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What to do when you’ve lost hope: managing a life crisis

In 2005, two years after I’d finished college with a bachelor’s in psychology I was completely and utterly lost. After spending what seemed like years (prob about 10 months) of my life applying for jobs online, going to interview after interview, and never getting the job; I was devastated. I’d been waiting tables and working retail after graduation and was just sure I would find a job in a couple of months. The truth is you can get a job doing pretty much nothing with a BS in psychology (or sociology or any other liberal arts degree) without going to graduate school, unless you can survive on minimum wage of course.

I’d been waiting tables for 2 years after graduating college, at my dad’s restaurant (to make it even more humiliating), and it felt like things were NEVER going to improve. Many of my friends had found jobs and were getting engaged. It seemed like their lives were moving forward, but mine was not. If anything it felt like it was moving backward. I had been running myself ragged working multiple part time jobs, applying for jobs, going to interviews, attending networking events. And nothing seemed to work. I was beside myself and really confused about why things weren’t working out. As a high-achiever, goal-oriented person I had never struggled like this before. It was extremely painful and embarrassing when people asked me about my job search.

After graduation, I refused to move home with my parents because that meant failure in my mind. I had finished school and now was the time to move forward in life as a “grown up,” not move backward and live under my parent’s roof again. So, I struggled. Like, really, really struggled. I often worked three jobs, none of which required or used my education, and was literally counting my pennies to pay my bills. It was in the midst of a “counting my pennies” moment that I had a “moment of truth” or as other people call it “a total meltdown.”

As I counted my change from waiting tables to pay my power bill it all suddenly just became too much to handle. The overwhelm, the fatigue, the hopelessness I felt hit me like a ton of bricks. Tears streamed down my face as my mind raced in circles questioning how I got here. What is something I did? Something I didn’t do? Fate? Karma? I was truly bewildered by what in the hell was going on. I found myself speaking out loud to God. I begged for help, a sign, a symbol, some type of cosmic opportunity, just anything to help me move in the right direction. I was devastated, I was desperate and I needed help that was beyond my personal power.  And I knew it.

And then after a few minutes of wallowing in my own pain and disappointment I had a stark realization. I really didn’t know what I wanted, specifically in terms of my career. I was unsure of my purpose. And I was looking for someone or something to show me the way. All I knew was that I wanted a job, to be successful, and financially independent. The truth was I was applying for all types of jobs; some in marketing, others in sales, a few in education, a couple in event planning. Ultimately I was throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and hoping that something was going to stick, rather than moving with clarity and true purpose. By defining what we truly want we bring ourselves closer to it. If we just aimlessly try to move forward toward some vague goal (ex: find a job, get engaged, buy a house, etc.), that’s exactly what we will get; random events that lack substance or meaning. Which is exactly where I was, unconsciously fighting my own energy as I groped for a means of survival.

As the current economy is weak and still recovering from the “Great recession,” many recent college grads are at risk for unemployment, underemployment and generally just not being able to make a living in a traditional job setting. According to “The Class of 2014. The Weak Economy Is Idling Too Many Young Graduates” by Heidi Shierholz, Alyssa Davis, and Will Kimball published on May 1, 2014:

 Unemployment of young graduates is extremely high today not because of something unique about the Great Recession and its aftermath that has affected young people in particular. Rather, it is high because young workers always experience disproportionate increases in unemployment during periods of labor market weakness—and the Great Recession and its aftermath is the longest, most severe period of economic weakness in more than seven decades.

 In today’s labor market, there are nearly 1 million “missing” young workers—potential workers who are neither employed nor actively seeking work (and are thus not counted in the unemployment rate) because job opportunities remain so scarce. If these missing workers were in the labor market looking for work, the unemployment rate of workers under age 25 would be 18.1 percent instead of 14.5 percent.

These facts and figures are staggering, but present a true picture of struggles that recent college grads currently face. Many of which, I faced myself for several years after finishing college. These statistics were (for me) and are a wake up call. Now, more than ever young people entering the workforce need a clear picture of what they want to do and how they want to live. It is the single most important piece of information you can have in forging a career path with both purpose and financial stability.

Finding hope is about clarifying your sense of purpose and the direction you intend to take. This guides how and when you exert effort and increases your chance of both success and fulfillment. Through those things you move closer to hope, happiness, and in my case a career. Happiness is often about the quest or striving for a goal in which there is meaning, not in actually reaching it. So, whatever it is you desire be sure that you are clear on what it is you want. This is the antidote for losing hope.

After a few more years of struggle and clarifying my goals; I decided to return to grad school. Flash forward 9 years and today and I have a happy fulfilling career as a couples counselor and relationship coach. Everyday I get the chance to do things that feel important and valuable in impacting the life of others. I couldn’t think of a more rewarding career. And I’m able to create a work schedule and income that fit my lifestyle, rather than the other way around. If I hadn’t struggled so desperately at first I’m not sure if I would have found the motivation and drive to get clear on what I wanted. What seemed like the biggest obstacle at the time (did it ever), ended up being the thing that provided me with the most important opportunity to get clear with myself.

What struggle in life have you expereinced that’s provided the best opportunity for creating purpose and hope in your life?


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