In today’s economy, it is easy for the youth of the United States to feel stuck in a rut when it comes to the job market. Most of them were told they had to go to college or else they wouldn’t have any job prospects, but the reality was quite different. So much focus was spent on the university education that these students didn’t bother to think about another important aspect of employment: experience.
While employers want an educated individual, they also want one who has a history of doing good work and taking some initiative. In addition, the modern era being the gig economy that it is, students nowadays have to be able to perform multiple tasks or have multiple jobs in order to make ends. It was a foreign concept to me until Jeff Connor of the Boston Brass gave a talk over his book “The Portfolio Musician.”
His essential point was that a musician must be able to perform several tasks to be successful today. No longer can one become a performer or a teacher and be successful, but musicians must find their inner entrepreneur and work in multiple fields. Modern musicians require multiple income streams that can include arts administration, grant writing, private teaching, performing, festival management, and creating compositions.
While Connor’s focus was on music, this concept is applicable to all job fields and all college graduates. I myself am currently working for a moving company, while also being a freelance writer and private music instructor and my wife works as an early childhood teacher, a camp counselor at the St. Louis Zoo and has her own craft business. Now, a college student may be reading and think “that’s great, but I focused solely on my degree and my field and I don’t think I can get unstuck from this hole.”
But you can, young reader, and pop culture gives us one of the best examples of being able to overcome what we see as something we’re stuck with. I’m talking about Bender Bending Rodriguez of the hit show Futurama.
Bender is a robot who was designed solely to bend girders, but throughout the show, he takes on more jobs than one can count. Bender attempts to become a chef in one episode, but continually makes food that is inedible. When challenged by a celebrity chef to a cook-off, he goes off to a distant planet to be taught how to cook by the celebrity chef’s old teacher.
The foul-mouthed robot demonstrates an essential skill for every college student who can’t seem to make it in their field. To become a marketable employee, one must continue their education outside of the lecture hall. Bender didn’t give up when he was challenged by someone out of his league and was told his food was awful, he sought out education so that he could improve and be successful.
Bender also constantly takes advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. He sees that members of New New York want to find a significant other, so he sets up a dating service for them. The price of titanium shoots up, so he sells his body parts to take advantage of it. A futuristic Octoberfest has a sausage-making contest, so Bender finds a frozen mammoth in order to have the most unique product. He embodies a concept I learned from my music entrepreneurship classes called “creating your own opportunities.”
It’s something that all entrepreneurs do. They see something that people need or something they think people need and then make it a reality using their skills. Bender has a sly tongue and a gift for knowing who to market his ideas towards, so when he sees an opportunity, he creates his own employment.
The final thing that college graduates can learn from Bender is his endless tenacity. When he got mauled and could no longer use his body, he was still able to become a musician in Beck’s band by using a pair of small robotic arms around his neck that made the gouges in his body into a washboard. Frequently, he demonstrates an unwillingness to give up on his ventures.
Although Bender is not the most reputable being and I would not recommend imitating his overall personality, the robot’s antics show what qualities any recent college graduates or unlucky job seeker can use to get themselves out. To be a successful employee, one must develop an entrepreneurial sense of opportunity and a tenacity to create income streams. So, students, start projects over subjects your passionate about and educate yourself in fields that may not be the degree you’re seeking. The ability to show leadership, planning and be a multi-talented employee will open many doors and at times, give you the ability to make your own door.