Is my life FUBAR?
September 4, 2012 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I've done absolutely nothing since graduating college in May 2011 due to social anxiety and other issues. The months seem to go by quicker and quicker. What should I do? I apologize in advance that my question is not that well organized.

I graduated with a business degree from a very good school last year. Due to an early graduation and a misunderstanding on my part, I completely missed on-campus recruiting. I don't know whether I would have gotten a job if that hadn't happened, but I knew I had no chance of getting a job on my own. I have had social anxiety my entire life: the last time I had a friend was the 4th grade, I get intimidated by people very easily, and I never have anything to say. I had only one, worthless internship junior year. In high school, I forged my volunteering timesheet because I couldn't even find someplace to volunteer for the required number of hours.

College, and school in general, was a horrible, lonely experience for me. I thought if I spent a semester abroad, I would have to make friends. Boy, was I wrong. Ironically, my only strength is academics, and I hate it. I had no interest in my major, nor in any other major. The idea that some people can actually like a class is unfathomable to me. I probably would have been better off working at McDonald's after high school, so that maybe I would have gained some confidence and experience.

I tried applying for jobs many months ago, but I never heard back from anyone. I realized that I have no career interests whatsoever, every job description I read sounded horrible, and that I am terrible at interviews. How would I explain my work gap, and how would I answer questions like "Tell me about yourself?" or "Give me an example of when ...?" or "What are your interests?" if I have nothing to tell, no examples to give, and no career goals? This all drives me into a depression which only leaves when I just stop thinking about getting a job.

I really have no idea what to do. I feel no motivation to apply for any job. The fear of an unexpected phone call from an employer causes me so much stress, and I have no confidence in my ability to actually perform any job. My internship showed me that I can't properly interact with a boss or coworkers and I just end up being seen as the weird, quiet person. My school was heavily focused on group projects. I can't even bear to think about those endless team meetings and emails, and isn't that basically what any office work revolves around?

My anxiety has been amplified by the fear of being asked what I've been up to. I avoid going to certain doctors if I know they'll ask me this.

I've tried applying for minimum wage jobs, but I get no response because they probably think I'm overqualified (if only they knew). And every time I apply I feel depressed to think that If it weren't for my social anxiety, I'd be making 60-100k like the rest of my peers. Not to mention my family thinks I could waltz into a good job if I wanted to, and that I just choose not to.

I just don't know how I will ever get a job, and if I get a job, how I will ever succeed in one. The only positive thing I can say is thank God I have no college loans, or I would be so royally you-know-what. Any advice other than see a therapist?
posted by theshire to Work & Money (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Could you work in a quiet environment, like say, being a proofreader? I've also had filing jobs where I was stuck in a dark cubicle for days on end, sorting invoices for filing. It was boring to me, but I don't think I talked to anyone for hours on end, except to ask for more work or a question about some odd invoice.

Also, make up answers. "I'm a detail-oriented person who enjoys working in a quiet environment."

"I enjoy reading books." Then some list of books you've read if asked further.

Try a temp agency to get your feet wet. Can you do one or two weeks at a time? Sign up with say, an accounting agency if you're good with numbers. Data entry jobs are known for being well, entering data. No need for lots of emails and meetings, just go in and do the work, get paid. Also, a good temp agency will not force you into a job you hate and you can turn down assignments or asked to be reassigned.

Lots of HR departments are inundated with resumes, and unfortunately, most do not reply back with a yay or nay answer. So it's not just you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 12:59 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have to treat getting a job like a job. Wake up at 7, get dressed in nice clothes, spend the next 8 hours researching potential employers, networking, fine-tuning your resume, reading about your desired industry. If you send out a resume, follow up to make sure it was received. If you haven't heard anything after a while, follow up again to see if a decision has been made on the position. (I'm totally an introvert and this makes me anxious too, but it's good practice and you'll get better at it)

There are books out there that will give you canned answers to the most popular interview questions. Familiarize yourself with them, rehearse them, and then develop your own spin on those answers.

Look into volunteer opportunities. Go walk dogs at your local Humane Society, for example. Find a hobby, join a group of other people with the same hobby.

Above all, just be persistent. You'll find something!
posted by Ostara at 1:04 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is what I felt like applying to jobs about 10 years ago (and I identify with a lot about your question, like spending a semester abroad without making friends). It gets better. You may not have the confidence and knowledge now, but it will come.

