I dreaded graduating college. After a rough start where I got a 1.0 GPA and landed on academic probation, I straightened things out. It took five years and one summer session (a Spanish class in a room with no A/C in the hot Maryland summer), but I finished what I started on May 20, 1993.
The graduation ceremonies were pretty uneventful. I was just waiting for it to be over and get on with things. I had to look back to see that Dr. Frank M. Snowden, Jr., Distinguished Professor emeritus of classics at Howard University, was the commencement speaker.
My mind was focused more on what the hell I was going to do. I neglected to get an internship and didn’t really have any marketable skills, even though I thought my activities and offices in school merited a two-page resume.
I left campus with no job and no idea what I was going to do with my Communications degree.
It all really hit me when I gave from graduating senior speech at my Pi Kappa Alpha Graduation Party. I was overwhelmed by the future as I double-fisted cheap champagne and babbled some words about all of the memories at the frat.
When I packed my things, I moved home with my dad for a while. I was sending out resumes like crazy to all sorts of jobs and hundreds of fraternity alumni in the area. I got rejected from all of them, but I did get some cool rejection letters from U.S. Senators and congressmen who were in my fraternity.
As I kept sending out applications and resumes, I pounded the pavement in my hometown, and most stores didn’t want me because I was overqualified. I finally ended up at the front desk of the Comfort Suites in Laurel, MD for $5.50/hour. It was crappy shift work, but it was something. After a few months, I became an Assistant Manager at the local Blockbuster for $7.00/hour.
The low point was when an old high school friend stopped in and said they thought I went to college.
Later in 1993, I got an administrative job at the University of Maryland for less than $9.00/hour with no benefits. I stayed there until moving up to New York City and getting a start in magazine publishing at a few stops. Finally, I had some meager benefits and could start chipping away at credit card debt, student loans, car payments, etc.
All along, I was optimistic that I was going to find my place. I’d hoped I could work as a writer, but my total take was $100 for one article at the defunct New York Press.
I was 27 and still didn’t have any direction. And then, one day, I was looking at the classifieds and saw a job with a start-up that needed a marketing person for their new affiliate program. I was curious about it but had never taken a marketing class. My entire knowledge was that I’d joined the Amazon affiliate program earlier in 1997 to try and make some extra money.
I dazzled the guy hiring for the position by dropping some buzzwords I’d remembered from Amazon, and I got the job. At 27, I got the first job that I enjoyed, and I found the industry I’d work in for decades.
While in the industry, I wrote lots of columns and books for money, so I got to be a writer after all.
So, if you’re a recent graduate or still looking for the right spot way later in life, don’t freak out. The path to success, contentment, and happiness isn’t straight and may not make sense, but you can get there.
I got some of my favorite advice when former New York Yankees pitcher, author, and entrepreneur, Jim Bouton, gave the keynote speech at Affiliate Summit in 2006.
“I stumbled on the secret of success, and that is persistence… you don’t have to be educated, you don’t have to be talented, you don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to be lucky. It’s available for anyone.
I’m convinced most people don’t fail, they simply stop trying. If persistence is the key to success, how does one be persistent?
I believe, from my experience, the answer to that you must love the process. You must love what you’re doing. Not the success, not the reward, not the bonus, the trophy. None of that stuff.
Just the process. If you love what you do, you have a chance to be successful at it. I think everyone needs to do what they love, or find a way to love what you’re doing.
If you focus on the process, you achieve the goals more often.”
I was really scared in 1993 and for many years after. But just like with my rough start in college, I eventually came out on the other side after I found love for the process of my work.