For many people, senior year of college can be a bittersweet time in their life. While they treat their final year of school as their last hurrah, it’s also upsetting knowing that in a few short months they will be cast out on their own and into the real world. I was not one of those people. Though I enjoyed my time in college, I found that by my senior year I was ready to move on. I went to a small school of about 2,400 people in a small town in Middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania. The town had two bars that students frequented and, while I loved all of my friends, I was sick of the same scene every weekend. I needed a change and a bigger city.
Throughout my senior year, I had very few worries about what I would do after graduation. I knew I wanted to work in the media/communications industry, had almost a 3.5 GPA, and had held five internships by the time I graduated. Growing up in Connecticut, I figured I would spend the summer living at home, perhaps commuting to a full-time job in New York City, so I could save money before I moved into a trendy Brooklyn loft. Yes, I had it all figured it out. Or so I thought.
Right in the middle of my second semester, I spoke with my parents on the phone about my perfect plan. I had brought it up with them in the past, so I figured they thought it was a good route to go as well. I was wrong.
“Actually Ashley, we are moving to North Carolina. You brother is graduating high school and he and your sister will both be at UNC, so we think that makes sense.”
I sat there silent, my mouth wide open on the phone.
“Oh and by the way, we’re downsizing our house so there is no room for you to live here. You are going to have to move out.”
I was shocked – it never once occurred to me that my parents would leave our home in Connecticut, somewhere I had lived the majority of my life, let alone kick me out shortly after I graduated.
After I hung up the phone, panic ensued. I had no idea what I was going to do, let alone where I was going to live. Plus I had spent the majority of my savings visiting friends in Norwich, England, where I had studied abroad the year before, so I was going to have few funds to work with when I graduated. I immediately started applying to jobs in random cities I had visited near the East Coast – New York, Boston, Philadelphia, D.C. I was willing to move anywhere for any job at any salary.
As the end of the year approached, I finally found a part-time, unpaid internship at a PR firm in Philadelphia. It was not ideal, but I had friends from school living in Philly and figured this internship could have potential to turn into a real job if I worked hard. In the meantime, I could find a part-time job to help me pay my rent. With my resume, it couldn’t be that hard to find something, I thought.
I was wrong. Again.
Two weeks after I graduated from college, I moved to Philly. I couldn’t afford to sign a lease on an apartment, so I ended up finding two sublets for the summer instead thanks to friends.
The first month living in Philly was absolute hell for me. Day after day, I walked an hour and a half for my internship in the morning, and then spent my afternoons scouring the city for some sort of part-time, or even full-time, job. One day it poured rain on me and my laptop got fried. Another day every single restaurant I went into asking about waitressing or hosting laughed at me when I said I never worked in a restaurant before. Even the dry cleaners I went to gave me a weird look, despite the fact of being a clerk at a dry cleaner was my first ever job. I started to get discouraged. No interview I went to panned out for either a full or part-time job. Despite my experience, college extracurriculars, networking, and GPA, nothing seemed to be good enough. On top of that, I was struggling at home, too. I did not have enough savings to purchase a bed or to utilize the AC, so I spent my nights dripping in sweat on top of an air mattress that had sunken to the ground in the morning. I could barely afford groceries, so my friends bought me a Trader Joe’s gift card, which to this day is my favorite gift of all time. I had reached, for me, an all-time low.
Then, at the end of June, my luck started to change. I got hired as a part-time hostess at a.kitchen and a.bar restaurants, and also as a part-time sales associate at Anthropologie. My internship was also pleased with my work, so they started to give me a small monthly stipend. I didn’t earn a lot, but it definitely helped. While I was grateful to finally be able to earn some cash, my work schedule caused me to get very ill. I worked over a 60 hour week, barely ate anything, and was on my feet the majority of the day. I think I got a sinus infection three times in just that one summer from not taking care of myself properly. By September, I was run down and worn out. Not to mention my air mattress had popped and I had started to sleep on my bedroom floor. I had been looking for full-time jobs for months at this point and still could not find anyone to hire me. I started to question why I even went to college and wasted every summer at a 9–5 if at the end of the day no one would hire me. I swear I must have picked up a heads-up penny or something because my luck changed pretty drastically yet again.
Earlier that summer, while at my Anthropologie group interview, I started chatting with a few other girls that were there. As it turned out, I went to college with one of the girls’ cousins. She seemed nice and I wanted to make new friends, so we exchanged numbers and ended up hanging out a few times throughout the summer. We were both struggling to find full-time jobs, when she mentioned her best friend from high school worked in paid search at an advertising agency. She setup some time for us to meet, and her friend, Alex, ended up referring me for a job in media at Publicis Health Media in Center City. A couple months went by and I hadn’t heard anything, until one day I received a phone call from their HR department asking me to come in for an interview. I screamed with excitement as soon as I hung up the phone – I knew this could be my chance to FINALLY find a much needed full-time job.
In mid-September, I went in for the interview and ended up getting the job! After receiving my first paycheck, I found an apartment to move into with a girl I went to college with and made my first adult purchase: a Queen-size bed from Ikea – every recent college graduate’s dream. My life changed drastically within that first couple of months. I made new friends, was able to get my health back on track, and actually had time to interact with people outside of the workplace. I ended up staying at Publicis for about two and a half years, and now work at CMI, another ad agency in Philadelphia. In those two short years I was promoted at my job, upgraded to a new apartment, and now live with Alex, the girl who literally helped change my life.
After my first month living on my own in Philly, I thought my life was over. I could not find a job, had no money and was starting to convince myself I was going to end up on the street. I was convinced that I had wasted my time in college and spending my summers and semesters at internships, and that, though I had done everything right, the system was failing me. While that summer may have been the most difficult one I have lived through, it actually allowed me to grow more as an individual. I had to go out of my comfort zone to make new friends and network. I held jobs in both the retail and restaurant industry – fields I had never worked in before – and through these jobs made a lot of new friends, not to mention found my full-time job through one of the friends I had met. I had to learn what it is like to live on a budget, and what items were necessities and what were just material things I wanted. It taught me to be grateful for the life I now have, and the life I had before that summer. And most importantly, it taught me that, even when you are down in the trenches with seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel, you will always find a way to persevere and dig yourself out.