As for the meetings and socializing, it gets easier the more you do it. Personally, when I became engaged in the challenge of completing my work, those things became secondary and I stopped making me as anxious. I hate group projects with a fiery passion too, but if you have coworkers with different strengths, it's nowhere near that painful - actually, it can even be fun (seriously, me-10-years-ago never thought I'd say that).

Keep in mind that it might not be the subject of the job that keeps you engaged, but maybe the style of the work. What do you like about school? Try to imagine those aspects in a job.

The most helpful thing for me was just to get out there and put myself in situations with other people and shared tasks. The longer you do it, the less awkward it becomes. If you throw yourself into a situation where you feel committed enough to put up with the awkwardness, you will get over it and it will probably boost your confidence. What hurt me the most was the time I spent without social contact - the longer you do that, the harder it is to break out. Have you thought about volunteering? Temp jobs are great too.
posted by beyond_pink at 1:05 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay... first, why are you reluctant to see a therapist? Are you worried about insurance coverage, or do you just not want to talk about this stuff? (Are you anxious to talk about being anxious?)

You need to take this one step at a time. Any step forward is a great step -- and it's way better than nothing. Do not compare yourself to people earning $60-100k (although I guarantee you they have big problems, too). If you must compare, compare yourself with yourself. Yesterday, you did nothing. Today, you asked the internet for help -- great! Tomorrow, you might call someone or look things up on the internet -- also great!

That stuff that amplifies your anxiety when you think about talking to people about your anxiety? That's not you talking. That's the disease taking over. Obviously, it's a pretty serious disease.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be a big help for anxiety. If you feel that you can't see a therapist in person for whatever reason, check out AskMe favorite Feeling Good, by David Burns, and its affiliated workbooks. It has a lot of techniques in it for dealing with these kinds of feelings. Although the description says that it's meant to address depression, this is what many therapists use to address anxiety -- and, of course, depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. I should know! I've got 'em!

Madamina's Advice For All Situations: Remember that every single person around you is fighting their own battle or dealing with something they can't shake. Even the people you think are the most "together" or "successful" are doubting themselves and what they can do.

Case in point: My dad once presented at a conference, and a woman came up to him afterwards and said, "Wow, that was such a fantastic presentation! I was watching you and said to myself, 'Now THERE is a guy who has it all together and knows what he's talking about!'" He thanked her, but he didn't tell her that he'd had terrible insomnia the night before (and pretty much every other night) because he was worrying about how awfully uninformed and stupid he thought he was.

This goes a long way towards helping me remember that there's not such a huge chasm between fucked-up little me and the sparkling, shining, perfect world of "everybody else." We're all here on the same planet with a lot more of the same hurts and limitations than we usually realize.

Medication can also be a huge, huge help, and if you're worried about insurance you can get by with many low-cost generics and infrequent visits to a psychiatrist.

One other suggestion: if you're getting really nervous thinking about explaining yourself, write things down. Do it on index cards and hand them to people one by one; print out this thread and hand it to the doctor (I shoved my iPhone at my psychiatrist last month to show her a comment that really spoke to me); do whatever you have to do to get yourself heard. You are worth it.

Finally: no, you're absolutely not FUBAR, and you can do it. Start small. Remember What About Bob? Baby steps. (And I guarantee you won't look that doofy.)
posted by Madamina at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

The practical part of this is when you are applying for minimum wage jobs, for crissakes, dumb-down the application. (Don't attach your resume).

But this isn't really about being practical, is it?

What kind of advice do you think would help you OTHER than to see a therapist? Are you seeing one now? Are you on anxiety meds? (I am, and they are AWESOME!)

Getting and holding a job are 90% social skills and 10% what you know.

When you say business degree what kind of Business Degree? MBA, BA in General Business (which is fairly useless) or Accounting, Marketing, etc.

If you have a general business degree, what exactly do you think you would be qualified for?

You must aim for entry-level positions, perhaps those that do not have a lot of human interaction.

Also none of your peers are making 60-100K. Far from it. Where do you kids get this stuff?

One thing you might want to consider is getting a doctor to have you certified disabled due to your high leveles of anxiety and what looks to me at first blush, depression.

