Graduating During Recession
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Stefanie O’Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at

I spent the day at Princeton University’s graduation ceremony yesterday celebrating the commencement of my high achieving little brother.  Amidst the speeches and festivities I got to thinking about my own graduation back in May of 2008- yeah, 2008, what timing.

I sometimes wonder what life would have been like without the recession striking a few months after being released into the real world.  Would it have changed anything for me?  Would I have been better off?  Worse off?  What, if any, were the benefits of graduating in the year of economic catastrophe?

  1. Reality Check.  There’s nothing like high unemployment numbers and trying to break into a nearly impossible job market to make you realize that life isn’t fair, and unlike school and everything you’ve known before, you can’t simply follow all the rules and do all the work to get the result you hoped for.  Sure, hard work is helpful, but it’s not a guarantee.
  1. The Hustle.  Inability to find a full time job taught me an invaluable lesson early on, ‘you gotta get a hustle’.  Never underestimate the value of professionalism and critical thinking skills.  I don’t have much to show for myself in specific skill training or experience, but with the simple act of showing up on time and being competent, I’ve been able to find endless extra income opportunities- from working as a personal realtor to administrating an entire department of a conservatory.
  1. Innovation.  The scarcity of work post recession and subsequent difficulty and frustration of my post grad years challenged me to rethink just about everything.  I had to retrain my brain not to depend on my preconceived recipe of hard work equating to success.  Instead, I began to look for opportunities to create my own trajectory.  I often wonder if I ever would have started my own business had I not been so disheartened by the struggle of my post grad reality.
  1. Patience.  Just as the economic recovery has taken some time, so do results, at least that’s what I’ve learned from this whole ordeal.  Rather than doing an action and expecting an immediate outcome as I used to, I’ve learned that my work is a bit more like planting seeds.  Each flower blooms in it’s own time and sometimes when I least expect it.  All I can do is keep planting the seeds and enjoy the fruits of my labor if and when they blossom.
  1. Financial Awareness.    After twelve years in the public school system and another four at a top university I can honestly say that I knew pretty much nothing about money when I graduated school in 2008.  There’s nothing like watching near retirees lose the majority of their nest egg to wake you up to the reality and importance of personal finance.  I have to credit the recession for giving me the motivation to pick up my first copy of Investing For Dummies and the impetus to start thinking TODAY about my financial tomorrow.

Do you have any personal lessons learned from the recession?  How has your life and your outlook changed since 2008?

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