What Underemployment Has Taught Me on My Journey to Become a Young Professional

After four years of sleepless nights, test anxiety, mental breakdowns in the library, and a brain fresh full of knowledge, most of us want to get a “big girl” or “big boy” job. Unfortunately, that’s rarely an easy process. And as I find myself in the undesirable position of a December graduate, I’ve been reflecting on my personal struggle with underemployment. Here’s what I’ve learned about having aspirations bigger than your current employment status:

1. Networking is awkward.

It’s hard to put yourself out there – especially at career fairs, where you’re just supposed to wander around, walk up to random people, introduce yourself, and then shamelessly grab a free pen. Even for a people person like myself, it’s intimidating to speak to a professional you want to impress. At a career fair on campus last year, I was looking around at a booth, and the company representative reached out his hand to introduce himself to me. I looked up and impulsively said, “Hey, you’re getting married to a girl I went to high school with!” Oh, no you didn’t. Oh yes, unfortunately, I did. This poor guy I’d never seen or met in my life and recognized only from Facebook photos stared at me, laughed, and played it off like it wasn’t medium-level stalkerish. (PS – it was my friend Ashley’s now-husband. Check out her blog while you cringe at my awkward life) Not my shining moment, but you get my point. Networking can be uncomfortable and intimidating, but don’t let that keep you from taking advantage of the opportunity to interact with potential employers and references.

2. You might be overqualified, but that doesn’t mean the work is beneath you.

 Once upon a time, I worked at McDonald’s. I didn’t have a car, so I walked a mile to work in my non-slip shoes, visor in hand, and dignity in the toilet. This once upon a time was my sophomore year of college. I was hard up for money and had been applying for jobs for months, but without transportation, I wasn’t able to pursue any of the opportunities I came across. I go to school in a small college town, and 99.999% of jobs are either waitressing or fast food service. I’m an intelligent person with ideas, ambition, and education…skills surely beyond that of wiping ketchup out of a Playland slide and saying, “Please pull up to the second window.” I was embarrassed. I saw people I knew all the time – friends, classmates, even professors. People called me incompetent, made demeaning jokes, and generally eye-judged me to the point where I once cried in the bathroom on my break. It’s tough to feel small and stuck at a job when you know you have the potential to do more, but that humbling experience has made me realize that I’m not “above” any kind of work. I learned valuable lessons from the people I worked with, and gained a better understanding of the people in America who are struggling to make ends meet – whether they’re the ones flipping burgers on the grill or scrambling to buy a $5 dinner for their family.

3. Keep an open mind.

As stated above, I was able to learn something from my coworkers at McDonald’s. Would you have expected that? I learned about work ethic – some of the ladies I worked with busted their butts full time on 3rd shift in addition to their daytime jobs just to help give their kids an opportunity to go to college. I worked at a grocery store for several years as a cashier and bagger. Patience is a virtue I was not born with, but also a required skill for working in customer service. 5 years of ringing up groceries and explaining coupon policies has increased my degree of patience for life. I live my life with the mindset that I can learn at least one thing from every person I encounter. That open mindedness has allowed me to develop not only professionally, but personally as well.

4. A positive attitude makes crappy work less crappy.

I think everyone has struggled with their attitude towards work, for the simple fact that it’s work. Most of us would always rather be doing something else – spending time with family, exploring new hobbies, eating, sleeping, sometimes even just sitting in a chair staring at a blank wall seems more interesting than the work we need to get done. I think a positive attitude is of utmost importance among the involuntarily underemployed, because if you’re underemployed, it means that you’re qualified to do something “better” than what you’re doing. And what’s so positive about doing crappy work, when Joe Schmoe who tried to copy answers off your test in macroeconomics two years ago is living the high life at a fancy corporate internship? Well, for starters, at least you’re not unemployed. The rest is mind control: for the most part, our attitudes are based on choice, and therefore we can choose each day to be positive despite the glaring negatives we may be facing. And besides, as a customer, do you react better to a friendly, upbeat employee, or someone like Bon Qui Qui? (If you say Bon Qui Qui you’re lying) Everyone knows that happy customers make work easier.

bon qui qui

5. Benchmark your success, but don’t get caught up in how you compare to others.

Unless Joe Schmoe from macroeconomics is paying your bills, his fancy corporate internship has no effect on your life. Comparing ourselves to others does help us set goals, but remember that if you compete with yourself, you can’t lose. Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-sensitive) goals based on your current or past accomplishments. The saying, “don’t compare your bloopers to someone else’s highlight reel,” while cheesy, is true. Someone I worked with and shadowed at my last internship told me that one day he’d be working for me. Knowing that someone was able to recognize that kind of potential in me as an intern has been a huge motivation for me. Is my goal in life to become his boss? No! But I’ve started to compare where I’m at now to where I was at then and make positive strides towards at least becoming someone’s boss someday. Try to keep things in perspective and remember that success is relative – you don’t have to define your own success by the perceived success of your peers.

