By Mariah Cox

Like many recent college graduates, my struggle to navigate post-graduation is amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In May 2019 I graduated with my Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri and decided to extend my schooling for another year to earn my master’s through an accelerated program. During my final spring semester, I remember feeling relieved that I didn’t have to stress over finding a full-time job just yet, unlike many of my peers. I found comfort in knowing what plans lied ahead of me, if only for the next year.

And now as I find myself a recent graduate once again, I understand the situation my classmates were in a year ago, but with the looming threat of the global economic downturn that has already claimed 39 million jobs in the United States.

With rent, utilities, groceries and a car payment, I needed to find work to sustain myself until I can launch my career. I was very fortunate to have options, but I know for many that’s not possible.

I reached out to my boss for my graduate assistantship and asked if I could extend my position through the summer while I looked for work; I asked a professor who I had graded for if she had any part-time projects I could help with, and I had a family member who was seeking remote part-time help. I racked my brain for solutions to my impending unemployment at the end of May and I was fortunate to find some temporary opportunities.

With a safety net that will last me until the end of the summer, I began applying for full-time jobs and completely cut all extraneous spending.

Staying at home helped me cut down on eating out and helped me stop spending money on spontaneous trips to Target and gas. I managed to cut my monthly budget by a third which has helped me critically think about what I need versus what I want.

That’s not to say that I haven’t online browsed a time or two, but I ultimately end up emptying my cart with the rationale that weekly groceries are more important than a new pair of jeans.

While scrolling through LinkedIn, I’ve noticed a lot of recent graduates, like myself, taking on summer internships or part-time work instead of full-time jobs.

It’s natural to feel pressure to enter the workforce right after graduation. I’ve been there, my classmates have been there, my friends have been there, pretty much everyone has been there. But, it’s important to remember that your success isn’t determined by what you do right out of school. Everyone is under stress and uncertainty and anything you do, or don’t do, now is not going to set you back career-wise. Internships are a great way to gain extra experience and, in some cases, turn into full-time positions.

So have patience with yourself and know that the most important thing is your health and wellbeing. Your dream job will come along and you will find that opportunity, but it’s okay if it takes time to get there.

I recognize that everyone has a different situation and not everyone has the luxury of moving home or taking a few months off to figure out their next step. This is a difficult time and we all need to work together and lift each other up. Do what you need to do for your immediate well-being now, as that is, and always will be, the most important thing.

Cox just earned her master’s in journalism at the University of Missouri.