After receiving an expensive college degree, I could not find a single position as a wildlife biologist. Instead, I found myself among the many suffering being forced to cope with underemployment. That first year after failing to find a job was the hardest, and I was in a deep depression. I had to find a way out.
Over time, I began to crawl out of the pit I found myself in. I’m still not a wildlife biologist, but I’m moving forward in other ways, and it has literally made a world of difference. I hope some of the steps I took will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.
What Is Underemployment?
Unemployment and underemployment are not the same thing. Whereas unemployment is the state wherein an individual is not employed at all, underemployment is best described as “the share of graduates working in jobs that typically do not require a college degree,” according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In other words, if you have a degree in psychology and find yourself washing dishes for a living, you would be considered underemployed.
Understand That You Are Not Alone
A wide variety of people can be seen as underemployed. In fact, 73 percent of Criminal Justice majors and 59 percent of Business Management majors find themselves in this predicament, says the Federal Reserve Bank. An overall 42.9 percent of recent college graduates are viewed as underemployed.
So, while attempting to cope with underemployment, understand that there are many other people with similar issues. And though you may be in an unfortunate situation, you are not alone; many other people are experiencing the same struggles. Why not take advantage of that?
Find Others Who Are Underemployed
I’ve always been a shy person. It’s not natural for me to reach out to others. I still get nervous talking on the telephone.
None of my close friends (all two of them) know what it’s like to be in my situation right now. They have never had to cope with underemployment. I could talk all day about my feelings, but they will never truly understand. Instead, I turned to the internet, because you can find anything there.
What I found was amazing: There are thousands of blogs, stories, podcasts, YouTube videos, and more.
I found so many others in my same situation: coping with unemployment and underemployment. Even though I’m a shy person, I started reaching out to these people by email.
All of them have been incredibly helpful. I’m even becoming friends with many of them in real life. I’ve never had so much support in my entire life, and it's been incredible.
Find a Therapist to Cope With Underemployment
When each day seems like a dark cloud, and you don’t have any motivation to do anything anymore, you need to talk to a professional.
“Underemployment can be highly upsetting to people locked in a grip of low wage paying jobs. Particularly for college graduates,” says Tricia Lewis, the executive vice president of HackEDU. “This can lead to career and generalized anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and a host of other mental health issues. The isolation and disconnection of COVID-driven quarantine and social distancing can amplify the effect of these issues to dangerous degrees.”
It is important to speak to a professional, who can help guide you through healthy emotional reactions to underemployment.
If you’ve never sought counseling before, it may seem like an uncomfortable thing to do. But even just talking to someone else about problems you can’t discuss with your friends and family (or that they wouldn’t understand) lifts a huge burden off of you.
Even if you don’t have a lot of money to spare, there are always ways to find low-cost — or even free — counseling. You just have to look around for it.
Realize That You Are Not Your Underemployment
The biggest hurdle for me to get over was accepting that I am not defined by my job. I had become so invested in learning how to be a wildlife biologist that it became who I was. I literally thought of myself as “Lindsay, Wildlife Biologist.” Then, when I started my new job, I became “Lindsay, Cleaning Lady.”
By divorcing myself from the idea that my job was who I was, I suddenly opened the door to new possibilities. I could be who I wanted to be, not what I did for a living. Suddenly, being a cleaning lady was just my temporary day job, and, outside of it, I could be Wonder Woman.
Start a Side Hustle
One of the biggest game-changers for me has been starting freelance writing and blogging. I would have never considered it before — I wasn’t trained to be a writer. But I was broke, suffering through underemployment, and I had written a lot in grad school. Why not try something new? I didn’t have anything to lose.
Freelance writing isn’t for everyone. But unless you’re in a coma, you probably have skills that you can charge money for using.
Start your own small business with your skills and talents, whether it be as a DJ, photographer, graphic designer, virtual assistant, pet-sitter — the opportunities are endless!
When you’re underemployed, making a paltry paycheck, and not receiving any gratitude for your work, starting a side hustle can completely change your outlook. Suddenly, people are willing to pay you a good amount of money for something you created yourself, and they’re happy to do so!
And if you work hard at it and grow your side hustle over time, you may even just be able to take it full-time and be your own boss!
Take Online Classes
If it seems like there is no way out of underemployment, it may be best to return to school and learn some new skills.
“One solution out of many that can help to mitigate the anxiety of underemployment is taking action,” says Lewis. “Consider online training for a better, more fulfilling career. The worst possible thing to do when mired in chronic underemployment is to do nothing.”
Top-tier schools like Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Michigan offer online courses at zero cost. Taking courses like this allow you to earn qualifications that could help build your résumé as you search for a more fulfilling career.
Remember… This Won’t Last Forever!
When you’re stuck in a mountain of hopelessness, it seems like it’ll last forever. It won’t. As long as you’re moving forward and trying new things, something will change. And, if you play your cards right, you’ll come out more skilled and more resilient than you were before.