I remember walking across the stage in 2014 to receive my bachelor’s degree in psychology as if it were yesterday. If I close my eyes long enough, I can still smell the dew on the grass, I can still feel my heels sink into the ground with each step that I took. It rained that morning, but by commencement time the sun was delightfully beaming on all of the graduates. Its something about walking across the stage that you will never forget. All I could think about was making sure I did not fall in my heels and go viral. Once I shook everyone’s hand and exited the stage, I felt relieved. All those years of college, even with a year off and returning to finish; it was finally coming to an end. This was an amazing accomplishment for me. It wasn’t until a couple months later that I began to feel discouraged. Most of the jobs that I had applied for required me to have anywhere between two and five years worth of experience.
I did not have any experience. While in college, I did not volunteer, and I didn’t network like I should have. I was a full-time student and I worked at least thirty five to forty hours a week; between papers, projects, and exams my time was scarce. Now, I was paying the ultimate price for being a studious recluse. Day in and day out, I continued to put in applications and go to various interviews. All I needed, all I wanted, was a chance to stick my foot into the pool of opportunity and put my bachelor’s degree to use. I would walk into an interview motivated and filled with ambition. I would think to myself; this is it, this is my chance.
Thank you doesn’t feel sincere when its included in a rejection email. I was torn between wanting to know whether I didn’t get the job, or never hearing from the employer again. Honestly, at the time I didn’t know which one was worse. Both methods sucked; either they were brave enough to let me know that they decided to proceed with another candidate and provided me with feedback, or they simply disappeared, and I never heard from them again. I repeated this cycle off and on for another year and a half while working odd jobs in between. The cycle would start off with me feeling extremely motivated, ambitious, hopeful, and eventually self-loathing, and disappointed when I find out I did not get the job I applied for. I know so many people with a bachelor’s degree that are not working in the field that they went to school for. Knowing that so many of them gave up finding a job in their field only motivated me to keep going. There was this spark in me, a voice letting me know that I can do this despite the obstacles I was facing at the time.
A year and a half later, I was hired right on the spot as a Mental Health Assistant at a psychiatric residential treatment center. The facility that hired me was hosting a job fair and I took advantage of the opportunity. I began working with children from ages seven through seventeen who were experiencing complex emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric symptoms. As a Mental Health Assistant, it was my responsibility to help identify triggers and feelings under the direction of a licensed staff member.
I held groups once a day for an hour to help teach the children healthy coping skills. Overall, I loved my job, however, there was a history of high turn over rate for the Mental Health Assistant position at this facility; this position was a revolving door. I found myself constantly training others as my coworkers found better jobs, other opportunities, or just quit. I must admit, the mental health field can be incredibly challenging which made this position intense at times. Dealing with children and teens with emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric concerns could be exhausting. Especially if you do not have a good support system at work or at home, and if you don’t have coping skills for potential secondary trauma. I continued to work at this facility for a year, and by the time I left this position, everyone I was hired on with were already gone. I am not perfect but there is a difference between working and loving what you do; I loved working with the children at this facility.
I knew I was making an impact on the children with the groups I held, and how they would use the skills they learned to resolve conflicts or coping with their feelings in healthy ways. Something deep down in me knew that I needed to move on to the next level within my career. The hours were becoming overwhelming; I normally worked second shift which was 2:00pm to 10:00pm, but often, due to the staff shortage, I would frequently find myself pulling doubles. If someone called out for third shift, we would rotate staff members on second shift to stay overnight, which meant an additional shift between 11:00pm to 6:00am.
As I am typing this, I find myself chuckling in admiration of my dedication to this long-awaited opportunity to utilize my degree despite everything else. This opportunity paved the way for me to start working for Centerstone as a Behavior Coach. In this new position, I was still working with children; I serviced children with severe emotional and behavioral needs. I worked within the classroom and helped the teacher by developing behavioral interventions, incentives, created individual treatment plans, assist in crises, and did group sessions twice a week that was geared towards teaching the children how to express their emotions and behaviors in healthy ways. One year later with hard work and dedication, I was promoted to Lead Behavior Coach; I supervised five Behavior Coaches, and I absolutely loved it. However, this position was also plagued with a high turnover environment.
As one of three Lead Behavior Coaches, it was our responsibility to hire new people. I remember going over resumes of varies candidates. One of the candidates had a master’s degree in psychology with no experience in the field. One of the Lead Behavior Coaches simply said, “That person is overqualified for this position. The requirement for this position is a bachelor’s in psychology or related field and one year of experience. How about that other candidate…?” Her words faded as an uncomfortable familiar feeling washed over me. I remember when I was underqualified. This was the first time I have ever heard of someone being overqualified; in that moment I immediately became aware of the importance that experience brings to the table. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many degrees you have; for some employers, only having an education with no experience isn’t enough. As time passed by, I picked up a second job and started working part-time every other Saturday as a Staff Counselor for an addiction clinic that treated adults. I created individual treatment plans with the clients, and offered additional individual counseling as needed. A couple years later, I began to feel that feeling again; you know that feeling you get when it is time for you to level up. I needed to obtain my master’s in psychology if I wanted to achieve my long-term goal.
I was accepted into a master’s program for counseling psychology and at the same time I was offered a full-time position as a Staff Counselor; this provided me with additional experience with individual counseling. Now here I am, I have my master’s in counseling psychology, I have six years of experience in my field with my degree, and I’m getting closer to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. The main lesson I have learned from my experience is keep going and stay persistent even when you feel like giving up. Start getting your experience as soon as possible; network and volunteer while you are in college. If time is an issue, it’s never too late to network and volunteer when you graduate from college, whether from undergrad or grad school. It is important to keep and develop relationships with others in your field; whether it’s the professors, advisors, and/or friends that have the same goals as you do. You must come to terms with starting somewhere and getting your foot in the door. Being underqualified and overqualified is a circumstance; however, with persistence, dedication, and hope, you can determine your own future.