The Struggle: Being 20-Something in the 21st Century
In the Fall of 2005, after I graduated from high school, I began my collegiate career. I followed the route of thousands of others students my age, entering school wide-eyed and eager to succeed..
Once I finished my first year at Marymount Manhattan College, I changed my focus from communication arts to include marine and environmental science. I then transferred to Hampton University in south-east Virginia.
I worked full-time as a student, studying both science and journalism. I also worked at a KFC fast food restaurant as a team member.
During the summer of 2009, I worked full-time simultaneously as a shift supervisor at the restaurant and as an intern at the Virginia Aquarium.
After four years of exams, papers, research and laboratory work, I received my Bachelors of Science in 2010.
The President of the United States' commencement address to my graduating class left me inspired and hopeful. I worked hard to get my degree, and I had the passion and dedication to take that first step and reach for my aspirations of becoming an environmental journalist.
The Post-Grad Life
In January of 2011 I quit my job at KFC and relocated home to New York, per my father's advice.
My dad worked hard to earn a college degree. He now has a lucrative career in investment services that he built up with years of experience and dedication.
He believed that staying in Virginia working at a restaurant was a mistake for me. He'd rather I focus on searching and applying to jobs in my field, and I agreed.
The decision to move left me unemployed for 5 months. And being stuck at home with no work for so long began to get under my skin.
My father would call me at 10AM to make sure I was awake and searching for work. He would come home from his job and ask me what I found and what companies I applied to.
Some days I would have answers. Other days my efforts would be futile.
His constant checking on me was driving me up a wall.
I knew he was trying to help, but man, it felt like he was disappointed that I had graduated, spent all his money on my expensive science degree, only to sit at home, watch Nickelodeon and eat cereal.
The First Job
So, I started applying to any and all places that were hiring. Although my only job experience was in food service while I was in college, I did my best to avoid restaurants and fast food places. Four years was enough.
I tried zoos, aquariums, and museums. I looked into teaching and education positions in local conservation societies. I applied to state, federal and international opportunities in science and journalism. But nothing was sticking. I was either denied the position, or left in the dark with zero feedback.
It was May 2011 and I was on my way to my sister's college graduation, when I received a phone call from a friend about a job where she was employed. Thanks to this friend, I was able to land a position at a local business in my hometown.
My first job after graduating was at a dog grooming and kennel business. I was, quite literally, picking up dog poop for a living. As much as I love animals, that became a pretty low moment for me. Years of school, and thousands of dollars spent to give me a career, and I was picking up poop for $9 an hour.
The job was relatively easy, but the work load was all over the place.
Sometimes it would be a few dogs to take care of, then other days the kennel would be at capacity with only two other employees to help with the work. Medicines had to be distributed, kennels had to be cleaned, food had to be made and waste had to be removed.
The responsibilities were always met and the animals were well cared for, but the demands would leave me absolutely drained and wholly disheartened. The more time I invested in that business the more depressed I would become. I was living in my dad's house in my childhood bedroom, coming home smelling like dogs and covered in fur and sometimes worse.
I was happy being able to take home a paycheck, and I loved working with animals, but each day I that went by was another day I look forward to quitting that job.
The Journey South
After nine months of failing to find jobs in the science field, and only freelance work in the journalism area, I finally quit the kennel job and took my life south to the Sunshine State.
It wasn't a decision that I spent too much time on. I knew that staying in my dad's house working with dogs was going nowhere. I couldn't afford my own place on my meager wage and I couldn't acquire a higher-paying occupation in my state. Education and relocation seemed to be the only way for me.
A close friend and his boyfriend were moving into a larger place down in Florida. I had visited them in October of 2011 and they offered me their spare room in their new apartment. I returned to Long Island, packed up my room, filled up my car, Samwise the Brave, and finally left my beloved New York on an early snowy morning in January 2012.
I moved to Orlando in hopes of going to graduate school at the University of Central Florida. I applied to the school in October. I took the Graduate Exam for biology in November. I found a professor whose research aligned with my interests, and I was on my way to being accepted into the program as a Masters student . Then suddenly, my application was denied.
