I’m Graduating into a Barren Job Market. Help.
By Robert E. Williams II (They/Them)
Over a month ago, I made the decision to leave my home in New York City to take shelter with my parents down in the South. The week prior to my departure, I took for granted the life I built for myself in the city, living the Broadway fantasy seeing shows for free and attending galas. I believed I had everything planned out, lining up several job opportunities to continue my theatre career in the city after commencement in May. It was everything 5-year-old me envisioned my life would be.
In the matter of a week, I was presented with bad news such as theatre gigs cancelling due to traveling groups unable to fly to New York City, my university announcing their decision to transition to online learning, and the theatre company I intern for following suit with other Broadway theatres to switch to remote office practices. I was without income and cut off from the glitz and glam, becoming victim to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
On the train ride home, I imagined this leave of absence was only temporary and I’d return in a month. This naive thought plagued many minds at the beginning of the spread of COVID-19. I wanted to return to my glamorous nights in Broadway theatre houses and walk the enchanted streets of the West Village once again. The further the train traveled away from New York, the clearer it became that my time away from the city would be longer than desired.
Over the course of the past month, I received news from theatre companies stating they were cutting jobs and programs I applied to to salvage the funds to survive the coming year. My former employers notified me that they were furloughed, providing me with instructions on who to contact within the company if I needed anything. Friends confided in me their grievances over losing jobs and losing the opportunity to produce their Spring Semester productions (some of which would be the last of their collegiate careers). In order to maintain financial stability, I had to give up my apartment in New York. This was a period of grief, coming to terms with the losses in my life.
I am a month away from my “graduation day.” As I read the news about the condition of America and updates from theatre companies struggling to stay afloat, one question crosses my mind:
What the fuck do I do next after graduating?
During my time back in the stomping grounds down south, I began to think about what I can possibly do next. I removed myself from social media and limited contact with others in attempts to clear my mind and ease my worries in this crisis. This extreme isolation I found was not successful in diminishing my fears and instead heightened my anxiety over the blank chapter awaiting me. The uncertainty of my field leaves me wondering if I shall progress in my career at the rate I was going before the ceiling caved in.
I recognize that it’s a privilege to immediately put my degree to work after graduation, and I am thankful for the experiences I’ve had thus far. I acknowledge I am not the only senior graduating from undergrad worried about their after university. I wanted to write and share the ways in which I’ve been coping with this situation:
The first step was validating my frustration with the situation. Yes, keeping an optimist’s mindset is useful, but it’s crucial to make space for the frustration I’m experiencing. It’s valid, and bottling up this anger will not help me.
In my spare time, I started creating small projects, such as taking my SLR off the shelf to rekindle my relationship with photography and exercising my literary skills by writing a play. Of course, I understand that not all folks have the privilege to sit and clear their mind to start projects such as these with some having to deal with the stresses of working essential jobs, figuring out how they are going to pay their bills, or dealing with non-ideal housing situations. We see you.
The most effective way for me to cope was holding honest conversations with friends and loved ones. I’ve identified who I can confide in during this time to vent. In the same vein, I’ve opened my door for the other party to vent to me as well. That, I remain transparent telling friends and loved ones when I am capable of taking on the weight of their situation. Some days are harder than others, and I know how much to put on my plate during those days. And my friends have been completely respectful of this; I love and cherish them deeply.
Who knows when my one true love New York City and I will be reunited again. Frankly, I am in survival mode, and if a theatre job in some other part of the country presents itself to me, it would be a privilege to be able to work in the field that I love; not everyone gets this opportunity. I’m taking things day by day and remain alert for the next round of punches coming my way. All I can focus on currently is graduation, as I know that is one success that is certain in my near future.