I have a college degree and work at a grocery store. I've worked there for five years now. No, this isn't a side hustle to pick up a little extra income. This is my full-time job. Of course this wasn't how I thought my post college career would pan out when I signed up for college. But I've come to terms with where I am at. I'm content and I've learned a lot from the whole experience. There are a few lessons that you can take away from my story.
I graduated from high school in 2007. Virtually my entire class went straight to college. It's what we were told we needed to do to be successful. It was just the next step. Without second thoughts, I applied to college and started in the fall of 2007. What I didn't think much about was what I wanted to do after college. I picked a major that sounded interesting (political science), but then got bored with that, so I switched to a communications major.
In my senior year, I finally realized that I had to start thinking about life after college, so I started looking at the job market. Unfortunately, this was late 2010 when the US was still recovering from the recession. Jobs were not yet plentiful, and for the jobs that were open, I was competing with applicants that had been laid off in the past several years and had way more work experience than me.
Nonetheless, this didn't discourage me. For my last five months of college, I fired off about five applications a week. These were not just stock applications. I tailored these applications to the job descriptions for which I was applying. I was rewarded with a grand total of one job interview and no job offers.
When graduation hit, so did the real world. Suddenly I was going to have to figure out this whole 'adult' thing. I was confronted with a few choices. With my bachelor's degree in hand, I could prolong this college experience by pursuing post-grad. I could continue my job search full-time or I could pick up a part-time job and continue looking for other jobs part-time.
I really didn't want to continue with more schooling, so I quickly ruled out post grad. Continuing my job search full-time would mean no income, so I picked the third option and applied for a job at a local grocery store. Apparently the local economy was good enough (or my luck finally turned) and I was at least able to get this job.
I was technically part-time at this grocery job, but I worked hard, hustled for all the hours I could get, and before long I was working a regular 35-40 hours. Within a year, I was offered a full-time position and took it, since that was the practical thing to do.
Up until this point, my job search was still ongoing, but at a much slower pace. When I accepted that full-time position, I essentially resigned my job search. It had gotten me nowhere. Furthermore, I was convinced (rightly or wrongly) that every month that passed after my graduation was making me that much less attractive to potential employers.
Learning From My Experience
It's been five years since I graduated college. That's given me lots of time to reflect. There were definitely times that I've been frustrated with where I was at. Yet, there's no reason to hold regrets. I have a lot to be thankful for. The best I can do is take what I've learned and either apply it to my own life or pass it on to others.
Take Full Advantage Of Opportunities
Not being intentional about college was probably my single biggest mistake. I went because I was expected to go. Because I was not intentional about my college experience, my drive was not to get anything out of college, but rather to get through college with the minimum amount of work.
I figured out how to get all A's and B's with the minimum amount of studying. I didn't pick a major with a clear goal in mind. Not until the very end of my college life did I start thinking about careers. I got out of college what I put into it.
Unfortunately, I can't redo college (I could, but it wouldn't be practical). But we all are confronted with opportunities on a regular basis. Take advantage of those opportunities. You'll get out of each opportunity what you put into it.
Sometimes You Have To Be Practical
When I finally did wake up to reality, it was too late to change a lot of my mistakes. Of course, I could have stuck around in college for another couple of years, but there's a pretty significant price tag with that. I could have refused to settle for the job I took, but that would have meant no income.
Maybe making a different choice would have yielded better results, but I wasn't willing to take that risk. Evaluate your options and your risk tolerance. If you can take a risk, great! But recognize when you need to start being practical.
Learn To Adapt To Your Circumstances
Obviously my grocery store job came with lower pay than a typical college grad might expect. To keep my head above water, I had to adapt my lifestyle. I learned to be happy with less, and learned how to spend less for more. I learned how debt eats into your income. In short I learned how to be frugal.
Make The Most Of Your Situation
When I took my job, I could have kept a bad attitude. It wasn't my dream job, by any means. Instead, I put my head down and worked. I learned how to do my job better and now make almost twice what I did when I started. A bad attitude could have changed all that. Regardless of your situation, choose not to wallow in the bad, and instead focus on the opportunities in the situation.
Learn To Be Content
I'm not working my dream job. Arguably, my college degree has gone to waste. Nonetheless, I've got a good life. I have a fantastic family. We have a great community. I have a secure job that takes care of our needs. The job I have is one that is removed from the rat race of corporate America. I get to live in a small town and have a seven-minute commute. And I could go on.
Nobody has the perfect life. But instead of focusing on the negatives that we can't change, we can choose to focus on all the good things in our life. Of course being content doesn't mean complacency. You can still be driven while being content. Contentment just means that you're happy in whatever circumstances you find yourself.
Dan Palmer first learned to live super frugally out of necessity. Before long, helping others with personal finance became a passion of his. Dan now writes regularly about budgeting, saving, and investing on his blog, penniesanddollars.com. He can be found on social media on Twitter and Facebook.