The professor was unable to take on another graduate student. In science, a student needs an advisor, a research project and money to pursue a degree. I couldn't procure the funds on my own, and the program was unable to keep me on.
It was a defeating blow. I moved alone to a new state, hundreds of miles away from the nearest family member, without a job, or even furniture, with rent due in two weeks. I couldn't move back. Nothing had changed. No experience was earned. I had made a long-term commitment to change by moving. I had to stay to see it through, whatever "it" turned out to be.
The Universal Opportunity
Within the first three weeks of moving, I applied and procured a job at Universal Orlando Resort, in merchandise; a job other than food and dog service. It was the largest company I had ever worked for, and I was working in the most popular area of the theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
It was an intense experience. Retail isn't a difficult job, but it can be very demanding work. The pace was fast, the cash handling could at times be stressful and maintaining stock on the floor was nigh impossible at times.
But I found working in a theme park to be enlightening as well as uplifting. The job was busy, the guests were excited and happy. The business worked to keep both the consumer and the employee satisfied. I was finally proud to work for a company since graduating college.
After ten months of working as a "witch," I was given the opportunity to move to a brand new location, the Transformers store called the Supply Vault.
I was excited to know that my efforts in my first retail job gave me the opportunity to work in a new store. It helped me remember my skills as a student and realigned my focus to move up in the company and gain real-world experience.
A year after transferring to the Transformers store, I received a promotion in April of 2014 to shift supervisor at the merchandise locations out in Citywalk, a night-life/dining-oriented extension of the theme parks.
My time at Universal has given me the opportunity to develop as a worker. I felt that finally, my efforts were getting me somewhere. I worked hard to show my supervisors that I had what was needed to lead a team and help the company attain its goals.
I am fortunate to have a paying job, but I'm also underemployed. I fall into the demographic known as the overqualified. My position does not require a college degree. The skills I've obtained in school do not pertain to the responsibilities of my job. I also don't have the real-life experience necessary to compete with professionals in the science journalism field.
Entry level jobs are going to established journalists, conservation activists and environmental advocates, leaving individuals like myself with only internship experience, out of real work.
In the 2+ years I've been with Universal, I have worked with hundreds of young people. Yes, hundreds. Many of them are either in college or graduated. For the ones in school, many are studying hospitality, which makes sense, considering Orlando is one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
Then there are the ones like myself. Degrees in science, law, business, marketing, education, psychology, art, English; unable to find jobs in their respective fields. We work the 9-5 beat, struggling to making ends meet with one, two even three jobs, but we're unable to save for the future.
We're willing to work for our dreams, but aren't finding the opportunities. Either we are over-qualified, been out of school too long, or the positions aren't there. Some of us tried the public sector and others the private sector. I searched government sites for a relevant job, but that wasn't going anywhere fast.
As of September 2014, I maintain my position of shift supervisor in Citywalk. Since receiving this promotion, there have been occurrences inside and outside the job that led me to the realization that I have forgotten what I wanted to do with my life.
I became focused on moving up within the company. I was swept up in the madness of keeping and competing for the job, and lost sight of my true career aspirations. Like many of my peers, the majority of my life I have been a student, working to get an A, studying all hours into the night, and looking for internships and opportunities in my field.
Its been four years (and counting) since I graduated college.
My paper degree is 2,000 miles away, tucked in between my dresser and shelf so as to not get lost. I told myself that I would place it on the wall of my apartment once I got a job in science or journalism, but that hasn't occurred yet.
Wind in the Sails
Graduate school remains an option for me, but its not financially feasible, at least for the moment. My credentials in science are slipping and I'm competing with new graduates who have gained more relevant experience in the field.
I've obtained more skills in merchandise and revenue operations than in the fields I studied in. And it's pretty disheartening to see that there are so many others that I work with in this same boat of stagnation and over-qualification.
But hope isn't entirely lost. I still have a job, and I am actively pursuing opportunities in writing. Although my wages aren't nearly enough to build up any savings, and each year away from science is another year of new graduates in the job market, I'm hopeful that my efforts in my post-college life will propel my ship forward into a career field of dreams.