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Opinion

Unemployed college grads: the upside

About half of the college grads from 2010 had jobs a year later. I have four kids who finished college in the last three years and one more still in school. But they’re getting something out of this raw deal, and so are their peers: an attitude adjustment, and experience outside the cubicle.

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After my unsuccessful job search in the real world, I took a permanent part-time job as a college instructor of English. If you divided my pay by 40 hours a week, I was making little more than minimum wage, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me – or my career.

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Teaching taught me to relate to people and to read their motivations and adjust in an instant. Teaching also taught me how to communicate ideas simply and to present them effectively. Who knew these skills would turn out to be so prized in the business world? And most importantly, I learned not to measure my self-worth in dollars.

And when I finally got a “real” job eight years later as an advertising copywriter, I was remarkably grateful for everything, from paid vacations to having my own small office. I remember my first holiday season at the agency. I got what I later learned was a miniscule bonus check. And I wrote a thank-you note to the president of the agency. He later told me that he’d never gotten one before. Other employees expected bonuses. I didn’t.

I don’t want to idealize low pay, and I don’t want to underestimate the burden of college debt that today’s students have. But I do think it helps to take a longer view of the whole career track and to look for value in the unexpected twists and turns of the odd job, the job you would never have considered had everything gone as planned.

My son Max just graduated from Ohio Sate with a degree in English. He never could have guessed that he would be working as a therapist for autistic kids, but he decided to give it a shot because it was a job, and so he went through six weeks of training over the summer.

Yesterday I got a phone call that would be captioned, if phone calls had captions, as “I May Never Be Part of a Moment This Great Ever Again.”

Max has been working several days a week with a nine-year-old autistic child who we’ll call Sam. Max works with Sam several days a week on social and developmental skills. Sam is completely nonverbal. And yet yesterday, against all odds, Sam said his first word, “Hi.”

But that’s not the great moment that Max called about. No, that came later when Sam’s mother got home from work, and Sam, with Max standing behind him, said “Hi” to his mom. That’s an experience you’re not going to get in a cubicle.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.

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