I'd also like to assure you that your fears are groundless. Doctors do not judge patients and any questions they ask you are in the way of trying to help you. If you do make an appointment, have a family member escort you to the appointment to advocate for you. Make a list of issues that you feel that you have.

1. Social anxiety
2. Depression


There are lots of recent college graduates who are having trouble finding work. If you had NO social anxiety or depression issues here's what I would advise:

1. Create a series of resumes for each job you are appying for.

2. Read "What Color is your Parachute" this will help determine where your interests lie.

3. Lower your standards. Most entry-level jobs are boring and require less intelligence than the average chimp has to do them. Very few people LOVE their jobs until they start working their way up the ladder.

4. If you can't find paying work, volunteer somewhere. This will give you some work experience and account for the time you are out of work.

5. When asked in a job interview what you've been doing, lie up a storm. "I have the resources to be able to travel, so I've been doing the backpacking thing through Europe." or "A family member became ill and needed someone to assist. I was in a good position to do so, and so I did. I'm now ready to get into the work-force." Lie only if you can do so easily and without a lot of hassle. Never lie about anything anyone can check up on.

6. Accept the fact that things won't be as easy for you as they might be for others. You could work on that, practicing social interactions, getting a coach for typical job interviews, etc.

If you aren't willing to help yourself, with everything that's at your disposal, then no amount of advice we can offer is going to do you any good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Does your family have the resources to get you some mental health care? Because "anxiety and depression getting in the way of gainful employment" is something that needs to be addressed immediately. The longer you go without some sort of psychological care (whether it's therapy, or medication, or whatever) the harder this will be. It's time to ask for help.

I completely missed on-campus recruiting...

Talk to career services: you're a recent alumnus, not a stranger. I have a feeling that letting you into the next career fair even though you're not a current student isn't a Herculean feat. Your college's ability to help you -- especially if it's a very good school as you describe -- doesn't end when you get your diploma.

How would I explain my work gap...

Time between graduating and getting a job is probably the easiest gap you'll ever have to explain next to maternity leave. It's years since the average student got a job straight out of college. You're experiencing the new normal -- nothing to hang your hat on, but it's not as dire a situation as you assume it is.

I can't even bear to think about those endless team meetings and emails, and isn't that basically what any office work revolves around?

I work in an office with two other people. We have never had a team meeting, and interoffice emails are usually along the lines of "plz see attached, thx."

And every time I apply I feel depressed to think that If it weren't for my social anxiety, I'd be making 60-100k like the rest of my peers.

First, I doubt even a tenth of your graduating class started a 60K job at 21. Maybe some of the finance geniuses and guys who have been developing software since they were 12, but certainly not anything remotely close to a majority.
posted by griphus at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Any advice other than see a therapist?

It looks like I'm fighting your question, for which I apologize, but I feel strongly that any advice other than seeing a therapist will be fundamentally misconceived.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

Don't worry about employment gaps. So many people are unemployed and have trouble finding work that such gaps are much less stigmatizing than they used to be.

I second the other poster's advice about seeking Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for desensitization of anxiety. You could do some reading on that topic and start thinking about the possibility of seeking therapy.
posted by larrybob at 1:13 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

You must overcome your aversion to therapy. It is the first and most fundamental step toward solving the problems you've outlined.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:15 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have no school debt, you're in not a bad position at all. Are you living with family now or something? The first step in dealing with the anxiety over it is just to make sure that you've put out any big fires, so if your living situation is already stable, you're off to a good start.

Second step: If you aren't medicated yet, please look into it. I seriously thought that anxiety was just who I was. It isn't. I will probably always freak out every once in awhile, but as long as it took to find a good combination of things for me, it's been amazing since. The lack of motivation and interest in anything is as much a symptom of depression as anxiety, and the two often go together, and can often be treated together, too.

After that, the thing I always have to remind myself to do is start with the smallest possible increments of progress. Don't worry about long-term goals, yet. Today's goal is to handle today. Every day, do a few small things that make you uncomfortable. The goal isn't to be comfortable with them, it's just to do them anyway. Make a phone call that requires talking to a stranger. Go out into public for a little while. Little things. Telephone anxiety was a huge thing for me, and the only thing that fixes it long-term is talking on the phone. It seems impossible, and then before long it's just not a big deal. You just have to take baby steps.

