After the Bubble Bursts

Kate Ostler, Class of ’07

A year ago, when I was still a senior at Lawrence and had the luxury of reading The Lawrentian every week, this very column induced a panicky hysteria within me because my plans for life after college were more than a little foggy. I hope to assuage your nerves here, but I might just end up telling the truth – which is full of uncertainties and questionable employment – though that might be comforting to some of you. Knowing that others have struggled to transition to life after college would have made me feel a little better, somehow.
Right now, of course, my life is generally sorted out and, at least momentarily, satisfying and rather nice. I work at a wonderful little independent bookstore in Oak Park, Ill. and spend my days telling people what to read, finding out about new books before they’ve been released, and indulging my literary side by starting to build my own personal library. Only three other people work at this store, because it is so small, and two of them are the owners. I am a firm believer in supporting local businesses, so this is a great job for me, because I feel really good about what I do. That can be a rare thing.
But listen. I had to earn my dues. Life after Lawrence sometimes starts up quite slowly, and that was my experience. In fact, I spent the week after commencement at Lawrence, working at reunion weekend and making some extra money before I moved to Illinois. This turned out to be a wise maneuver, since it took me a few months to track down my current position at the helm of the Oak Park book industry.
My daily routine consisted of walking into every single business in town and asking if they were hiring and whether I could apply. These were no high-powered job opportunities. I had tried, before graduation, to apply to several job listings online, which only served to make me feel very gloomy about my prospects and isolated from the work I was actually interested in. It turns out that “high-powered” doesn’t equal interesting or exciting – sometimes it just means you’re sitting at a desk, wishing you were outside talking with people instead of staring at your computer screen.
So in retrospect, it was a good idea for me to just move to Oak Park and figure out where I could go from there. Where I ended up going was Pier 1 Imports. I probably don’t need to tell you that I was disappointed. I mean, I had a college degree! That MEANS something to me. I deserved better than Pier 1. Unfortunately, I was the only one who seemed to understand that. I also understood that I was in dire need of a job and an income. So I started working as a “sales associate,” and it was all right. Of course, all the while I was working there, I was feverishly applying for other jobs. After a month or so, I was invited to be interviewed for a couple of those jobs, soon after which I said farewell to Pier 1 and began working at the bookstore.
Here is where the truth comes in. After you graduate, you MIGHT have to lower your standards and work in a place that sets your self-respect radar blinking. I applied to about 10 jobs. Only two of them really were interested in hiring me. ME! A college graduate! Who had a great résumé that even included internships and nursing experience, education and people skills!
It is important to realize that your intelligence and college degree, while they are beautiful achievements, are only helpful if you have learned to wield them correctly. Prove that you can do it by doing it. Persist and persevere.
One last thing: You are not likely to make or break your life right after college ends. There is a lot of space for dreams and chances and big ideas – I’m applying to go to Spain to teach English next year, for example – so it’s okay to take what you can get at first. Eventually, you will arrive at the place you want to be.