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October 06, 2015 6:50 am

“Broke college student.”

That’s what I wrote when I had to give a reason for canceling my gym membership this month. It’s a phrase I’ve heard and thrown around casually since college was even a thought for me. It’s my reason for asking my parents for money, and what I tell my friends when I don’t want to spend it. Until recently, it was nothing more than a flippant remark. Since beginning college, I had short periods of time when I was really hurting for money, but never before had the struggle been this real for me.

Allow me to be transparent for a moment: I spent my summer as a paid intern. The final paycheck from that went to covering school costs and my car insurance (the only bills I currently have, because my parents are generous enough to allow me to live at home, rent-free). I received another check for selling some textbooks, but in the month since, I haven’t had any form of income. Buying food, gas, and a surprise parking ticket later (which my loving boyfriend paid half of), left me with a whopping $29 between my checking and savings accounts. The only official jobs I’d ever had were in restaurants, which are slowest during August and September, and therefore nobody was hiring.

Let me be clear, I haven’t found a job yet. I’ve had several interviews and filled out countless applications, but haven’t had any luck. Fortunately, I have learned several things.

It’s okay to ask for help

Of all the things I’ve struggled with in this season, asking for help is close to the top of the list. I’ve never been able to comfortably asked for help. Before now, I’d for the most part managed my expenses on my own. Granted, I might have been late on a couple payments, or chosen to go without a few things, but I always paid for everything on my own.

Now I’ve come to a point in which I don’t have a choice. I’ve had to ask my parents, boyfriend, and sister for help with food, gas, and school. The key to this is swallowing my pride. I can no longer afford to even pretend I’m able to handle everything on my own. I’d be drowning if I didn’t have this support system keeping me afloat. If I’ve gotten anything out of this time, it’s being reminded that the important people around me love me, no matter where I’m working, or not working.

You have to try, even though it’s hard

This has been equally hard, if not harder than asking for help. I’ve always been somewhat easily discouraged. Being rejected time after time will really take a toll on one’s self-esteem during a job search. I’ll be the first to admit that there were times when I was too discouraged to bring myself to get off my butt, get back out there, and keep looking. I was wrong for this. I was wrong for convincing myself countless times that it was too late to follow up on applications or interviews, and that they didn’t want me or they’d have called me back by now. At first, I was wrong not to fill out applications for jobs I didn’t think I wanted, also. I learned that even if it might not be your ideal job, any job is better than no job.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to open yourself to rejection. But if you don’t open yourself to rejection, you’re also closing off opportunities. Employers don’t hunt down employees. If you want the job, you have to show them you want it. It’s hard, but what option do you have?

You don’t have to punish yourself

This is actually really important. For me, I’ve always struggled with being OK not spending every minute of every day doing something proactive. I begin feeling guilty whenever I sit around too much. In reality, there are only so many chores to do and homework assignments to complete. So what else are you going to do to fill the copious amounts of free time you find yourself with when there isn’t a job eating it up? Beating yourself up and throwing your own pity parties is unhealthy.

You can’t spend every minute of every day filling out applications. Set aside some time to do it, sure, but take some time to take a breather. During these times, you are allowed to do things you enjoy. For me, these things were painting and going to the beach. I would pack up a book and a bottle of sunscreen (I’m incredibly pale for a native Floridian), and head to one of the best (free!) things my home state has to offer. I’d load up my Snapchat story with shots of the ocean and sandy toes while my friends were all stuck at work. Not only did this always cheer me up, but it also allowed me some time to reflect on myself and how everything in my life was doing.

Remember: it’s okay to treat yo’ self… as long as your responsibilities are taken care of first. Don’t beat yourself up.

It will get better

Everything in life happens in cycles, like the tides. Sometimes, tides are high, and sometimes they’re low, and there’s always a purpose to everything that happens. When things have been rough for a really long time, it only means you’re close to a breakthrough. You just have to take care of yourself, do the best you can, and stay focused on what’s important, and not lose hope. Even in the span of writing this article, I’ve scheduled three interviews. As long as you keep your chin up and put yourself out there, everything you need will come your way.

These things might not help you find a job, or deposit a large lump sum into your bank account (regardless of how much you wish they would). Keeping these things in mind during your financial struggle won’t fix your problems, but it will make it easier. Just remember to do your best and stay positive.

Marena Lee is a real, live mermaid, spending all of her free time visiting Florida’s wonderful beaches, fishing, reading, and painting. When the sun’s not shining or she needs a break from it’s rays, she’s attending college, learning to share her love of literature and language arts with high school students.
[Image courtesy Universal Pictures]
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