Once you can take the baby steps, then you can start looking for entry-level work. Go for quantity over quality. A throwaway job. Don't worry about explaining the gap. Say you had health problems. (Mental health counts!) If all you can do is practice getting rejected, that is an amazingly healthy thing for you right now. Look for data entry, filing, bookkeeping. Send resumes even to places that don't say they're hiring. Practice coping with the silence, the lack of knowing. It is hard. That's why you're practicing. Right now, make your goal to be to be able to hold down *a* job, any job, and to be able to function in society without collapsing--not necessarily happily. Think of it like physical therapy. You have to get your brain accustomed to operating the way everybody else's does again, and it will take some time.

After you're back on your feet that way, start exploring other things you might possibly have an interest in, and plan on doing a graduate degree or continuing education, not now, but once you actually know what you want to do. Don't worry if that doesn't happen today. If it takes your whole 20s to get yourself figured out, guess what? People don't think you're weird anymore for starting over in your 30s.

I am in my early 30s. I didn't drive until my late twenties, I could never make phone calls to strangers, I had breakdowns over all kinds of things when I tried to work, I sucked at interviews because I hated people. I am in law school. I am on law review. I compete with the best moot court team at our school (IMNSHO), I have a paying job, I drive comfortably, I make phone calls all the time, I am doing fantastic. It took me a decade, and a bunch of failures, and a ton more rejection, and therapy, and medication. And I'm better off for it than I would have been if I'd taken up a career in something I was okay at doing when I was in my early twenties and never had any trouble.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:17 PM on September 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Anxiety meds were invented for you. Call a psychiatrist now. Like, literally today.
posted by theodolite at 1:21 PM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

You don't have to have career goals, but you have to want something. Maybe it's money, independence, a nicer place, a better phone, a premium cable package, treatment for anxiety and depression (which can be expensive).

So think about your shorter-term desires (not goals) and work from there. What do you specifically not want to do? My idea of hell is a sales and/or phone job, which is my brother's dream job. His idea of hell is being stuck in a quiet room by himself all day, which is bliss to me.

You are bright and know your stuff academically ... how about teaching? Again, for me, nightmare = standing in front of a class, bliss = one-on-one tutoring. And what a tremendous sense of purpose.

If animals aren't part of your anxiety, then work (or volunteer, as money doesn't appear to be a driver for you) for a kennel or shelter or get involved with an organization that trains dogs to be therapy pets.
posted by headnsouth at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and lots of people these days are sadly dumbing down their resumes so that they can get hired at entry-level jobs. Those hiring managers are right to wonder if overqualified people aren't just settling for anything temporarily but still looking to trade up as soon as they get a chance. It costs a lot to bring on and train a new employee; they want people to stick around.
posted by headnsouth at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2012

You remind me of myself when I graduated from college, except that I did like school alright. But I was so scared of everyone and everything. I never went to my advisor. I never went to the career center. I was too scared to talk to anyone -- to let them know that I needed help. I still feel incredibly lucky that I got hired -- I could not even get my s*** together enough to put together a resume. But, it was the early 80s, I was female, I had a degree in EE, and I had good grades. That and the ability to answer technical questions got me started. Nowadays, with behavioral interviewing and all, I doubt I would have made it, and I don't know what I would have done. I was seriously considering suicide.

This was 30 years ago and thank God, things are better today. I did learn how to talk to people, how to make friends, how to feel alright in social settings. Some of that I learned in therapy, and a lot through classes my companies sent me to -- NLP, Conversant, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I remember being 30, in a motorcycle riding class, and making small talk with my class mates and realizing, dang, I can do this. I still remember being 35 and realizing that I'd become the person I always wanted to be and never thought I'd be able to.

Point is, don't give up on yourself. A lot of people that look successful have faced similar issues. You are not alone and your life is not FUBAR.
posted by elmay at 1:49 PM on September 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm memailing you.
posted by tooloudinhere at 2:47 PM on September 4, 2012

Could you perhaps volunteer at an animal shelter?

Something to get you out of the house, doing something useful, and meeting a few (but not too many) people.
posted by grudgebgon at 3:39 PM on September 4, 2012

So for what it's worth, when I started reading this, I thought it was gonna be like "I've done nothing with my life since 2004." And even then I was preparing to be like "Yeah, okay, but you can still get it in gear."

