Diploma Diaries: Avoiding ‘Leaving the Nest’ Syndrome

This post is a part of our Diploma Diaries series — our look at post-college life. Interested in submitting your own story? Click here to get the details.

By Erin Hunsader, Alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

I graduated with a master’s degree from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. I had come from an incredibly small town in Wisconsin and was in my late 30's and single. My family thought I was crazy, but I had always dreamed of living in NYC, and I was determined to make it happen. Once I found out I was accepted, I worked harder than I ever had to save money, even to the point of selling my possessions.

While getting to New York was hard, staying in New York after graduation was much harder.

Much like the baby bird not wanting to leave the nest, I wasn’t ready to leave the NYU bubble. Then the bubble burst. I literally felt like a bird flapping its wings in place but not going anywhere. I was terrified. I’d never realized how safe I felt at NYU. It was home and New York City seemed totally different once I didn’t have that safe haven to protect me. I thought I had done everything right. I’d gone to a career counselor, networked, volunteered … so why didn’t I feel more prepared? I didn’t know the answer to that, but I did know I’d given up everything to pursue my dream and I wasn’t going to give up when things were just starting.

My first month out of school I did what any terrified, newly-graduated, broke, single person might do — I went back to my home in Wisconsin to visit my family. I was treated like royalty! I felt like I was a contestant on "American Idol" when they go back to their hometown and their fans are all cheering them on. I didn’t realize how much my accomplishment had meant to other people as well, which made it equally important to me to stay in New York and find a way to “make it.”

While in Wisconsin, I took time to research companies in New York. I also rewrote my resume (several times) and made a list of places to apply. I sent out resumes every day and was sure when I got back to New York in a few weeks that I would be gainfully employed. I wasn’t.

I flew back to the city in June, and for the first time, I didn’t feel excited. Passing the Statue of Liberty normally made tears well up in my eyes, but this time, it only reminded me that now I really was one of the “tired and poor.”

I was walking through La Guardia airport when I saw a family in front of me with a young girl wearing a T-shirt that had the name of my hometown in Wisconsin written across the back. They happened to stop in front of me and I asked them if that’s where they were from. They said yes and asked me why I was in New York.

I said, “I live here now.”

That was the first time I’d said that out loud. I suddenly remembered all I’d done to get there and earn my degree. I rolled my suitcase out to find a cab and greeted the city with fresh eyes, knowing I was back where I belonged.

The next day I hit the pavement armed with a stack of resumes. I walked into every dry cleaner, department store, deli and nail salon that was hiring and handed off my resume. They took one look at it and handed it back to me. I couldn’t understand it. They wouldn’t even give me a chance. The people who did talk to me said, “We’ll call you,” but never called. Hot, tired and miserable, I went home and cried over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I thought getting a job would be easy because I had work experience before coming to New York. Now I felt completely invisible and none of the experience I had seemed to matter.

The next day before going back out into the chaos of the city, I tried to regroup and draw off of what I’d learned at NYU. They painted a very realistic picture of how hard it was going to be to get a job, but I thought that it would be different for me. NYU had also given us the option to have a mentor, which I did, so I sent her a message on Facebook. She told me that when she graduated she went to a temp agency and found work almost immediately. So I followed her advice and applied at several different temp agencies.

This didn’t work either. It was now July and I was still unemployed. I couldn’t figure out why. Before graduating I had an internship and a part-time job at NYU, I wasn’t sure what else I could have done. I decided I needed a fresh perspective, so I went to visit a friend in Pennsylvania. He helped me look at my resume and revamp it. He also reminded me of the kind of jobs I should be applying for.

“Why are you wasting your time walking into nail salons? You should be working at a theater. That’s what you went to school for,” he said.

I had applied at some theaters in Manhattan but didn’t have any luck getting an interview. Still, I took his advice, found two theaters that were hiring and tailored my resume to fit what they were looking for using the experience and skills I did have.

It worked! I received calls the next day from both theaters and was offered TWO jobs! Once it finally happened, I knew I had made the right decision to stay in New York and keep trying.

When you graduate and finally do fly out of the nest, fly out bravely and you will land safely where you’re supposed to, even if it takes a little longer to find your footing!

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