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Being a transplanted New Yorker hasn’t changed me much. I like high-end purses, use my horn incessantly, believe that Broadway theater is the best theater (and prefer that my off Broadway be literally just off Broadway), know that bagels should be boiled then baked, and move at a speedy pace even without caffeine but like to have it anyway. My caffeine should come in the form of a highly addictive, creamy, spicy Chai so I visit my snooty coffee and tea purveyor on a daily basis before 8am.  These regular visits are intermittently punctuated by visits to other coffee shops of the same ilk when I’m on the road, all of which have the same formula: pricy, delicious Chai served by underpaid and overeducated baristas. 

I get the feeling that every barista is harboring some dream to travel the world, painting picturesque landscapes and fulfilling their inner Eat, Pray, Love mission. After mornings of exchanging friendly greetings and waiting on my drink in a line of silent, pre-caffeinated patrons, I could no longer resist my natural impulse to engage with the people around me  and what I found was somewhat less romantic than my original belief, yet a lot more serious. 

Most of the baristas were graduates working to make ends meet. While there are thousands of under employed or overeducated people in food and other service industries due to layoffs, there are just as many that have never had the opportunity to use their hard earned degrees.  While I haven’t bumped into any with degrees from the lucrative, ever growing STEM world (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) there were an abundance with what I call flex degrees: communications, art, liberal arts, history, and English, to name a few. 

Two things came to mind after conversations with a few of them: 1) How ironic that people who spent so much time visualizing their futures and dreaming, artistic types, would have such limited perspective once they were in a position to actually follow their dreams and 2) They did exactly what they were told to do only to be negatively impacted by politics and agendas—how demotivating. 

Graduate high school, go to college and then identify the perfect career path was the directive but that plug and play method is dead. For the diligent followers of “the plan” stuck working in a job that doesn’t seem to have career potential, depression and doubt often sets in followed by a lack of inspiration.  So, what do you do if your degree could be cast as a wall hanging on a generic movie set?

Reevaluate your talents and skills. Talents don’t always get you placed but they can help you to revive dying inspiration and give you a realistic perspective of your base of USABLE knowledge. Crocheting might be a talent that I picked up from YouTube videos and books but I do not do it well enough to put a price on it, however, the fact that I can learn and become adept at anything by watching a video is a sign that I am capable of self-direction and driving an initiative, something that many people may say but few demonstrate in today’s business world.

Get better acquainted with your degree.  When you are sold into following the education path by high school Guidance Counselors and college Admissions Representatives there are very few in depth conversations about how to use your degree. You choose your field of study in the way that many people choose—without a Plan B. Not a plan B for the actual degree but a plan B for how you would use it! A Communications major is less likely to land a job in the glamorous world of Hearst publishing or a nationally known PR firm but has a wealth of transferrable education that could be targeted to corporations in continuously growing, downsize proof tech and engineering realms. Trust me, techies rarely want to be bogged down with managing media relations or internal team building projects but a Mass Comm major who can understand tech talk and has demonstrated interpersonal skills could score a home run for the company. The bottom line is, spend less time on the face value of your degree and more time understanding all of the detailed ways that it can work for you BEFORE you earn it. 

Broaden your social network. With or without your degree, there is a significant amount of legwork necessary to get a job. If you are currently spending your days behind a cash register rather than the MacBook you anticipated, your responsibility to network is even greater than your best friend that won the professional lottery. Every “suit” that walks in the shop should be your target audience.  Don’t neglect your chances to advertise. You’re expected to be a friendly service professional so why not ask questions, “Where do you work?” and “what do you do?” aren’t probing questions, they’re signs of interest that can be worked into any conversation.  It also gives you the opportunity to tell people who you really are, “I’m a post grad art major so if your company ever has a design need, let me know!”

You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.  So, while it’s great to stay socially connected with your former roommates and sorority sisters don’t neglect the people up the food chain. The acronym crowd all hang out together: the EVP in your group is connected to a CFO who works for a CEO who’s active in a monthly CEO group, and believe me, they all talk to each other first when there’s a hiring need.

My last word of advice? Don’t allow your current situation to limit you.  Instead of focusing on the dreams you “used” to have, stay focused on the mission that you “do” have.  Getting sidetracked by perceived failures will change your moods and demeanor, you need to be at your best if you’re going to broaden your network and move forward.

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