6. Don’t give up on your dreams because they seem unattainable.

I’m sure all CEOs found it hard to imagine their current careers while they were serving up french fries at McDonald’s, but they didn’t give up. (Not everyone’s goal is to be a CEO, but you get my point.) It can be difficult to see the big picture when the small picture you’re looking at isn’t what you want to see. Keep in mind that opportunities often come out of unexpected places. I’ve had people slide me a business card while I scanned their groceries because I was able to make a professional impression despite the fact that their soon-to-be dinner was leaking chicken juice onto my shoe. Everybody starts somewhere.

What have you learned on your journey to satisfying employment?

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My 5 Star Experience With Rent the Runway

I think most military spouses and significant others can relate to the excited anticipation surrounding annual military balls, dine outs, and galas. They can also probably relate to the anxiety of trying to look formal and fashionable on the cheap! There are some women in this world who are willing to shell out a few hundred dollars for the perfect gown, but there are others of us who cry invisible tears of both envy and disgust upon seeing a $299 price tag on ~ the perfect dress ~

I got my prom dress on eBay. I got my senior ball gown on super clearance from SimplyDresses. I’m practically a deal-finding diva. But after scouring the internet, Younkers (or Boston Store to some of you folk), Macy’s, and my friends’ closets, I was exhausted and empty handed. The only dresses I could find in my price range (under or around $100) looked like they were straight out of 1999. And as much as I was excited to party like it was 1999, I didn’t really want to look the part. So then I remembered a commercial I’d seen on TV a while back. Something about renting fancy purses on the interwebs. And then I thought, “HEY! Maybe you can do that with dresses!?!?” And I was right.

RentTheRunway.com is a website full of designer gowns that you can rent for mostly affordable prices. You can filter results by length, formality, color, size, body shape, and probably more things that I’m forgetting. Reviewers can leave photos of themselves wearing the dresses with their personal specs like height, weight, and usual dress size to give prospective renters an idea of how the dress looks in real life. I found this to be invaluable when I was on the hunt for ~ the perfect dress ~. The customer service is great, and stylists will even help you pick out a few options for your event if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the choices.

Each renting purchase comes with two dress sizes of the same style (in dress bags) in order to ensure you get a perfect fit, free insurance, and return postage. For $30 extra, you can throw in another dress in a different style in case you’re extra indecisive. If none of your dresses fit, they’ll overnight you a new one. Rentals are either for four or eight days. The process is exactly as follows:

  1. Have emotional breakdown about not being able to afford pretty dresses
  2. Log onto Rent the Runway
  3. Find a pretty dress
  4. Rent it
  5. Rock it
  6. Put it in the mail in the prepaid bag on the next business day
  7. Smile because you just saved 15% or more on car insurance you looked amazing in the dress

I scheduled the dress to arrive two days before my event (they recommend one) because I’m a skeptical person by nature, and wanted to have enough time to buy a 1999 dress from Macy’s if necessary. I’m glad I did, because I ended up needing to buy new shoes because the regular length was a little shorter than I was expecting in the particular style I got, and the shoes I brought didn’t really match. No big, because I ended up finding a pair of matching gold heels for $4 at Sears. (I told you I’m a deal-finding diva) They even included a goodie bag in my box with mini beauty products and perfume samples, which I thought was adorable and practical! I don’t know if it was luck that I got it, or what, but it really sealed the deal on my positive experience with the website. I also rented a gorgeous, matching pair of rose gold earrings for an additional $5.

The only cons I can think of are the what-ifs of not being able to try the dress on beforehand, but the website gives clear guidelines on the measurements of each dress, plus the reviews give you an idea of how the dress looks on other people of your body type. I also think the stylists/customer service people can be really useful for determining which sizes and lengths you should rent. I rented a size 4 and size 6 based on the reviews and measurements on the site, and ended up wearing the 4 because it was slightly longer. Overall, I had an amazing experience with Rent the Runway and was able to rock a Badgley Mischka gown with matching earrings for only $72 and change, thanks to a $25 off welcome coupon. I got compliments all night and felt like a million dollars!

I had a great experience with this service and can’t wait to use it again this year!

•June 2015 Favorites•

Hi friends! I know, it’s a week into July, and I’m just getting around to posting this. I’ve never been known for my punctuality. Also, how is it already July?! Time escapes me. This month, I’ve got a couple random things on my favorites list because I haven’t been wearing makeup every day like I usually do – I no longer interact with customers face-to-face at my new job, so I’ve been loving my newly-five-minute morning routine.