But 2011? Yeah, piece of cake. You're fine. Seriously.

You basically had a year go by on you. A year and a bit. If anyone asks, tell 'em you were hitchhiking around the country or you joined a ska band or, I dunno, whatever damn thing you want. Lots of people blow a year on something fun-but-not-job-related after college. It's totally socially acceptable and won't necessarily be a black mark in interviews.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:32 PM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey OP, I will answer this from the perspective that I've had extreme shyness/anxiety for most of my life (trust me, I had to train myself to have eye contact and not talk 100000000miles a minute at my first few professional interviews....). There are still things that I struggle with, but I'll just go onwards with your question. You may not need some of these suggestions, but someone who is shy may need these ideas as to how to prepare for their first job interview. I really did many of these things but again, starting from a position of extreme shyness

This is what I would suggest for preparing for job interviews:

• Contact your alma mater and see what they have available for job resources (in addition to another recruiting session). They may offer mock interviews - these may really help because your goal is to have eye contact, appear calm, etc. during the interview. You want to be able to say something even if you don't have an answer when they ask you a question. So it is a de-sensitization so to speak. If you don't want to practice with these people, ask your family if they will do this with you.

• This is the part that I have always done for interviews and it has paid off (and if you're anxious, it works because your anxiety will drive it and you will over prepare). Do tons of research. Do you want to work for company X? Invited to an interview for company X? Go online and look at everything about them-company mission, etc. Go look at journals describing "hot industries/trends" and see what is written about them. Write down questions that you have that are related to the things that you find. So part of your goal during the interview is to have questions and express curiosity and interest. If you have thoughtful questions, you will project this. You also want to have questions for them when they ask "What are your questions for us?"

• Continuing the above, you also need to do inner research. Start with the list of typical questions that people ask during interviews. So for your "Tell me about yourself?" Make 3 or 4 sentences: You studied X and U of Y. You have an interest in careers that do Q. Keep going until you have answers for everything. Also google your desired field and questions and you can often find more....Fill it all out. Edit. Tweak. Reread (So I memorized this....because I was so nervous that my mind could go blank...but by taking this step, I had answers and had few deer-in-the-headlight moments. Believe it or not, it worked....)

• Go on job interviews even if you know that you are not interested in the job. The more you do, the better you get. After the interview, write down any questions that they had that were not on your list. If you know/feel you did not do well in an interview, it's was a learning experience and you will do better on the next one.

• You know what else can help for a boost of confidence? Sure, you want a job for $,but...figure out what you want out of a job (more below) and remember that you are interviewing them, too. Do they have ten thousand meetings? You can ask subtle questions to figure this out. Does it look interesting? Do you have a similar philosophy? Are there things that you want to learn there? You can say no to job offers. Ask questions to see if it is a good fit and if you are a few jobs, you pick the one that is the best fit.

Define what you want out of a job and go for those:

I noticed in your comment, OP, that you stated that you .....I have no career interests whatsoever, every job description I read sounded horrible....

Look at lists of companies. Are there any companies at all that you think "Cool product!" or a nonprofit with a cause that you believe in?

Or .....were there things that sounded interesting to you as a student that you wanted to learn about or try (i.e. I'm someone who never cared about the rah rah group aspect of jobs...but I made a personal list of things that I wanted to learn...and those things became part of a plan and I could speak to those things are a career goal for me...not sure if this will work for you too, OP, but it is an idea.)

So if you can come up with a list of things that you want to learn (and companies that do those things) or companies that you are excited about....find the address and/or email of companies that do this. Now send them your CV. What happens in this case is that ....they are busy, need someone right now....don't have time but have a few cvs in front of them...the odds go up (I've gotten projects this way, and I have at least quite a few friends who have gotten jobs this way).

I truly believe that a person can reach the conclusions sometimes (jobs sound horrible) if it is a bad fit/poor job match. So start making a list *now* of characteristics that you want (and don't want) your dream job to have. Do realize that you will need to revise this a bit once you start working because you will need more info. But a job that you take now is not forever, it can be part of a plan for your next job.

Feel free to memail me and talk about this more if you want. I do feel comfortable getting the jobs/projects that I want at this point, and it took getting the help and perspectives of different people along the way.
posted by Wolfster at 4:35 PM on September 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

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