It was about six years ago when I had walked across the stage in my cap and gown for my Masters in Arts Administration, and enjoyed the company of my family as they celebrated my accomplishments. I had done everything “right”: I finished high school, completed my college degree, and took a chance at graduate school. Directly after that, I was one of a few women to be selected for a competitive internship program, where I would be interning in Washington, D.C. I thought it was so cool that I was living down the street from The Pentagon. A train or a bus ride away would lead me to the Smithsonian Museums, the White House, and so much more. It was an exciting time for me.
Once I completed my internship, I returned home, but without a full-time job as I had imagined. Instead, I found myself applying to multiple jobs and drafting many cover letters and resumes. After a year of applying for jobs and not getting hired, unemployment became an opportunity to change my perspective, change my attitude, and change my approach.
I Rediscovered My Passion and Volunteered with a Purpose
Relying solely on online application platforms was not working for me. If I wasn’t going to get a job by applying online, then there had to be a chance at getting hired as a volunteer or as an intern. I chose to volunteer. Pursuing these opportunities alleviated the pressure of submitting the perfect cover letter or resume. There was no hiring or firing, just a willingness on my part to contribute as much or as little of my time.
I sought out volunteer opportunities that were in line with what I was passionate about. I had an interest in events (and still do) so I attended many events that I thought were cool. I also had an interest in entrepreneurship as well as women’s leadership, so I sought organizations in my community that were offering programs in those areas and volunteered my time. Not only was I able to learn in these new environments but I developed skill-sets that I could add to my resume.
In public and professional settings, each new environment taught me how to speak to people who came from various backgrounds, as well as how to be an effective listener and negotiate roles and tasks that would best meet the strengths of those involved. Whether I was involved in a session at the Business Academy, learning how to work in a team to communicate a product’s value to a customer, or working with a colleague to arrange a post-meeting brunch for over 30 women, I was developing my skills: public speaking, marketing, and customer service. As it turned out, I gained experience that I could incorporate into my ideal job.
I Learned to Say “Yes”
The “yes” I’m referring to is not a literal agreement to participate in an activity, such as “yes, I will do the laundry”.
There came a time when being unemployed with two college degrees felt a bit embarrassing. I did not want people to know. Eventually, I became less afraid to share with others where I was in my journey. Often times in a professional setting or even among family and friends, I would get the question, “so what do you do?” which often led to, “so are you looking for a job?”
After sharing that I was a recent graduate and highlighting some activities that I was currently participating in, I would say with less dread and more enthusiasm, “yes. Yes I am currently seeking employment.”
Prior to that, when I would hear “I am unemployed” coming from my own mouth, I automatically associated that phrase to mean something negative. There was nothing good about being unemployed. Responding to others became much easier when I changed my phrasing from a negative to a positive.
Changing what I said to “I am currently seeking employment” did two things: it emphasized that I had an end goal which was to find what I had been looking for (a job), and it implied that I was being proactive in my current state of unemployment… (I was seeking). There was no shame in that.
One Phrase Changed My Entire Phase
After volunteering for an event, I decided to reach out to the organizer by simply making a phone call to say, “it was nice to meet you again.” That very call led to a conversation about art, education, and my potential career path. Towards the end of that call I learned that there was a position available and whether or not I was seeking employment was a question that I was asked. So, of course I said, “Yes. Yes I am currently seeking employment.” That very response led to my current place of employment. Soon enough I would find myself in an interview, then another, and then signing hiring papers as an official employee.
Why it Worked
With a new perspective, a new attitude, and a new approach, I found myself more and more optimistic during my journey. While it proved itself to be a challenge at times, it was worth it. May this encourage you to take on a new outlook and really create the path that you envision for yourself!
About the Author: Princess Belton received her B.F.A. in Visual Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts, a certificate in Professional Youth Work, and certificate in Women’s Leadership at the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers University. She also holds an M.A. in Arts Administration. Princess is the creator of Bridging the Gap: Preparing the Next Generation of Arts Leaders, a panel discussion presented to address the arts leadership gap, succession planning and the attraction and retention of emerging arts leaders. Currently, she is the Education Coordinator at the Apollo Theater.