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Up first is the Neutrogena Shine Control primer ($14 at Ulta). I’ve blogged about this before in my 14 Beauty Favorites of 2014 post, and recently started using it again. It’s not a primer for skin perfecting or smoothing, rather it’s more of a lotion-type product that sits under your makeup and soaks up oil throughout the day. It got mediocre reviews because of it’s lack of silicone-like texture, but I love it for what it does.

In combination with that, I’ve been using the Arbonne Intelligence CC Cream in Fair, ($40 at Arbonne through Brittnee Bidwell) which is a sheer-medium coverage color correcting cream. Even though I don’t spend as much time interacting with people face-to-face at work as I have at previous jobs, I’m still not totally comfortable going in to work without any coverage on my skin in order to maintain a professional and put-together appearance. This is lightweight and leaves a natural skin finish. I love this over the drugstore BB and CC creams I’ve tried. It does a lot for eliminating the natural redness in my skin without looking like I have makeup on. It has not broken me out or irritated my skin in any way, which is a big plus. Disclaimer: I received this product free for testing purposes.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths Conditioner ($4 at Walmart) has been a favorite of mine lately. I have noticed that my hair feels softer and stronger since I’ve been using this conditioner, and the fragrance is amazing and long lasting. It doesn’t weight down my hair, and although I haven’t been paying close enough attention to notice if my hair is getting longer, I do think my hair looks healthier overall. Win!

CoverGirl Outlast Longwear Lipstick in Magnetic Mauve ($7 at Target) has been a purse staple for me over the last month. I love the smell (vanilla-candy-ish?) and creamy consistency of this lipstick, and it definitely lasts 4-5 hours on me. I think this particular shade is a great on-the-go color to keep in your bag to complete any day or nighttime look. I wish there were more shades of this!

EOS Shave Cream in Vanilla Bliss ($4 at Ulta) also surprisingly made my list; I am an outspoken opponent of EOS lip balms after experiencing a terrible allergic reaction. (Seriously – Google it! So many others have had awful experiences with these balms. The packaging is adorable, but there are better, more moisturizing options out there.) I was skeptical to try another product from this brand, but I’m glad I did. Due to my extremely sensitive skin, I still get razor burn when I use this product, but it has helped a lot. I only have two complaints: 1. it kind of clogs up your razor, and 2. it doesn’t smell like vanilla…or anything, really! I’m not usually one to complain about scents, since fragrance is seldom good for your skin, but it kinda just smells like plastic. If I were to repurchase this, I would choose a different scent!

The next product, Herbal Essences Color Me Happy Dry Shampoo ($3.50 at Walmart.com), appears to have gotten awful reviews – not because of the product itself, but because of the packaging. This product is produced by Procter & Gamble, just like the Aussie dry shampoo that I just now realized I never blogged about, and they have identical packaging. I did have issues with the sprayer on the Aussie bottle clogging up and no longer working. I refused to give up on it, so after washing the cap (I pulled it up from the can) under warm water for about a minute, I was able to unclog it. Inconvenient, yes, but I’ve had the same issue with several other brands of dry shampoo. Packaging aside, this dry shampoo smells fantastic in true Herbal Essences fashion, and leaves my hair feeling clean and refreshed. I will absolutely repurchase this product! I don’t think it really brightened my hair color, but I do think it did a great job at volumizing and mattifying without leaving a white powder finish.

Finally, a product that I used almost every single day in June, the Sun Laboratories Ultra Dark Tanning Lotion ($20-ish on Amazon). This product has mixed reviews on other blogs due to poor customer service from Sun Laboratories. I purchased my bottle on Amazon with Prime shipping, so I can’t confirm or deny any complaints made elsewhere. This is a very green-based tanner, so the nozzle ends up looking like a swamp after a while, but the color is very natural. The smell is a sweet cherry-almond scent, which I find pleasant if not almost too sweet. Compared to other self-tanning products I’ve tried, I find the smell to be a positive. This product MUST MUST MUST! be applied with a mitt. It does transfer onto clothes if they are tight-fitting and put on soon after application. It looks best on legs and arms, and lasts up to a week on me. I probably won’t repurchase this, just because I can get the Fake Bake Flawless for cheaper, and I prefer the color from that product better, however if you are interested in trying a green-based tanner or are searching for a tanner that doesn’t smell bad, I do recommend trying this one. Check out my How I Stay Tan Without Tanning post for more information on what I use to self tan!

Bonus favorite: I’ve been loving the band Kodaline this month. Check them out on Spotify!

That’s a wrap for June favorites! Let me know what you were loving this June in the comments below!

xx