Car washer
- Coordinator for Institutional Effectiveness
- Bartender/server (again)
- Senior economics research analyst
- Director of Research Initiatives (campus housing)
Now – here’s a non-exhaustive list of skills and traits instilled in me during my coursework and applied between-semester experiences:
- Event planning
- Attention to detail
- Mediation (The parents on Toddlers in Tiaras are real, y’all)
- Social intelligence
- Writing (I can’t express enough how important this is.)
- Reading a room
Plot-twist: not one of these skills is relative exclusively to theatre.
This post is not a plea to apply for any position you see. It’s a plea to intentionally consider what skills you have, and how they translate to jobs you might not have considered before. I knew nothing about economics at the time I applied. Still, I convinced whoever was reading my cover letter that this kid with a theatre degree and attention to detail could explain an economics report in layman terms to a non-economics audience.
Before my time at ACUHO-I, my campus housing experience was limited to half a semester as an RA in 2006. A 16 to one-person airsoft gunfight left me entirely over it. I was that one person if it’s not clear. I bow down to campus housing professionals.
However, I convinced the professionals here at ACUHO-I that my research and social intelligence skills would add value to the association.
Just as I don’t mean to exaggerate the parallels between 2009 and now, I don’t mean to downplay the real challenges we face or oversimplify the job search process. Having translatable skills alone will not land you a job. Involved are a blend of opportunism, skills development, secure professional networks (life hack: right now is one of the BEST times to get involved with a professional association), and a healthy dash of luck.
The first years of your professional life (whether you are graduating with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree) in the middle of a crisis will likely be incredibly challenging.
These years are also surmountable. Begin to examine yourself. Envision your skills and experiences in new ways.
How are you responding?
How are you preparing?
What new information has this pandemic taught you about yourself thus far?
What do you bring to the table?
Anyone who remotely knows me understands that I am no Pollyanna. “Hope” ranked the fourth lowest of 24 character strengths in my most recent character profile. So instead of hope, I’ll give you a reality check:
This event is a shockwave, not a permanence. Student affairs professionals and the skills they bring will continue to be critical even as we navigate the new normal. The rate at which we innovate ourselves and our ways of helping students will only speed up.
Perhaps most importantly, you have more skills than you think you do, they are more valuable than you think they are, and you can find fulfillment in many occupations.