But that was all in the future. The day of my graduation, I was still dumb enough to think that things would work out.
Annie Lowrey: This is not a depression. It’s an ice age.
The only employment I could find in Portland was in coffee shops, so I spent mornings making lattes and stealing pastries from my boss. Afterward, I would day-drink. Usually, I was the youngest person at the bar. While I don’t have many clear memories of those days, I do remember one regular who smoked out of a tracheostomy hole in his throat, which brings me to my first piece of wisdom: If you smoke or vape or inject nicotine into your veins, quit now. Kicking the habit only gets harder as you get older. Same with drinking. It’s a blast until you’re 40 and haven’t accomplished anything besides remembering to tip. I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink at all, but what starts out as fun can derail everything. You will be surprised at how many of your friends decide to get sober later in life.
Lung cancer and rehab, however, are problems for the future. Your present is bad enough. You are graduating into the worst job market since the Great Depression. The jobs I could rely on when I was your age—minimum-wage gigs at coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and bookstores—have dried up. You can’t even go to a café, much less get a job at one. I wouldn’t be surprised if the only available work for new grads is at Amazon fulfillment centers, where you’ll eventually be replaced by robots who don’t demand bathroom breaks.
Derek Thompson: The pandemic will change American retail forever
So what the hell should you do? I don’t know. In fact, I’m in much the same position: bored, stuck at home, and out of work. Because of the pandemic, I was laid off from my job as a staff writer at one of the only alternative weekly newspapers left in the country. So I find myself, once again, in a position I’d hoped never to revisit.
This is my sixth layoff since college. The first was at a coffee shop in Portland that sold lattes infused with a Peruvian aphrodisiac. Turns out there wasn’t a huge market for getting horny along with your morning coffee. Then there was the hair salon, the big-box retailer, the test-prep company, and the climate-change magazine. And that doesn’t even include the many places where I either got fired for not showing up or quit without giving notice. Once, I had a friend call my boss and tell him that she couldn’t give him any details, but I would not be coming back to work. What seemed like a good idea at the time left me unable to cover my rent, so I ended up selling my own plasma.
Failure can lead to progress. When you’re standing in line to sell your blood, you have to reevaluate your choices. And if you’re anything like me, you’re going to make a lot of bad choices.
Some of your more overachieving classmates know exactly what they want and how to achieve it. No global recession will hold them back. These lucky few were making plans for the future while the rest of us were still figuring out how to nurse. Resenting them is only natural. Fortunately, even those of us who wander for a while, who fail over and over again, can eventually find or create our own paths.