A Few Words to College Grads: It Really is NOT about YOU

by Pat Palleschi, Ph.D.
Okay… let me get some of my own biases out first:

Their caps aren't the only thing up in the air...

1. I believe that unemployment is far higher than the reported figures in the Los Angeles Region. Not true? Then, at the very least, we deserve some transparency about the assumptions that were used to get to the published rate, so we can all be knowledgeable about the real situation.

2. I don’t care what your politics are. I have not heard of a single politician who has paid sufficient attention to JOB CREATION. And, because of the inattention, FEW new jobs have been created. Especially in Los Angeles.

3. The people who are lucky enough to be working are generally unhappy. In the past this would mean that they would be looking for new jobs. BUT, NO! The lucky employed are going to cling to their jobs by their fingernails despite their unhappiness because they know that it is ugly out there in the job market. Employed people are clinging to jobs that have forced them to work more and more hours without a single cent added to their salaries for years.

If my beliefs approach reality, then grads need to consider this advice:

  • Job search is extraordinarily hard now and it is NOT about YOU, your minor flaws, your age, your level of experience — it is all about the time, geography and economy. (This echoes the sentiments of David Brooks in New York Times).
  • Blame is usually not useful — so consider this not “blame” but a cry for help: JOB CREATION needed, Washington!
  • What is important for you to do is to DISREGARD all the old advice (“follow your passion,” “do what you love,” “find work that will provide meaning,” etc.) because that will get in the way of getting you to work. And getting you a place to live. And eating.
  • In this economy, I want to remind all of us that work is in itself a useful and meaningful pursuit, if done well. Doing work well can be a passion and can provide meaning, even if it is working at a cash register at Whole Foods or being a janitor at Costco or a career coach at The Executive Agency.
  • Okay, you may be “better than that” — and I agree you probably have more skills than such a position requires and are “worth” much more than the pay. But, eating is a big part of life, and if you can eat, then you can spend a bit more time figuring out how to make your “passion” into something that some venture/venture fund will pay for.
  • “Existence precedes and rules essence.” — Sartre
  • Work is meaningful. Doing any work well is admirable.

Why am I so strident about this? I have listened to commencement speakers, and I want to shout at them: “STOP!”

Commencement speakers are usually wealthy donors to the university who are happy to think back to how they followed their passion to find (take your pick) wealth, innovation, power, and/or the meaning of life.

Well, at least in the Los Angeles region, this is not the usual experience right now.

If a grad waits to find the job that will fuel passion, the wait time may be a long stay on a parent’s/friend’s couch, without a cent, playing video games and clutching on to fragile sanity.

Work at something (dare I say “anything”?). Volunteer at something (anything). Enjoy the fact that you can do something well. Then reflect on your real work, the work that you have accomplished. In any work, you can uncover the gold veins of passion and meaning.

PS: And make sure to find someone to vote for who understands how to CREATE jobs… so, with luck, the next generation can take the time to be playful innovators post graduation. Let’s get back to the opportunities afforded the old generation not so long ago (Mark Zuckerberg’s generation?).


Guest Blogger Pat Palleschi is the President of The Executive Agency. She has devoted the past 25 years to creating HR strategies that help organizations and individuals succeed. As VP of Human Resources Development at Disneyland, she helmed the Disney University, where she and her team made it their mission to attract, develop and retain Disney Cast members who were “pumped to perform.” Before Disney, Pat served as Senior VP of Training for Bank of America. She earned her doctorate at the University of Massachusetts and chaired the Speech Communication Department at Loyola Marymount