Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I’m a graduate student, or rather I was recently a graduate student, who just got a master’s in political science and finished in May. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in school, either pursuing my undergraduate degree, my graduate degree, or waiting to get into a program.
Now that I have finished, it’s been difficult to land a job. I understand that it takes a long time to find a place to start your career, but I’ve been going stir crazy at home. I can’t help but blame myself for not having found a job already. My whole life has been nothing but drive for “success,” I have worked overseas, done research at various universities, and even had a stint in the military. But the most challenging thing in my life so far has been to look for decent paying work.
What can I do in order to succeed at this goal, and what can I do to not die of shame in the intermediate period? I have waking nightmares about being covered in Cheetos dust, posting angry things online, and turning to videogames for solace.
What can I do to make the most of this time, how can I stop taking it out on myself, and how can I move on to a new period of my life?
A Basement-Dwelling Failson
It can incredibly difficult to shake the guilt of your own struggles, regardless of how absolutely unjustifiable that guilt may be. It’s a coping mechanism, of course. We tell ourselves that our circumstances are our own fault because we find it more reassuring to believe that we are to blame for our woes as opposed to, say, capitalism or basic misfortune. The sociopolitical or existential threat of a world beyond our control is far more menacing than our own shortcomings; if it’s our fault, then we can improve ourselves, and better our situation. If we just have shit luck, perhaps exacerbated by the politics of our time, there’s nothing we can do about it.
Obviously, my dear, you have got to let go of the self-blame, and there are at least three big facts you should keep in mind when you start to get anxious and feel guilty:
Guilt is not going to help you find a job. Guilt is not a useful emotion.
1) It is very unlikely that it is your fault that you can’t find employment. The job market for anyone with a master’s in poli sci is pretty bleak, and unless you are interviewing in jean shorts, or your cover letter contains a swastika, it is highly unlikely that you’re sabotaging yourself in any way. You finished your degree, you’re clearly a hard worker and a motivated person, and everyone deserves gainful employment.
2) Even if it was your fault—if, say you’ve been adding erotic nudes to your LinkedIn, or the first thing that comes up in any Google search of your name is a bunch of YouTube videos showcasing your adulation for Alex Jones—the guilt itself is not going to help you find a job. Guilt is not a useful emotion, especially in relation to one’s professional endeavors.
3) You just finished in May! There is absolutely no reason to assume you’re failing! This is just a layover. You haven’t even been on the hunt for very long! Some of the smartest, most qualified, and well-educated people I know have taken ages to find a job after finishing an advanced degree—remind yourself of that when you start to get down!
Of course, trying to reason your way out of an unreasonable emotional response can be truly difficult—we are all irrational creatures and strictly applied logic often only works to derange us further.
I will say that it can help to give you a sense of self-control if you take a moment to analyze your approach to the job hunt from time to time. As part of this reevaluation strategy, you should certainly ask some successful colleagues for pointers and feedback. (As a bonus, these people are likely to lend the most sympathetic ears to your plight.) But don’t allow yourself to obsess, and don’t try to convince yourself you’re doing wrong when you’re not. That is an unproductive and self-sabotaging delusion, the sort that will wreck your mental health and motivation.
The most important thing though, is to keep busy and to keep social. Cheetos, videogames, and Facebook rage should not be occupying the bulk of your waking hours, not only because these sedentary habits can invite feelings of guilt and depression, but also because if you let this brief window of free time pass by without some fun and adventure, you will end up regretting it.
Remember the words of the great anti-work Marxists Beavis and Butt-Head: “Work sucks.” Eventually, for better or for worse, you will have a job, and even if you enjoy it and gain satisfaction from it, your employment will occur at the expense of self-directed free time! Take advantage of this temporary break from the rat race! Go out, spend time with friends, participate in organized activities, develop strange and challenging hobbies. And if you’re going to relax, do it with joie de vivre and take your leisure seriously! Try being a flâneur! (But don’t use that word—it makes you sound like a dick!) And for the love of God, do it while you can, because (unfortunately) you won’t be a failson forever!