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The Case of the Missing Professional Identity

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Our jobs make up a good part of our identity and pride. It’s one of the first things you ask about a person when getting to know them, yet many of us end up in a job that doesn’t mirror our professional goals.

Personally, I feel torn whenever I talk about my job(s).
Me: “I have time to work on my writing after my shift. Woohoo!”
Person: “Oh, you have another job?”
Me: “Well, my writing doesn’t pay yet, so I had to get this one to pay bills.”
Person: “What do you write about?”
Me: “Anything. Nothing. Everything.”

What an awkward conversation.

This situation is not new, and I am not alone. When hired at my current job, I told my co-workers that I was still looking for something in my field. They politely asked what that field was, and then told me theirs. Nurses, dental hygienists, computer technicians, childcare specialists and others, all working behind a register and taking turns cleaning restrooms.

Underemployment is common among millennials, according to a report published by the Economic Policy Institute. Apparently our young workforce is still feeling the effects of the recession. Employers are not hiring as many high school or college graduates, because they can easily find people with more experience.

When U.S. businesses began holding back on new positions or filling vacancies, many people enrolled in classes and higher education programs. I still remember the advertisements saying how a degree, or second degree, would help boost a person’s chances at obtaining a solid job in the near future. Recent advice has taken a much different turn. An article in Newsweek discussed how universities are seeing lower enrollments. With the high costs of college and fewer entry-level jobs, young people are pursuing other routes.

Life doesn’t pause while we’re looking for a job, so people turn to employment that is easier to catch while still on the lookout for career opportunities. Quite a few even take their paychecks into their own hands through freelancing or entrepreneurship. There is big talk around what is now called “the freelance economy.” According to a piece in Forbes, “By 2020, 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers” part-time or full-time. I’ve currently taken the route of getting a secure paycheck in an industry far from my career goals, but I am also building a portfolio and collecting leads in hopes of securing some writing jobs. Like so many other college graduates, I feel like the system has let me down.

I haven’t given up, however. I’ll put on the polo shirt. I’ll ring up people’s fuel and food with a smile. I’ll be grateful to have a paying job at an employee-friendly workplace. I am not using my full potential, and my professional identity hangs on the line, but I can control that. Like others, I am learning that I have more power over my career by putting in the effort and time.

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