Occupy Peace of Mind

Say what you will about the Occupy Wallstreeters. The fact remains, they were there, on Zuccotti Park, occupying Wall Street, in New York City for a time. They may not have been focused in their demands or hygienic under their armpits, but they made their presence known (in all its olfactory splendor). It’s easy to look down one’s nose at this ragged rabble, when one has a job or at least somehow secured a flow of income. Yet when one is desperate, despondent, unable to support the very basic needs all people deserve as inalienable rights–food, shelter, a purpose, frankly–it’s hard to dismiss these financial district freeloaders. And it reminds me of the time not too long ago, when I was unemployed. If I didn’t have a job right now as I type this message, I can’t help but think I would have hitched my tent to this stationary movement. But the fact of the matter is that I do have a job. This is the story of how I got there.

It was May of 2009, I had just received a master’s in print and multimedia journalism from Emerson College in Boston. I was reluctant to embark on the job search (one of the last stories I had written for my classes addressed a 7.4-percent national unemployment rate, which, if anything, has gotten worse since then). So I went on a road trip for three weeks, out to L.A., to clear my head and perhaps formulate a plan of attack. Upon return, I hadn’t given a job much thought, but I was equipped with a master’s degree and some previous (albeit irrelevant) office work experience. Enough right? Here I cannot stress the importance of who you know. For, as it turned out, the vast majority of employers did not care or understand what I knew, evidenced by the sheer lack of response or acknowledgment of my existence as I scattered hundreds of resumes into the ether of the Internet, with no hope of reciprocation. They say many people go to Harvard University, not for the education, but for the connections. Well, Emerson seemed to work this way too as I found myself calling the one contact I had at the Boston Herald via a connection forged within Emerson master’s program.

So, at 27, with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and three years of work experience under my belt, I was able to secure 15 hours a week covering high school sports for a Boston newspaper. No one could deny the prominence of the Boston Herald, but 15 hours per week at a meager stipend of $13/hr would not pay the bills. I had to move home. With some residual loans from undergrad and a brand new heap of grad loans, I was close to $80,000 in the hole and making the salary of a part-time pizza delivery boy. In 2009, upon the height of my education, I had hit financial rock bottom.

I remember my day-to-day during this sobering point of reflection. I’d roll out of bed around 11 a.m. and make a small breakfast of toast or something else light to save room for lunch, which was right around the corner. I’d deliberately NOT turn on the TV. That was a procrastinator’s worst enemy, an attention deficit factory, that I could not endure while trying to keep focus on the almighty full-time gig, the bandaged pressure on a hemorrhaging bank account, the ticket out of my childhood bed and into adulthood. Instead, I’d force myself to get ready, though I had nowhere to go. I’d shower and shave and brush my teeth. I’d get dressed and sling my messenger bag over my shoulder that held a $300 netbook I had bought with my last cent. And I’d walk, in the middle of the day, to the town center, where a turkey club and hot chicken noodle soup from Barry’s Deli would warm me up. I’d continue to the Coffee Break Cafe up the street and assemble my makeshift workstation within the little shop to scour job listings, as the aroma of a steaming cup of coffee percolated my will to fill online applications.

Days like this went on for about a year. In that time, I had many tests of faith. Faith in myself. Faith in society. I’ll admit: a life of crime had even crossed my mind on more than one occasion. The overwhelming uncertainty of employment had me certain I would never find work. And so, I know where the #OWS movement is coming from. I have been where these people are now. Abandoned. At a loss. Forgotten. Failing. For these reasons, I see their plight. Yet I can no longer commiserate with the 99 Percent. I have a job. It happened like this…

A series of events led to more experience that built upon my existing skill set. Pulling together any scrap of expertise I could get my hands on, I chronicled the breadth of my experience on an online portfolio (luckily, I knew a web designer, also fresh out of school and who output a good product for cheap–she needed proof of experience too). I filled it with published Boston Herald clips and stories from Emerson classwork and internships. Within several months, a curriculum vitae (CV) in such a viable and succinct form had catapulted me to the assistant webmaster position for a prominent website.

One lazy day in late August 2010, someone I followed on Twitter tweeted the opening. Without hesitating, I replied to those fateful 140 characters, including the short link to my e-portfolio. Inside of a week, I secured that gig, which still didn’t pay a lot, but it provided the almighty experience and expanded knowledge of my craft. As my mind and CV continued to grow, I had more to offer, thus more options to entertain. And finally, at the then apex of my career, I landed a full-time job. My would-be boss said in the interview that she liked how I had garnered such a diversity of experience. That may have been what won me the job, in fact.

Now I wouldn’t have gained that prominent experience, had I not designed the e-portfolio. And my e-portfolio would have been bunk, had I not acquired clips from the Boston Herald, along with several other internships. I couldn’t have reported for the Boston Herald or for those internships without my Emerson networking and education. I guess what I’m trying to say: Thank God I checked my Twitter feed on that humid August day.

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And if you can’t beat them, join ’em…

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