Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Jeff is in his late twenties and has traces of a regional accent in his voice. A native of the Great Lakes region, he earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology in the fall of 2008. A troubled young adulthood saw him in and out of school for almost a decade. As I speak with him, I am struck by his heartfelt empathy and deep sense of gratitude.

See I was in school for so long, you know? Cuz I was in there and out since I was 18-19. In the beginning, I didn't know what I wanted to do…my parents just told me [that] I need to go to college. I always just went, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was always tossing around ideas. I wanted a psychology [job] and I took a job, just to learn, in a drug rehab. So I was working in the field and I thought it was really interesting for a while. I thought, "Maybe I should do that" and then I think my senior year was when I finally thought to myself, "I need to make money." He laughs.

I think I grew up and began to take a look at living expenses. What it costs to raise a family. You wanna have a house. You wanna have a car. Kinda realizing how much money my parents made to live the life they lived. If I wanted to live something like that, this is what I'm gonna need. Also, talking to people in the psychology field and finding out how much they really do make and whoa, it was almost insulting. When you get down to it, for all that education. And for what you do. You really have to get involved, it's really emotional, you know? It kinda messes with you, being around people all the time that are struggling. That was kinda what changed me. Also, I'd worked so hard for this degree. For me it was really hard. I had to go back a buncha times and it took forever cuz I, you know, had a coupla issues and had to restart...All that hard work, I wanted to make sure that it was worth it.

I changed my life. For a while there, [my father] didn’t think I was good for nothin.’ I was getting my life together…and my dad told me that maybe he can maybe get me a job in his field somewhere. A starter job.

His father is in medical equipment sales.

I think I was like, "Hey, do you remember that job you were talking about? So...Is that real? Can I really do that?" And then he started telling me. And he started preparing me. And telling me what it was going to take. And I can remember being in my last semester at [college] and taking psychology classes and thinking, "This doesn't matter. I'm not doing this. I'm going into sales."

I was lucky. I had the inside scoop. I knew that I was going to be given a shot—my dad was good friends with the vice president of the company and it lucked out that the Ohio sales rep was tanking it for a good year or two. They decided that I was coming up and they had to fire the kid anyways and so I kind of walked right into it. It's a beginner sales job—it's typical that they hire kids fresh out of college with no sales experience. I was told I would've had to go in there and basically, like, swear at the guy or something, not to get the job.

I can remember graduating and I was very excited. It was one of the most exciting times of my life. I mean, because I finally achieved this and everybody was proud of me and it was also like, "Well, better put your suit on and get ready for the business world. Here we go!" I was so nervous. I didn't study sales, I didn't study business. You know, I studied psychology, so...He laughs. I really didn't want to fail, so I was really nervous, you know? Because, obviously my dad's reputation got me in here, I better not fail.

So, it turned out, it was fairly easy. I mean, you're basically going to people who, they're not spending their money, they're spending the hospital's money. So, they buy from people they like. You know? And if they don't like you, if you're a jerk or you're mean or whatever, they're not gonna like you and they're not gonna buy from you. If they like you and you keep coming around, eventually they're going to buy something. It really is that simple. And in this particular field—it’s been fairly recession-proof. But you have to go out and work.

I ask what it was like when he first started the job.

It was really, really exciting. For the first time in my life I was making grown up money. He laughs. I mean, it was a really, really extreme pay increase for me. The money right away—it just changed everything. I could pay my bills, I could afford to go out and have a dinner on the week night. To buy clothes. I mean, it was...And then it was also, like, I was learning all of this new stuff. Like I was out there doing a job that I actually enjoyed. I enjoy talking to people, meeting people, sales is kinda competitive, so I like the competitiveness of it. It was just really good in the beginning. It still is. I'm still having that much fun.

There's not a day goes by that I don't feel kinda blessed, if you wanna use that word. Sometimes you almost feel guilty. Especially the way things are goin.' And I travel, so I see people that are struggling.' And I'm doing pretty good. Especially for me, coming from my background. I've had issues and made a lot of mistakes. I look at some of my friends who didn't do a darn thing at all their whole life and I got a great job today. So. I personally feel lucky every day. I love my job. I like doing the work, it doesn't bother me. It's not work when you grew up hangin’ from the sides of buildings and cleaning 'em and fighting in clubs and being a bouncer. He laughs. It's nothin’ like that.

Jeff has now been with the company for two years and is about to be promoted.

Seems like there's going to be a future in this as long as I continue to be successful. But my feeling still is I'm trying to ride this as best as I can. Don't want to fall off it. Don't want to lose it. You definitely feel the pressure. If I lost this job what would I do? Is there another one out there? It could take a year, you know? Who knows how long it could take to get another job even close to this? I feel like, I have a great job, I need to work hard if I don't want to lose this. Because I see every day how many people are out there trying to get jobs like this one.

If things were better, I've often tossed around ideas. One idea I had, was being a personal trainer. Because I was big into health and fitness. You know, trying to go out there and do my own thing. But it's a very tough market right now. People are just not gonna pay a trainer when they're broke. He sighs. I had tossed around ideas like that—a really good trainer can actually make a pretty good living. You can demand a pretty high dollar per hour. But, naw. Right now, I wouldn't do that. It's just too risky, you know?

I feel like when you have a sure bet, you’ve got to go after it right now. Versus, maybe if things were better and it was easier to make a living or if there was more chances out there, maybe [after graduation] I would’ve chosen to pursue some of these other ideas I had. When I saw one avenue that was a sure bet, I was like, “You have to go for it,” because I don’t see anybody else getting any opportunities like that.

[M]y girlfriend is the one you really want to talk to, where I'm kinda like the one who got lucky. She calls me almost every day, upset, cuz she can't get a good job. She just graduated college too. You'd probably really like talking to her, cuz, definitely she's been affected by this. The girl got straight A's in college and really worked her butt off to get that degree and it's just frustrating… I give her the speech. At least once a week. You know, "You're doing fine." She has two jobs right now. But she's so frustrated because she can't find that full time position. That was a girl that had her mind on a certain idea of what was going to happen and it hasn't happened that way. Hey, it's only been 6 months, I told her. I predicted it's gonna take a year. In this economy. I feel like if she could even get in for the interview, they'd love her. She is very talented. Very good at what she does. I know she's going to be successful. It just going to take some time, I think. She's got to get a break. Like I got a break. I think everybody's got to get their break. Something's got to happen, you know? Give them a shot. Then it's up to you to make it.

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