By Vicki Wang
It’s the Fourth of July, three weeks after graduation, and I’m hosting a party in my new apartment. I’d just moved in a few days earlier, and I’m playing Slap Cup on my deck with friends. Admittedly, I’m a little drunk, but for the first time since March, I’m thinking, Alright, post-grad life is gonna be just fine. After all, why wouldn’t it be? I’d finally gotten a full-time job, after months of searching, and was living in Chicago near many close friends. I had everything I needed.
Of course, “everything” has its caveats. I’d reluctantly accepted this job having no other options and was less than thrilled about it. Most of my friends were not living in the city yet, and my roommate was spending the summer in New York, training for a job in finance. However, at that moment, things felt okay. I felt safe, enshrouded in a cocoon of familiarity as I played drinking games with my friends. I had everything I needed.
A few weeks later, things took a turn. I’d recently begun exploring a romantic relationship with a once-platonic friend, a situation which usually either ends in happily ever after or a friendship permanently damaged. Ours went the wrong way, and along with a little heartbreak, I lost a friend that I’d relied heavily on.
As far as my job, my feeling less than enthusiastic had turned into total apathy. I felt listless, unchallenged as I grammar-checked PowerPoints all day and unsure why I’d taken the role. I began to panic as I saw my friends seem to progress in their careers while I was falling backwards, and I envied their punishing hours and workplace challenges.
“This couldn’t be what my real life was supposed to be, right? Coming out of college, I was incredibly arrogant about the post-grad opportunities I would have. … I certainly shouldn’t be stuck in some dead-end job.”
This couldn’t be what my real life was supposed to be, right? Coming out of college, I was incredibly arrogant about the post-grad opportunities I would have. Like many Northwestern students, I’d spent my undergraduate career enmeshed in extracurriculars, hustling for great internships and sleeping at the library. I certainly shouldn’t be stuck in some dead-end job.
I began searching for something else, some kind of job that would lead me to the life I was “supposed to have.”
And then in an unfortunate turn of events, the company I was working for lost its one and only client. My work, already sparse, became practically non-existent. The urgency of my search mounted — I needed to get out. In my blind haste, I failed to realize that my boss would notice my growing disinterest and my changing attitude. On a Friday afternoon, I was called into her office.
“I can’t afford to keep someone who doesn’t want to be here.”
Those words rang in my ears as it hit me — I was being fired. The rest of the meeting blurs in my memory. I walked out of the office to face my two coworkers, the expressions on their faces a mix of pity and guilt. I later found out through my termination report that they’d told my boss I was looking for other jobs and going to other interviews.
On the bus ride home, the gravity of the situation sunk in. I’d lost my first and only job. What the fuck was I going to do? How was I going to tell my gainfully employed friends? How was I going to pay rent? Do I move home?
I had no job, no prospects and no idea what to do. I felt lost, small, and above all, more alone than ever.
The weeks that passed after were a mix of highs and lows. There were days when I felt myself drowning in my total failure to succeed as a “real person,” scrolling through my social feeds in a coffee shop when all my friends were working in offices. There were weekends I got way too drunk and cried about that lost friendship and how much I missed it. There were also some days when I reveled in my newfound freedom, going to the Chicago Zoo on a Monday afternoon or trekking out for Hot Doug’s on a random morning. I began to pursue design freelancing, and found myself getting paid for something I loved doing.
My lowest low came on Sept. 21. At around 10 p.m. I was in bed when I received a text from my mom. It was a picture of my dad, and beneath, the text read, “Dad on his 65th birthday.” I’d forgotten to call my father on his birthday. In fact, I hadn’t spoken to either of my parents at all since I’d lost my job — too ashamed to tell them the extent of my failure. My fear of their reaction had caused me to overlook two of the most important people in my life.
“I hadn’t spoken to either of my parents at all since I’d lost my job — too ashamed to tell them the extent of my failure. My fear of their reaction had caused me to overlook two of the most important people in my life.”
The weight of the last three months hit me all at once — I called my best friend and cried and cried and cried. I was a failure, I’d shut my family out because of my shame, and I didn’t know if I could keep doing this.
And then, as quickly as things fell apart, things began to come together. I was oscillating between going to “real” job interviews at “real” companies and then rushing to interviews at cafes, restaurants and stores. My first offer came from a coffee shop as a barista, and I thought, OK, I can do this for a few months and freelance on the side. This could be fun. Then, I received an offer from a company in Chicago I’d recently interviewed with. A few days later, the company where I’d interned in New York offered me a position as well. After that, I received a third offer from another company in Chicago.
Suddenly, I had options. A new question loomed in my head — stay in Chicago or move to New York? Chicago would come with everything I needed once again, but I’d started with that and it hadn’t ended well. Maybe moving to New York would be the right start to the “real” life I was looking for.
I boarded a flight on Oct. 19 and began my new job the day after. That fall, I would frequently walk home from work. My favorite route to take is down Broadway, as it offers one of my favorite vantage points in the city — the Empire State Building standing tall to the north and the Flatiron Building to the south. As I walked down the street on a particularly clear evening, I looked up to take in the view. As usual, it amazed me. At that moment, I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.
I wasn’t beginning my real life, though. That happened the day I graduated, and every moment between then and now had led me here.
Vicki Wang lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works at Spotify.