I was like you. I woke up every day and the first thought I had was, What am I going to do with my life?  It was October 1983, and I was graduating from U.Va. in 8 short months.

I was an English major and all I knew was that I didn’t want to teach. In those days, a teaching career was assumed if one selected a Liberal Arts major and didn’t want to go to law school. So, I thought I should sell something. Everything needed to be sold and sales people made good money. Alas, campus recruiters were looking solely for engineers and accountants. I never scored an interview before graduation. There was no internet, so resumes needed to be mailed. Hearing back was a long process that either ended with a phone call (good news) or a letter (bad news). May came and went with no offers. The pressure mounted.

Eventually, about a month after I moved back in with my parents, I ended up taking a job selling lab equipment to hospitals. It was a small company and somehow, my resume got me in their door and out of my mom and dad’s. It was a terrible fit. I would start at the top of a high-rise full of labs, and make my way to the first floor, knocking on each door trick-or-treat style asking the people in the lab coats if they might be interested in a new laminar airflow hood. Or refrigerator. Or sterilizer.

I’m outgoing, but I’m not the type who eats rejection for breakfast. I was miserable. But I hung on long enough to get job #2 at another small company, this time as a systems administrator (I know, right?) for a government contractor. I didn’t know bits and bytes, but all I had to do was call someone if the customer said something was wrong. I came across in the interview as trainable. (Yes! I can use a phone!) I liked this job very much. I was on my way.

I tell you this because now I am wise. It started slowly, but I’ve had a varied and immensely satisfying career which qualifies me to dispense advice to you, the young, the hopeful, the angsty, the confused, and likely, the Liberal Arts major.

The Bottom Line

You owe yourself (and your parents) two things and they are to feed yourself and then to find yourself. In that order. That’s it. Nothing else right now. And here is how you do that:

1. Try things, love them or hate them, but try them. So apply to many jobs and internships and take one if offered to you.

2. Never rule out waiting tables in the short term. This could be enough for feeding and finding.

3. If you hear a voice that is a restless one, maybe telling you to travel, then travel.

4. Don’t compare your current situation with anyone else’s. I was surrounded by accountants and engineers who got high-paying jobs and shiny cars right out of the chute. This created unnecessary stress. Let it go.

5. Build solid relationships. The handwritten thank-you note is your most powerful tool for this.

6. You do you. Even if you don’t know who that is.

7. Pick up litter and move turtles off the road. It’s good for your karma. That’s a thing.

8. Come to Richmond. We have your job, your beautiful apartment, your short commute and your wonderful life.


Beth Weisbrod, RVA NOW Program Director and mountain biking junkie, shares her path from an English major at UVA struggling to land a job after graduation to finding a “varied and immensely satisfying career” – with plenty of twists and turns along the way.