You’ve embarked on four (or more) years of study. What will you do with your years in college?
Fiction for troubled times
I embarked on my job search in journalism with a light, confident heart right after my college graduation a year ago. After all, I’d won several writing awards wrapped in hefty cash prizes. I’d gained great praise from all of my professors. I had work experience in writing and marketing for the college. Surely, I thought, someone might want to hire me in the real world, right? … Right?
Well, if someone wanted to hire me, he or she didn’t bother to speak up. After I spent several weeks filling out more applications than I care to mention, my inbox and cell phone message receptacles remained empty. They stayed so, well into my second month of searching for an entry-level position in publishing.
In my distress, I turned to my friend, Charlotte Bronte, for advice through a gift she’d given me, the novel Jane Eyre.
As soon as I cracked open the well-worn pages, I felt at home and sighed, “Ah, Jane. I feel ya, girl.”
Like me, Jane Eyre had only her education, her high aptitude and quick mind, and some experience as a student teacher to land her first comfortable situation working as a governess. I, too, had a version of “nanny” listed on my resume. Jane’s first venture into the “real” world as a penniless woman occurs when Jane runs away from her governess gig with nothing more than the paltry contents of her drawstring handbag. We have to give her a break for doing so; Jane has just discovered that her boss and would-be husband, Mr. Rochester, is a wife-stashing scoundrel who has kept his syphilitic (and insane) “ball and chain” locked in the attic for a decade.
Okay, this isn’t exactly like my real-life situation, but what follows really is: Jane winds up in a far-flung corner of the countryside with no real prospects for work. That is, until Mr. Rivers, a clergyman, reluctantly offers her the equivalency of a McDonald’s job to earn room and board.
Here is where Jane’s situation really touched me. Jane accepts this humble employment with all her heart, happy to have any honest work to do.
Mr. Rivers seems surprised at her alacrity over a limiting teaching job. “But you comprehend me?” Rivers verifies. “It is a village school; your scholars will be only poor girls — cottagers’ children – at the best, farmers’ daughters. Knitting, sewing, reading, writing, ciphering will be all you will have to teach. What will you do with your accomplishments? What with the largest portion of your mind – sentiment – tastes?”
Without a hint of regret, Jane replies, “Save them till they are wanted. They will keep.”
There is wisdom in this choice, I think. I took heart from this because, in mid-summer, I had a breakthrough, a “God-moment,” if you will.
I’d ordered a salad in a restaurant and asked for extra ranch dressing, regardless of the calories. My waitress chuckled when I announced I was being “bad.” As I chatted with my mother, that same waitress also overheard my despair over the horrible job market and offered to vouch for me as a waitress at the restaurant. Her name was Donna, and she decidedly liked me.
“If that (meaning the superfluity of salad dressing) is the only “bad” thing you do, honey, I like you already,” Donna proclaimed, throwing in many other fondly-delivered observations that I was a lot like her daughter.
I blushed and backpedaled at her assessment of my moral character (because, really, I could tell you months of stories about the stupid things I’ve done), but I considered the job offer very carefully.
I thought back to the Jane-Eyrian question: During a bad economy, does one simply put away one’s expensive college education for a menial job with a paycheck?
I decided that my answer to that question was yes.
After all, if God granted me another opportunity more fitting to my talents, he would make sure that my brain would still be there for me. Even if my IQ did take a tragic nosedive, I could draw comfort from the Psalmist who wrote with assurance, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
I was therefore in a peaceful state of resolve when I handed in the job application to Donna and her manager, Julie.
Apparently the server situation at the restaurant wasn’t too dire; they didn’t call me back. But I think I learned a lesson simply by embracing the opening.
I realized that just because I was a great student in school, it doesn’t mean I necessarily deserve a great career. It also doesn’t mean I can’t skillfully perform the daily tasks of an unglamorous job and work for the Lord in the process. I was reminded of the biblical admonition, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
This epiphany involved great humility; acting on it developed character. Donna, the wise old waitress, recognized that I was ready to try a taste of both. And God, always the perfect host, made sure I got seated at the right table that night. All these little synchronicities point to the idea that our goal in life is simply to be where God wants us to be, right when he wants us to be there.
Eventually I did land a waitressing job. And I stayed there for six months until God practically handed me an opportunity to work as an intern in marketing. If the company I’m now working for doesn’t offer me a position, I will be unemployed again in a few months.
Either way, my search for post-graduation employment has taught me to stay calm during the storm and watch God work. My literary pal Jane really gets it right in chapter thirty-five when she turns in desperation to the Almighty and fervently prays, “Show me, show me the path!”
That’s when her story goes from being gothic to good. A happy ending awaits her — and the reader who takes her example.
—by Abigail Fulton, Hanover College ’09
If you are a recent graduate, here are some resources to help you navigate life after college:
- Order the free publication, flux, and other materials for recent graduates from InterVarsity’s Alumni Department.
- “Transitioning from college to job may change what we do, but not who we are,” says Abi Christian. Read her story, “Celebrating the Long Wait”.
- Following Jesus in the ‘Real World’ by Richard Lamb (InterVarsity Press, 1995)
- The Fabric of Faithfulness by Steve Garber (InterVarsity Press, 2007)