On Leaping Without a Net
Written by Amanda Olivero // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
One short year ago, I graduated from Florida State University. I wore the silly hat and marched across the stage for that brief moment of glory while my parents sat teary-eyed in the stands beside 10,000-something other sets of parents, all overwhelmed with pride and emotion. Every graduate there had made it through four years of college (give or take a few) and were about to dive headfirst into the fantastical realm of “the real world.”
Flashback to less than 48 hours post-graduation, and I find myself in that 'real' world. I sit myself down at my very own desk at 7:15am, wearing a blazer and heels to camouflage into my new Fortune 500 environment. I hope these new clothes will make me feel powerful and confident, but instead I feel vaguely like a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s clothes.
That’s okay. I’ll get used to the clothes. I’ve made it. I am right where I’m supposed to be. I graduated and I got a real job. Things are real now. A real 401k, a real business card, a real college graduate success story. (And with my new paycheck, I can pay off my incredibly real student loans).
The company flies me to Baltimore for a week of corporate training. On day two, I excuse myself to use the restroom and a facilitator follows me out of the room. She pulls me aside and explains that my outfit is distracting to the men in the class - the same outfit that made me feel like a little girl playing dress-up; the same pencil skirt and pair of heels I was instructed to wear; the clothes I never liked anyway. I’m mortified. I pull myself together and proceed to participate even though I wish more than anything to be invisible. I cry in my hotel room that night, attend training the next day, and fly home. Corporate reports back to my account manager that I'm at the top of my training class and he’s thrilled with my performance. I’m thrilled too... I guess.
I am good at this job. I killed it at training. In my local office, my coworkers are wonderful. Despite being the youngest in the office (and one of only two women,) I’m surrounded by friendly, hardworking people who genuinely care about me. My account manager is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met and I want more than anything to make him proud. In a short amount of time, I’ve learned how to be a kickass business woman. I feel myself becoming more decisive, organized, and cutthroat.
Unfortunately, I feel myself losing a lot more than I’ve gained.
Friendly and fun-loving me becomes strung out and irritable. With 10 hours a day spent without any creative outlet, I feel all the light draining out of me. I lash out at my friends, my family, my boyfriend. I jolt awake at 4:00am to check my work email account. I feel so unfulfilled that I blame it on every other aspect of my life - convincing myself I am not wanted; I am not interesting. I become uncharacteristically pessimistic. Simultaneously, my performance at work continues to improve. I reach milestones that my coworkers celebrate - and remain wholeheartedly unimpressed with myself.
Despite feeling down, I still feel so lucky to land a position right out of school while others are struggling to find their next step. Every college graduate has been brainwashed to believe the odds are against us; I probably couldn’t find another job if I tried. Plus, I’m more tenacious than that. I cannot bear the idea of people knowing I only lasted 6 months in my first job, like I’m not cut out for this “real world.” I need to stick it out, no matter how empty I feel.
At the peak of this emptiness, something happened. A very important man in the company put his hands on me during a company happy hour. He was careful about it. In the elevator when he was standing behind me; on the couch when everyone was looking the other way. I did not know how to tell him not to. I wished I was invisible again.
My coworkers supported me, my account manager stood up for me, and the company handled the situation correctly - I am beyond thankful for that. But I was already empty, and this broke me completely. In a weird way, it was the catalyst I needed. So I quit. Six months post-graduation, I left the job and took a leap without a net - everything a recent graduate should never do.
Two days later, I got a call offering me some part-time work from home, which I accepted. A few weeks later, I started working at a local coffee shop. I remembered having client meetings at this same coffee shop, and thinking ironically that I’d rather be serving the coffee than sitting with a stranger drinking it. I made a list of what I wanted out of a career and set my mind to it. I needed to find the right path - my path.
That’s the key: to find your own path. Naively, I thought a fancy job right out of school meant I was on the right track. I looked great on paper, but that job had nothing to do with my passions. I am a creative person. I find fulfillment in creating. I had set myself up for disappointment, because no matter how well I did in that position, I would stay feeling empty. I was heading down a path completely unrelated to my goals, which meant big milestones would always feel like wasted progress. I realized that it’s better to make a lateral move, or even a backwards move, if it meant aligning myself with my path.
I left my $50,000 salary to serve coffee at an hourly rate, but I promise this is not a sob story. In just a few shorts months at the coffee company, I’ve grown from barista to Assistant Brand Coordinator. I’ve embraced my talents and combined them with my tenacious work ethic. I’ve proved myself and paved a path that I am motivated to continue down - at full speed. I may have taken the leap without a net, but I did have a parachute: my determination, my passion, and faith in my own ability.
Please have faith in your own ability. Go after careers that light a fire in you and use your natural talents. Do not let society’s view on your age, your gender, or your recent-grad status trap you into a role that’s not for you. Do not think you must have it all figured out, because nobody does. “Having it all figured out” is so far from the point. One year ago, I had no idea this is what my life would look like, but I’ve discovered the importance of joy and self-fulfillment.
And most of all, I’ve discovered that starting at the bottom of the correct ladder is exponentially more fulfilling than climbing halfway up the wrong one.
Amanda graduated from Florida State University in 2016, where she performed on the improv comedy team and received her degree in Marketing. She is currently a brand coordinator for both Lucky Goat Coffee and VDISoft, Inc in Tallahassee, FL. Her main side hustle is creating content for her baking blog, #Sweet, and wishing she was a Food Network star. When she's not working, you can catch her rollerblading, photo-taking, or binge-watching Master Chef Junior.