January 27th, 2010
I loosened my tie as I stepped outside into the blistering cold, the wind blowing my gelled hair into a style my mother would never approve of. Another interview over and done with and no where closer to obtaining that elusive “career”. My father’s words echoed in my head, “If not anything, with each new interview you gain that much more experience!” I have gained so much experience through these interviews that I could be the one sitting on the other side of the table asking all the questions. And as if my four year college education and degree didn’t give me enough experience for these very, very entry-level positions. But seven months since graduation and over 1,200 resumes sent and applications filled out, I was not even one step closer to having a job.
As I got into my car to head back home I felt my face burn red from my frustration. If there was one thing that I prided myself on, it would my work ethic. I’ve always worked hard at the jobs I’ve had, even when I worked as a janitor cleaning toilets with a grimy toothbrush. I didn’t like it, but it was my job and it’s what I had to do. And now, a college degree under my belt and with ambition spilling out my ears, I couldn’t even get a potential employer to give me a glance. I lacked the one main thing they were looking for: direct experience. Never mind my education, my six years in customer service, and a nicely prepared resume; I just didn’t have two years experience working in the exact field I was applying for. And forget the question “How is one suppose to gain this experience, when no place is willing to give the experience?” Those are questions, you apparently, just don’t ask.
Thirty-five minutes later I pulled into the drive way and entered my home. On the table was a stack of bills: phone service, rent, heat, health insurance, and enough student loan forms to fill a filing cabinet. With my savings account nearing the red, the pressure to start earning an income had never been greater. The recent job denial stung my mind and I began to pace around the room in anger. I don’t even want to work any of these positions I’m applying to! Jobs that college graduates usually secured were now going to the older candidates who had been laid off from their previous jobs. I’ve had to resort to applying to positions in coffee houses and yogurt shops. Positions that I could care less about. Where the only point to getting it would be for the paycheck. I want to work in a field that I at least somewhat care about, doing things that make just a little difference in the world and fills that space in your heart with pride and ambition. Something you work so hard at but you wouldn’t have it any other way. A job like that was no longer even on my radar; it had been bumped off as I filled out the countless applications to low paying, and even lower satisfaction, positions.
I shuffled into my bedroom and sat in front of the TV. Nothing interesting on. Typical. My eyes wandered over to my closet where I could see my hiking bag and a freshly folded stack of laundry. The idea of packing up the essentials and heading out the door onto a grand adventure, leaving behind all my worries left my mind as fast as it came in. I knew running away from my problems wouldn’t solve any of them, though it did have a strong appeal. I peeled my eyes away from the closet and returned them back to the TV. I switched channels until I came across the local news which was covering the recent earthquake in Haiti. As I watched the videos of the tired and hungry survivors and what were left of their homes I realized I was in the perfect situation to help! I didn’t have a job which left my schedule wide open. I’m in great shape and have always enjoyed hard work, especially if it’s helping others out! This was the one thing that I could do with my time and effort to really make a difference, not only to Haiti, but to myself as well. Then and there it was decided that I would go down to Haiti with one of the relief organizations to help the people in need.
I spent the next few hours pouring over the internet and creating a list of major organizations and non-profits that were providing relief to Haiti. I grabbed my phone and started calling the numbers. I navigated through the automated message like a sailor in the sea. I spoke to operators, to volunteers, to project leaders and anyone and everyone in-between. Not very long into my phone calls I started to realize a reoccurring trend. Once again my lack of experience was weighing me down. All the organizations required their volunteers to have at least 2 years of natural disaster volunteering experience. I couldn’t believe it. All I wanted to do was help and I was being turned away, just because I had never had the opportunities to gain the experience needed to fit the guidelines.
I sighed as I hung up the phone with the second to last number on my list, once again being denied a volunteer position. I was urged to donate money to the organization but explained how I didn’t even have enough money to buy groceries for myself. I picked up my phone and dialed the last number on my list. After minutes of listening to automated messages and pressing a series of buttons I was on the line with an operator. After a few minutes it came clear that this organization was no different; no experience, no volunteering. In a last fit of desperation I asked the woman on the other end of the phone, “Can you just tell me… How can I get down to Haiti to help?” After a moments pause she simply replied, “You can always walk.” And promptly hung up.
I stared straight ahead as my mind buzzed. The frustration of the conversation, the day’s interview, the months wear on my ambition and hope burned my brain and ripped at my heart. But suddenly a deafening silence came over me as I turned my eyes back to closet. The pack and clothes were still there. I noticed that a few feet away from them my hiking shoes were sitting side by side, seemingly staring up at me, ready to go. In the desk drawer my map and compass called to me. The TV flashed images of starving children. Wreckage and debris. Slowly, a smile crept across my face as I replied, “And so I will.”