Facing and Acing Tough Decisions after College

gradarticle By Michael Mandelkern, a member of New York University’s Class of 2014, and a former Skidmore College Student.

Five years ago, back when Skidmore News still had a print version, I was the News Editor. Watching students read our issues in the dining hall put a smile on my face. I spent a day in Albany job shadowing the Editorial Editor of the Times Union. Even though Skidmore College didn’t have a Journalism program, I aspired to be a reporter after graduation.

Now I am soon to be the Program Center Manager of Tufts University’s student fundraiser.

I haven’t published an article in nearly one year. I transferred from Skidmore College to New York University and graduated with a double major in Journalism and English. I interned for several newspapers and online magazines in New York City and enrolled in a writing program with the Bleacher Report during my Spring 2014 semester. With a diverse portfolio of clips ranging from local politics to professional sports, I thought that I was on the verge of becoming a reporter. Instead, I am a mid-level manager in the higher education fundraising management industry.

Graduating without a full-time job shifted me towards my current profession. My mom was determined to move out of New York City and retire as I entered my fourth year as a part-time student fundraiser (no longer as an active student) for New York University. I still contributed to the Bleacher Report without pay. Print journalism was my passion ever since I published my first article for my high school paper, but I ignored the fact that this industry is dying. Many writers spend the early part of their careers freelancing and barely getting by.

I ascended from student fundraiser to supervisor over time at a company that fundraises for NYU and other programs worldwide. My responsibilities were to coach representatives on their phone calls, motivate the calling team and monitor the fundraising performance of NYU’s various institutions. My favorite part of the job was cultivating new hires into extraordinary callers, just as past supervisors had done with me.

Two months after graduation I was still working for a modest hourly wage. I completed an apprenticeship to become a manager at one of the company’s many universities across the nation, but I started applying to dozens of jobs in case the apprenticeship didn’t come to fruition. I had resumes and variations of cover letters handy. I scheduled interviews and still couldn’t land jobs. Many places didn’t even reply to my applications. Sometimes I gave up on the process for days. Then I emerged from the haze and realized I still didn’t have a full-time job and was only further behind.

My stomach was always bloated from stress. What if the next school year starts and I’m working at NYU with the incoming freshman class? Would I be able to swallow my pride? Then I landed a job in August 2014 as a door-to-door salesman in Brooklyn persuading local businesses to switch their electric contracts to a fixed rate with our company. It was hot in a suit. My feet were blistered and sweat dripped down my face. I earned $70 commission for every sale I made without any base salary. Days passed when I didn’t make any sales. I earned more working for NYU part-time.

There were a few times last summer when I thought my management apprenticeship would pay off. I had a few potential offers on the East Coast to be a manager that didn’t pan out. Then I was offered a Senior Supervisor position at the corporate headquarters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa just two weeks after becoming a salesman. The ranking was lower than the Program Center Manager position I was an apprentice for and I didn’t even know where Iowa was on the map, but I finally had a full-time job.

I knew that if I worked hard and hit the goals of my numerous campaigns programs I could eventually become a Program Center Manager. As a New Yorker born and raised, I didn’t want to live around cornfields and farm animals for the long term. The cost of living is dirt cheap in Iowa and I finally learned how to drive. Still, all I wanted to do was get back to the East Coast. Living in a two-story townhouse across the road from a golf course is spacious, but I don’t have a wife and kids.

Now I have been promoted to Program Center Manager of Tufts University and will be moving this summer. My commute will be a short drive from the heart of downtown Boston. I had to move to Iowa in order to get back to the East Coast, enduring a brutal winter 30 degrees below zero. One night it was so cold that my car wouldn’t start after work. The temperature warmed up to five degrees the next day and I had ignition.

If you asked me where I would be in five years back in 2010 I would say interviewing politicians and editing articles. Now my writing consists of several e-mails per day and analyzing my programs’ metrics at the end of the night. I thought that my mom would continue to pay for rent and utilities until I establish myself. Now I pay for all of my own bills (well, not the cell phone, but that’s coming).

You probably don’t know where you will be one year after graduation. I went the corporate route as I prioritized financial security over my love for words. I might not ever become a New York Times correspondent reporting on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and tensions with South Korean, or get another press pass to Citi Field and meet the team in the locker room.

Hopefully your passion is in a lucrative field so that you don’t have to make that tough decision. But trust that whatever choice you make is in your best interest. Only you know how to create the best possible world for yourself.

Night of Listening Event, April 29

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