1 Tales from the 'Lost Generation': Newly Unemployed | The Billfold

Tales from the ‘Lost Generation’: Newly Unemployed

Two days ago, I removed my pastrami sandwich from the office fridge, found two pieces of gum stashed underneath my computer monitor, and walked out of my poorly-paid internship in the middle of the work day without telling my editors. I quietly quit.

I wasn’t exactly sure what triggered my departure. There was no “straw that broke the camel’s back,” as idiom-inclined folks say. I was never in love with what I was doing at my internship, but I wasn’t irreversibly angry about it either. I didn’t have to walk out, but once the thought crossed my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I found myself on the street below, jobless, partly hopeless, and with a pastrami sandwich that was getting cold.

As a recent college graduate, I was, for the first time in my life, unemployed.

I have a few thousands of dollars in savings that I’ve scrounged together from babysitting and catering gigs. My parents benevolently pay for most of my relatively low-cost East Village rent. Now that I can’t use my umpteenth internship as an excuse for employment, I figure they’ll stop paying it. By my own calculations, I should be able to live here for around another month before I go broke. Until then, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. Today, I was trying to tan on my roof until it started cataclysmically pouring. Then I made pancakes.

I recently began looking at job boards but I don’t think I’m particularly well-qualified for the plethora of account executive or digital/marketing fill-in-the-blank jobs that exist on these websites. In fact, as a journalism student, I don’t believe I have too many marketable skills to begin with. I figure if I apply for these positions, I’ll be beat out by some girl named Paige or Stacey who studied PR at Syracuse and has thousands of followers on Tumblr.

I don’t think I can wait tables or work at a cupcake shop, like every other unemployed/underemployed person seems to do in New York. Everyone who does that stuff has a ‘dream,’ something they’ve been chasing after since they were little, for which they’d sacrifice anything to accomplish. I don’t have one of these “dreams.” I’m just some kid with a .pdf resume and a degree that hasn’t come in the mail yet.

Recently, I’ve thought of escaping for a bit. I was thinking for a few hours of joining the Israeli army, but I don’t speak any Hebrew, and I need knee surgery. If I’m going to die for a country I’ve been to once on a free trip, I want to at least be in full health.

Then I thought of going to South America and writing for some small website down there and earning a hundred pesos or so per week—just enough to get by. Hopefully I’d meet the love of my life and we’d live happily ever after in a Colombian beach town. Then I realized that there are next to none of these jobs available that don’t outwardly appear to be Ponzi schemes. Also: My Spanish is just competent enough to still be laughed at.

Life could be worse, obviously, but this is the first tale of my newfound “unemployment.”


Eli Epstein is a recent graduate of NYU and a freelance writer in New York City. His work has appeared online at The Atlantic, Fortune, and Esquire. Among other things, he enjoys cereal, Alice in Chains, and corgis. He’s a sworn Bostonian. Photo: Flickr/Rich Camacho


35 Comments / Post A Comment

In the fall of 1995, I finished my 2nd journalism internship and decided that journalism was not for me. My first journalism internship had been great, but my second internship had shown me that I did not want to spend the next 50 years of my life trying to crank out words every day.

I had a part-time job at the time doing telemarketing, which was helping to pay the bills since neither journalism internship paid very much, and I started trying to figure out what I was going to do next.

My high school, college, and post-college journalism internships had given me a set of skills that was highly sought after in the temp market — I could type relatively quickly, I knew how to get things done on a computer, and I knew enough about Photoshop to get things done but I wasn’t expecting to be treated (or paid) like a “designer”.

For the next year or so, I worked some great temp gigs and made a lot of money. One of those temp jobs that was supposed to be a short-term production job, turned in to my first “marcom” job that lasted 2+ years, but also gave me my career.

Good luck to you both in finding what’s next and also getting the bills paid.

Brunhilde (#78)

You know that the US has an Army that only requires English, right?(Does it even require that?)

@Brunhilde But they don’t give you a free trip to the Middle East until AFTER you join.

Brunhilde (#78)

@stuffisthings All the thumbs up for you.

I’m curious why you chose to pursue journalism in the first place. You write as if you are totally aimless, but this career path must have interested you at some point. If you can recall what aspects of (what you imagined) journalism (to be like) that appealed to you back then, it could help you to figure out what you actually want to do. Because let’s face it, if you’re not REALLY driven, you’re not going to make it in that field. And even then, it’s dicey.

alpacasloth (#108)

@stuffisthings I got my BA in journalism (because I wanted to be a writer and CHANGE THE WORLD) but already in my second year of the program I decided I didn’t want to pursue it as a career. I am just not that ambitious! Then I looked at all the other majors and couldn’t find anything else I’d rather study. So I got the journalism degree, then had the requisite 2-3 years of “what am I going to do with my life” while I worked retail/internships/temp jobs. Luckily I found a marketing job last year where the company was looking for a person with “strong writing skills” so it ended up working out for me.

melis (#42)


lindseykai (#1,544)

@melis And why did it get cold AFTER he took it out of the fridge?

