Many college graduates enter “the real world” with grand expectations. They have high hopes of landing a stable job with a good salary, forming a strong community of friends, and maybe even meeting a special someone along the way.
And why should they not have great expectations for their lives? They have been told to dream big and shoot for the stars—and they should. But sometimes, what older and wiser adults fail to mention is that the good job with benefits, the close friends, and the life partner all take time—and a lot of work—to find, Rebecca Stow says.
Stow is the author of a new book, “Unbothered: What I Learned the Hard Way About College, Job Hunting, & How to Make Your 20s Suck (a Little) Less.” She writes in the first chapter, “I’m all about encouraging people to embrace their passions, but there has to be more realism in the process.”
Stow spent her first six years after college moving from job to job, searching for a career she truly enjoyed, and that would allow her to live on more than rice and beans.
Amid the rejection letters from employers and the challenge of finding her place in the post-college world, Stow says, she started to learn how to become “Unbothered,” how to keep hope alive when circumstances looked anything but hopeful—and never play the victim.
With wit and charm, Stow recalls the lessons she learned the hard way, and offers advice to other 20-somethings who are also trying to navigate life’s challenges.
Stow joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to share her personal story, and offer some wisdom to other young people who also hope to become “Unbothered.”
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited excerpt from the interview transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by the very problematic Rebecca Stow, who also just so happens to be the author of the new book “Unbothered: What I Learned the Hard Way About College, Job Hunting, & How to Make Your 20s Suck (a Little) Less.” Rebecca, thanks so much for being here.
Rebecca Stow: Thank you for having me. This is the first time I’ve been introduced like that. That was exciting.
Allen: It is exciting. I think we all learn a lot in our 20s. It’s sort of the crash-course-on-life decade.
Stow: So true.
Allen: But not everyone actually chooses to sit down and write down all of the lessons that they learned. Why did you?
Stow: That’s a really good question. To be honest with you, it was never my intention when I started writing about all of this, that it would turn into a book. I have always enjoyed writing. It’s always has been my, I joke that it’s … my saving grace.
When I was in school, when I would take exams, I would sometimes struggle with the multiple choice and short answers, but the essays for whatever reason would always just flow right out of me. So, I figured, if I had to suffer through all of this in my 20s, I might as well write about it and hope that maybe I can help somebody else who is going through something similar.
It was cathartic for me, honestly. And so, I guess you could say it started more as a journal versus “I’m going to write a book,” but I was fortunate to get some positive feedback and encouragement from friends and family who knew that I enjoyed writing, and had written other things throughout the years. That’s just one of the projects that I had done. And I was like, sure, why not? Let’s just see what happens.
Allen: So, as you started your job search in “the real world,” what was going through your head? What were your thoughts as you were looking for a job?
Stow: “Well, this sucks. I’m never going to find anything. No one’s ever going to want to hire me.” Those were on repeat.
The other part that was really hard for me was the fact that it felt like all of my friends were effortlessly landing where they were supposed to be, and finding these jobs that sounded so amazing and perfect and great for them in exactly what they studied. And that is also hard to reconcile, because, of course, you want to be happy for your friends, but for me, when it was like, “Oh, what am I doing wrong? Why can’t I figure it out, too?”
That just, it compounded on top of already feeling like I wasn’t good enough, which was at the root of most of this for me, and I imagine for a lot of people. And the fact that nobody was really talking about it super openly, even with my friends. I think everybody was struggling, and nobody really knew how to communicate that.
And so, it’s like with social media, right? You can look at these people, whether it’s your friend or not, just somebody that you follow and think their life is so perfect and they have it all figured out, and the truth is, they don’t.
Allen: Yeah, totally.
Stow: They really don’t. And if I had understood that a little bit better, that probably would’ve helped, but that compare-and-despair trap is very easy to fall into.
Allen: It’s hard. Absolutely. So, when did the breakthrough finally come? When did you get the job that you were like, “OK, yeah, I feel good here,” and not only the job, but the mindset that, “Oh, yeah, I can be ‘unbothered’ by all the ebbs and flows of this world”?
Stow: Yes. Honestly, I just landed in it in October 2020. So, I’ve only been in it for little over a year.
Allen: Oh, well, congrats!
Stow: Thank you. But yeah, it’s pretty wild to look back on getting to this point. And I don’t think, I know that I had to go through what I did go through to appreciate where I am now. No job is perfect. There are certainly things that I maybe wish I didn’t have to do, but it just comes with the territory.
But I can look at that with a different perspective now than I would have even three years ago, where it’s more “I get to do this” versus “I have to do this.” That’s been a huge thing for me with my mindset, especially the last couple of years with everything that’s going on in the country, and people that have lost their jobs and things that are completely out of their control, their businesses and everything that they’ve lost. I just, I really come from that place of gratitude. And that alone, like you had mentioned, with your mindset is very powerful.
Allen: And then, so when you look back on your journey and college and post-college, and the job search and the journey of figuring out who you were, what are the things that you would say, “OK, I wish someone would’ve told me this when I graduated high school,” versus the things that you’re like, “Actually, I know I just had to go out and learn that for myself”?
Stow: That’s the hard part with learning through experience versus trying to just communicate something to someone. I think a big thing for me would’ve been, like I had mentioned earlier, nobody really knows what they’re doing. I don’t know.
There’s a weird sense of comfort in that, to know that you’re not the only one. And especially in this day and age with the way social media [is] and what a huge influence that is, especially young people on their experience.
I think that’s something that needs to be driven home a little bit more, is not to compare yourself. It’s really hard to learn how to not do that. And I definitely still struggle with it sometimes, but there’s no timeline. There’s no deadline for anything, whether it’s your job or dating or buying a house or whatever fill-in-the-blank thing that you’re striving for.
Again, that can feel really hard when it feels like everyone around you is checking off all of those boxes. But I have found that in my experience, when I just ground myself and focus on, well, what feels right for me? What makes sense for me? What do I actually want? Because sometimes with that “compare and despair,” you might find yourself wanting something just because somebody else is doing it and not necessarily because it’s right for you. So, I think that’s an important distinction … .
Allen: Yeah. Yeah. And you may have sort of answered this already—and the title of the book is, “Unbothered: What I Learned the Hard Way About College, Job Hunting, & How to Make Your 20s Suck (a Little) Less.” I want people to buy the book and kind of discover for themselves, but what is the key to becoming “unbothered,” to becoming unshakable in this crazy world, and having that ability to have joy every day, even when every day isn’t necessarily joyful?
Stow: Right. For me, my faith has been huge in that. And recognizing that there is a higher power, there’s someone else that’s in control. And that was something I had lost touch with for several years during and after college. And again, I know this isn’t going to be a part of everyone’s experience.
And I say that throughout the book: I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do or what you should or shouldn’t believe. But that was a huge part of my journey, was reconnecting to that faith and using that to ground and center myself, because I know what I went through when I wasn’t leaning on that. And it was very difficult.
Allen: Rebecca, thank you. This has been great having you on.
Stow: Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.
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