On Starting a Career in a Pandemic

Those lucky enough to have a job face a whole different set of challenges

Image: Pexels/Pixabay

Getting a job and moving to a new city after college is one of the major milestones of entering into adulthood. Like getting your driver’s license, leaving for college, and getting your first legal drink at the bar, starting a career and going off on your own is the final rite of passage to becoming an adult.

If you’re like me, you’ve been looking forward to it for a long time — really dreaming of the day when you had a place of your own, full-time work, and a steady stream of income. And while I am happy to be sitting here writing this in my new apartment in downtown Chicago, I look out my window onto the city with a sense of anxiety about what lies ahead.

The Coronavirus pandemic has hit the Class of 2020 in a different way than most — few of us are getting very sick from the virus, very few are dying, yet we are experiencing very different consequences. We had an abrupt end to our senior years, without the pomp and circumstance that comes with graduation ceremonies, vacations, and celebrations with family and friends. Worse, many of us had job offers rescinded, and those who did not already have job offers are having a hard time finding one in the current economy.

Those who still have jobs offers intact or who have started jobs this summer are indeed the lucky ones. While there may have been a few unpleasant disruptions here and there, perhaps a missed vacation or a pushed start date, they should hardly be complaining, right? Yes, those with 2020 grads with jobs are certainly lucky — but they face their own challenges that come with starting a job and starting a new life amid a pandemic.

Pandemic aside, making new friends is often cited as one of the hardest things about moving to a new city after graduation. Sure, you hope that you have a college friend or two there, but unless you’re near home, you might very well be on your own. And as with so many things, the pandemic has made an existing challenge all the more difficult.

Neighborhood and community events have been canceled, bars are socially distant, the dating scene has faltered. Can you go up and try to talk to someone in the common area of your apartment building when you’re required to be wearing a mask and are trying to avoid entering their 6-foot personal aura? In many cities, gyms are still closed or limited in capacity; fitness classes paused indefinitely. I can’t even go down the street to grab a coffee and try to make friends with the barista at the local coffee shop, which is requiring that I order online.

The glamor is there — the beautiful skyline, the full paycheck — but it feels empty, with nowhere to go and no one to spend it with.

That’s okay, though, right? Now is the time to delve into your career, invest yourself in moving up the ladder, show your managers what you’re made of. That may be valid, but if I am going to excel in my career, I need to be satisfied at work. And one of the biggest sources of job satisfaction is personal relationships in the office. It’s also common that young professionals’ friend groups are primarily comprised of people they work with. These people have similar interests, you’re likely on similar schedules, and work gives you a basic starting point for conversation. But what about when you’re starting in the office remotely? When you go months without ever physically meeting the people you’re working with?

What if you’re now working remote permanently, as many companies are opting to do? Can these same relationships be formed? Long-term remote work doesn’t just affect company culture; it can have a substantial effect on employees’ social lives, especially young ones. Companies have to think about this when they weigh up how they will go back to the office and foster relationships among new hires.

So my long-dreamed day of moving away from home, starting anew, living the city life, and starting a job went off much like my graduation, an important moment hollowed out without any pomp and circumstance. The glamor is there — the beautiful skyline, the full paycheck — but it feels empty, with nowhere to go and no one to spend it with. I don’t mean to complain, like I said I’m one of the lucky ones all things considered. But still the victim of another unintended consequence of a pandemic that is a health crisis in so many ways.

I’ll continue to await the day when the pandemic ends anxiously, and I can step into an office or step into a gym and feel a sense of community again. Until then, I’ll keep sitting in the common area of my apartment masked up and trying to make a socially distant friend.

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Anthony Massa

Anthony Massa

Organizational psych guru interested in values based organizations, Gen Z, and the Future of Work. Working to create a happier, more productive workforce.