Nick (#1,548)

@lindseykai Maybe the fridge was broken or turned off?

@lindseykai oh my god thank you i was wondering that

mayonegg (#1,245)

I am a girl (not named Stacey or Paige), and I studied PR at a school (not Syracuse), and I don’t have a Tumblr with a massive amount of followers. I don’t even tweet about “industry” stuff, if you can believe it! But somehow, I managed to get a great job in an awesome agency working for a high-profile client. It’s not all about your background or your social media skills. Seriously, if you can tell someone that you have creative ideas and are a meticulous writer, they’ll snatch you up because they need that to balance out all of the other Stacey-and-Paige stuff. Stacey and Paige might not be able to spell, so you could end up being a huge asset. So don’t give up on that digital marketing job quite yet!

acid burn (#113)

@mayonegg I am confused about what “Stacey and Paige” means. Is this some kind of stereotype or slang that I’m not aware of? Is this because I’m from the west coast?

@acid burn
Yeah, how to put this, you know like girls who go to school for ‘Communications’ because they want to be Samantha.

This was like the 2012 version of that Seinfeld episode where Costanza quits his job and sits in Jerry’s apartment going over his options.

“Movies. I like to watch movies. Do they pay people to watch movies?”

Brunhilde (#78)

@Reginal T. Squirge I like horses. I could be a stable boy.

Nah, it’s probably a union thing.

I should say that this comparison is not a dis. I enjoyed the piece. I feel like this all the time.

MaliceMunro (#1,692)

@Reginal T. Squirge I like sports. I could do something in sports. Like, maybe, the general manager of a baseball team?

siege91 (#1,738)

I just quit my job and I’m leaving for South America in a month. A few thousand dollars goes a long way in Colombia.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@siege91 I was hoping someone else would push South America! I spent some time in Argentina back in 2005-2006. If you find a place that appeals to you, you can get a gig teaching English, and you may meet anglophone expats with some sort of literary project going on. Now’s the time to do it!

frenz.lo (#455)

One time, I was working in a job that was sort of a “good” job, although not actually so. When I was working at my pre-job job at like 5:30 AM, I found myself drafting a resignation letter in my head. Then I drafted it in an e-mail to myself on my pre-job job’s sole computer. I handed my final draft to my boss at the end of that week. I was able to find a very low-level job in a completely different industry. Even though it is an objectively bad job, at least until I advance to the next level, I’m a lot happier than I was.

MaliceMunro (#1,692)

Could we start an unemployed/underemployed support group on here, somehow? I am also a recent grad transitioning out of a temporary position I had here in LA, and despite being a good writer, speller, musician, talker & funny person, any prospects I’ve had have evaporated.

It’s great to have places to network and look for job openings, but I kind of want a low-key place to talk about how being unemployed feels, too, and how to avoid feeling hopeless.

EvelynGarcia (#849)

I am not trying to be sanctimonious here, I am actually curious how other people paying one’s bills works. Do checks get written directly to landlords from the third party? Does the third party just put an agreed upon sum in your account every month? Is it something that the adult kids propose or do the parents offer it outright? I feel like in retrospect I could have talked my folks into it, but I would have been too mortified to ask.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@EvelynGarcia My parents were kind enough to help me out during my nine-month underemployed phase between graduating and finding full-time work that actually paid my bills. We worked out a flat amount that they were willing to contribute per month, and they deposited it in my “home” bank account around the 27th or 28th of each month so that the funds would clear in time to write a rent check. It was up to me to balance the money they were giving me and my own, and figure out the best way to pay my bills.

EvelynGarcia (#849)

@RachelG8489 Thanks!

This just reads like the author is lazy (sigh, I’m not ambitious), and also in need of some serious anti-depressants. You’re on your parents’ insurance til 26; take advantage of that.

Also: the military. Way to be insulting to people that joined because their parents CAN’T pay their rent. This post was frustrating in it’s wahhhhhh-ness.

@Jake Reinhardt I feel like this piece should be juxtaposed with this piece.

Anna (#945)

One way NOT to get a job is to just walk out of an internship that could potentially provide a glowing recommendation for you.

