This post originally appeared on The Billfold.
I recently returned to my parents’ house in Urbana, Illinois, where I moved after failing—for nearly three years—to find full-time employment in San Francisco. I had no trouble finding cafe jobs, or unpaid internships, for that matter. Freelance writing (emphasis on the “free”), too, was generally readily available.
But editorial assistant jobs, content managing positions, entry-level admin jobs at non-profits? No luck. I have records of applying to over 150 opportunities. After a while, throwing out carefully tailored cover letters and resumes felt akin to hurling a grappling hook out into the middle of the night. Responses were so rare that even their apologetic phrases—”we regret,” “better-suited,” “best of luck,” were slightly comforting. At least the grappling hook had clanked against some dark specter of a job out there.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
The evidence of my long hunt is almost laughable, and, laughter, I think, is far preferable to self-pity. I have saved a copy of each altered resume (LucySchillerResume.docx; SchillerLucyResume.docx; Lucy-Schiller-Resume.docx; GOODBASICRESUMEGOODLUCKANDGODSPEED.docx). I still find applications I don’t even remember constructing—mostly to jobs so far from my interests they serve as excellent floodmarkers of my increasingly desperate tide. Bookmobile driver through rural Vermont. Sephora copywriter. Fair trade certification assistant. Administrative assistant for a taxidermist. A member of the “Flight Staff” at an indoor trampoline park.
It has always been hard to be a young person looking for work. The Economic Policy Institute reminds us that people under age 25 have historically experienced around double the general unemployment rate. This means, though, that when something like the Great Recession hits, we experience a disproportionally high rate of joblessness. I approached the task of finding a job with true energy and excitement, and struggled to maintain that passion for three years. It began to feel like a fevered and foolish grasping.
I look at my friends and I see more of the same. Many of us still live at home, or have recently returned there, welcomed by generous parents. Many of us have three or four jobs at once. Many of us are taking refuge in graduate school. A great number of us are operating under the diminishing delusion that the unpaid commitments we can barely afford to take will turn into the jobs we once dreamed of having. For me personally, the last few years have been characterized by the slow realization that although I was working incredibly hard, something larger wasn’t.
The word that comes up over and over again when I talk to people in similar situations is “hustling.” The term has a suggestion of the underhanded, and I think that’s actually fairly apt: because we can’t subscribe to the typical forty-hour workweek, we construct almost subversive amalgams of part-time employment. It’s impossible to say what we do. I remember struggling a lot with this. “I write,” I’d say, grimacing slightly, “which means that I make coffee. And work at a farmers’ market. And intern, and I just started at a new restaurant.”
Sadie Scheffer, founder of the gluten-free bakery Bread SRSLY, might well be termed a hustler supreme. Sadie dropped out of mechanical engineering at MIT in 2009 to followed a serious crush to San Francisco. She converted her sublease into a sewing studio and began crafting bicycle clothing, which she sold to a shop in the Mission District. She picked up other gigs–”spraying glitter on giant tigers” as a float builder for the Chinese New Year parade, working at Blue Bottle Coffee Company, probably the most prestigious barista job possible. And Sadie cooked, quite a bit, in hopes that food would provide a tunnel into her intended’s heart. When it turned out that he was gluten-intolerant, Sadie tweaked her strategy, and ended up with gentle-on-the-belly sourdough starter, her own business, and a relationship. SRSLY.
Sadie stands out among my friends for the relative success of her efforts. From an email in July 2011 that she sent out to everyone she could think of, Bread SRSLY was born. Since the beginning, she has bicycled all over San Francisco delivering her loaves and the sandwiches they’ve engendered. Also since the beginning, she has been severely sleep-deprived. When I briefly hawked her gluten-free goods at a farmers’ market, Sadie paid me generously in cash as well as bartered produce, and I always felt terrible: she couldn’t have been making any more than I was, and she was doing probably thirty times the work. But Bread SRSLY is starting to make sense, says Sadie. Not only has she hired a baker, but last week, that baker got a raise.
There are many stories, though, involving about the same amount of work as Sadie’s but without any visible payoff. A close college friend—she asked not to be named—recently returned to her mother’s house in Berkeley after working in France and then Kansas City. Back home, she realized that jobs she imagined to be “in the bag” were totally out of reach. Having managed numerous farmers’ markets in Kansas City, she applied for a job at an information booth at one Berkeley market. She never heard anything.
For more Lucy's adventures in pursuit of employment, continue reading at The Billfold.