Underemployed One Year

07/21/2010 08:39 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I was recently denied an unpaid internship position to which I had applied. I could probably just leave it at that -- a sentence that sums up my self-worth, which has been severely damaged in the year since I graduated college.

Normally, I would have accepted defeat, disguised as a considerately worded e-mail, which stated that I "was not a good fit" for the organization. But I couldn't. I'm not sure if it was my outbox stuffed full of cover letters and resumes from a yearlong search for work. This was one rejection I was unable to process. Why had years of over-achieving translated into unemployment?

I abandoned my passivity and responded to the e-mail. I asked why I was denied a position for which I was clearly qualified given my photocopying prowess; all I saw was an opportunity that required the minimal effort of ten hours a week.

Surprisingly, I received an e-mail back that same day, openly explaining why they chose another candidate. It turns out I was not only a terrible fit for them; it was also apparent that I had not thoroughly researched the organization before applying. My contact at the organization was polite and even offered to distribute my resume for projects that were more aligned with my career and education goals.

After approximately thirty seconds, it dawned on me that I wasn't any closer to having that elusive post-graduate job, despite my aggressive emailing. And then I experienced an epiphany, though not a necessarily unique one: work plus education no longer equals a better life.

In today's world, one must add connections to this formula to be successful. As a small-town girl from Ohio, I was consumed by the original version of it, the one that supposedly
had proven results. Without believing in that formula, I wonder if I would have cared as
deeply as I did about becoming my high school salutatorian or graduating from college with honors -- a flurry of academic achievements that I was told would end in triumph with a great job, propelling me toward my real life, whatever that means.