The Lies Our Parents Told Us


I don’t know about you, but as a woman who was born in 1993, I was constantly told I could be anything I wanted. By teachers, by coaches, by family and friends, and of course, by my parents. I know that this phrase was meant to encourage me, to make sure that I knew that anything was possible if I believed or worked hard enough. However, as a 23-year-old with a master’s degree who is struggling to find work, part of me thinks that this is total bull-shit.

I have been actively searching for a job since February of 2016, a year now, and I still do not have a paid job. I started looking while I was completing my master’s in the Netherlands, so the deck was definitely stacked against me as I was applying to positions from a different country. So, moral of the story, that was 5 months of applying for jobs that led absolutely nowhere. I eventually started applying to paid and unpaid internships. I got a few phone interviews for unpaid internships and eventually accepted one with the Senate and moved out to DC with my boyfriend.

I do believe that we help to make our own futures happen and that through hard work and determination we can achieve many things. However, that being said, I think that it ignores the many other factors that help determine our destiny, like having the right chemistry with the hiring manager, or writing a cover letter that messes with them or arbitrary things like having traveled to the same places as them. Finding a job is really a game of “right time, right place.” You can have all the skills and experience necessary, but if you are not there at the right time it doesn’t matter.

Since moving to DC I have literally been applying to jobs as actively as I can and still nothing has turned up. I have had a few interviews and a few positions that are distinct possibilities but nothing solid. If I want a job to make money to sustain me for a while I can absolutely find one at a retail store or a restaurant, however, I want a job that is challenging. A job that I have spent the last 5 years working towards. A job that befits the thousands of dollars my parents spent on my education.

Logically I know that so much of this is “right place, at the right time,” and/or knowing the right person, however, that doesn’t make me feel better in the short-term. I always felt like I had a bright future ahead of me, and that as long as I did well in school and worked hard I would be able to get a job out of college and start supporting myself. Isn’t that why we go to college? To train and get ready for the “real world?”

Part of me is simply pissed off. I feel as though I have not been prepared to be thrown into a world where there are too many highly-qualified individuals. Being told I could do anything and to dream big feels like a flat out lie. If I don’t know the right person at the right time I cannot become a (professional) feminist activist. Shit, I have been reaching out to gender equality organizations in DC to volunteer and I get zero response. I am not even good enough to volunteer, seriously!?!?!?

What makes all this feel worse is that there are those people who got a job right out of college. They were the lucky ones, and I am glad they didn’t have to go through the bull-shit, but for many of us that is just not how it goes. Because the job market is “right place, right time,” many of us don’t have the right timing. We apply to jobs from another city or move to a new city a month too late. Or, like me, I am trying to get a job at the start of a new presidency where things went very differently than many of us expected. I know I will get something eventually, but that doesn’t make me feel any better right now while my parents pay my rent and my boyfriend pays for utilities and bills. I am a strong independent woman who DOES need others to survive right now and that hurts.

So yes, you can be anything you want to be, but there are a whole bunch of factors that our parents choose not to tell us. They didn’t tell me that I would graduate and have to apply for a year, and still not have a job. They did not tell me how tough the job market is. They did not tell me how essential it is to have a strong professional network. As far as I’m concerned, the stories they told were simply fairy tales like Rapunzel or Jack and the Beanstalk. Life is no picnic. Things do work out through determination but, I know that I have dealt with a lot more stress than I expected when graduating, but life continues to go on.

I wanted to share this story so that anyone struggling with similar circumstances can read it and know they are not alone. I feel you and understand where you are coming from and am right there along with you. Here’s to a more positive 2017!

Lindsay O’Keefe : Born and raised Iowan who recently moved to DC to, hopefully, pursue a career in social justice. Still finding my way but I know I will find it eventually. I have seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed at least 12 times each and I am a huge musical junkie who loves to read sci-fi and fantasy novels.