Nothing can be worse than being unemployed. Well, except being underemployed. There’s just something insulting about being asked to work only 25 hours a week, and doing it. And it’s not just because you don’t get health insurance as a part-time worker or because you have to work the worst hours of the day while getting paid crap. No, the worst part of being underemployed is feeling you are worthy of working full time in a fulfilling career, but you don’t have the opportunity.
The audacity of a company to make a college graduate work only 25 hours a week at a doughnut shop! They must not really know how hard you worked on that Shakespeare paper during your junior year or else they would instantly promote you to General Manager. Being underemployed is kinda ridiculous.
Being an underemployed recent graduate is the premise behind Underemployed, a MTV show that centers around the lives of five underemployed friends living in Chicago one year since graduating college. Instead of being music stars, career Juggernauts and international writers like they thought they would be, they instead work as retail clerks, fast food workers and unpaid interns. They should consider themselves lucky, right? At least the show isn’t titled unemployed. (Despite being underemployed they live in kick ass lofts with lots of nice furniture and stuff. You constantly ask yourself how these kids can afford the rent on an apartment as nice as theirs. But that’s for another post.)
The show won’t be rivaling the likes of Mad Men or Modern Family anytime soon, but it’s a good insight into the lives of talented young twenty-somethings who are struggling. It’s MTV so the style is what you’d expect with an over the top, drama filled look at dreams deferred and complacency settling in on young minds. But as I watched the show I was seeing bits of myself in the story. Strange since I have never seen myself in the content on MTV before, but there I was.
My Underemployed Story
Two months after graduating college I was working just under thirty hours a week for the Autism Society of North Carolina teaching life skills directly to children diagnosed with Autism. At the time I didn’t feel as if my dreams were dying, but I did feel complacency settling in. I was 22, getting paid enough to pay my bills and student loans while enjoying an occasional night out to a mid-price restaurant. “Hello Complacency, my name is Swim Karim.”
Being underemployed feels like being at a breakfast table and continuously getting only two-thirds of the meal – the amount you eat is barely enough to last you the day, but you are unsure if the food on the table in the house next door is any better. How does the saying go, “better to know the devil you know than not know the devil at all?”
And there lies the problem. As much as we twenty-somethings hate being underemployed, in a dead end job that in no way fulfills our passions, being unemployed is far worse in our minds. We reason that instead of risking unemployment for the goals we really want it’s probably better to just stay underemployed and at least be able to pay our bills. Why risk being unemployed when I can at least work twenty five hours a week? Hello complacency!
So what is an underemployed twenty-something to do?
I worked with the Autism Society for nine months before Staci and I risked being broke and homeless and moved to another state three time zones away. We had about $1,500 to our names and $5oo in student loans that knocked on our door every month job or no job. It was a struggle at times. I managed to get a job working full time, but money was still tight. We ended up sleeping on the floor on a mattress I got for free from Craigslist for about four months. (Staci must really love me cause she did it will me and stuck with me throughout the journey.) During those four months we were living worse off fully employed than we were underemployed in North Carolina.
But our bad situation didn’t last for long. My new job quickly started generating a significant income and we slowly, but surely started living better off than we did in North Carolina. Plus, we were able to spend the time exploring our true passions and finding a career and life path that we both love. So our risk of moving to another state paid off for us in the end monetarily and we both ended up finding our passions and a way to follow them.
I took a major risk and it could have failed terribly, but I was not willing to be complacent. And I think there is your answer-take the risk, whatever it might be, to get yourself out of underemployment. You sometimes have to be willing to risk a little to get a lot. What I did is not for everyone, but in the end you are worth the risk to get yourself out of underemployment.
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