I was a journalism major as well (6 years ago). I would recommend picking an industry you’re interested in (mine was TV/Film) and pursue some entry-level job there. You can talk about your “passion” for the industry. Fake it if you have to. Most of us do. Sometimes the dream is just to pay the rent and have a drink at the end of the day.

Good luck, and don’t walk out on anymore jobs. It’s a shitty thing to do to people who count on you, and at 20-something you really can’t afford to be burning bridges.

OllyOlly (#669)

I certainly get caught up in the same despondency – a lack of ‘dreams,’ feeling stuck, wondering what the worth is in my current job. But then I think – the worth is getting a paycheck. At the very least quitting your job for lack of direction/ambition seems like there should at least be a larger goal of trying something else, but it seems as if the writer quit just for the the goal of being unemployed.

@Anna I burned an awful lot of bridges when I wasn’t paying my own rent. Nothing makes you a better human being like being responsible for yourself.

It has also occurred to me that I hope Eli here used a pseudonym…this is not a good piece for potential employers to stumble upon. (Edit: I just googled his name. No nom de plume there. So one month at the poorly paid internship was enough, eh? BUMMER. And this is what your potential employers will think, also.)

@Jake Reinhardt I mean, that was a little harsh. But I feel like the author might need a heaping dose of reality. You can’t wait tables because you don’t ‘have a dream’? How about you can wait tables because you don’t have ‘any money’?

Titania (#489)

Sorry dear–you’ve always been unemployed, if you’ve been interning since college. Stop being a generational cliche and start being an adult–go register at a temp agency, start making some money, and call your parents and get them to agree to give you six more months of rent. Then, bust your ass and find a job. I’m not that much older than you (26) have the same degree you do, and I found three full-time editorial positions in my first year in New York alone. Yes, it sucked that pubs kept folding, yes, it sucked generally, but the longer you wait to get started the harder it is to work.

This is also example numero uno why I will not send my kid to a big city school. Once these brats get used to the idea of living in the city carefree and easy-breezy, they never want to work as hard as it’s going to take to stay there. I grew up in the NYC suburbs, have lots of friends who went to NYU and have met plenty since, and I swear not a single one of them is gainfully employed at the moment.

genkiliz (#683)

I waited tables because my dream was to have a roof over my head. I figured the rest out as I went along and fell into an awesome career. But the years in between getting there were just waiting tables, wondering what to do with a useless degree, and figuring stuff out. But I didn’t have the luxury of mooching off my parents and it seems like maybe you need to cut those ties if you want to get out of your rut because right now you just sound more than a little whiny and spoiled.

A lot of us don’t have the option to not work and completely write off shit-work like waiting tables or doing retail because it sounds like hard work and you aren’t willing to ‘sacrifice’ for your ‘dream’ by doing work that you think is going to suck. And really, that is EXACTLY what it sounds like when you explain why those jobs aren’t an option.

Maybe your new ‘dream’ should be to become a responsible adult. Make some money however you need to – even if it means waiting tables. And if you can’t bring yourself to wait tables, temp. There are tons of agencies in the city, and some work exclusively for certain industries, like publishing. Check out leafstone temps, they are pretty decent. Also, pay your own rent – even if you have to leave the expensive E. Village for a place you can afford in Inwood, or Bushwick, or where-ever. Be independent. Don’t burn your bridges by walking out on an internship – or any job – without proper notice. It makes you look irresponsible and entitled. Internships usually suck but the relationship building is important, and sometimes it will lead to great things – my sister is an editorial director, but she started out as an intern less than ten years ago and proved her worth, even tho the internship consisted of doing a lot of shit work. In fact, first jobs suck but you won’t get anywhere in this world without paying your dues on the lowest rung.

Get off your roof and start sending off resumes and applying for temp jobs or any job and find some way to support yourself. If you want an adventure, get a job teaching English in Asia. EPIK in South Korea pays really well and hires all year, otherwise Gaijinpot has great listings of available jobs for Japan. Dave’s ESL Cafe is also a great job search option for international travel. BUNAC is a working holiday program that costs a bit of money but helps you find either internships or retail and service jobs in Australia and England for 6 months, and provides the VISA too, which is always the biggest problems for Americans wishing to work in those countries. It’s not hard if you put some actual effort into making those sorts of things happen. You are 22 years old(I’m guessing) and you are an adult, so now it’s time to act like one!

Slutface (#53)

You might want to lower yourself to waiting tables just to have something to put on your resume so you don’t have to explain you don’t have a work history because you were too busy trying to figure out your dreams.

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