Going to college, I looked forward to seeing where the four years were going to take me and what career would be waiting for me at the end.  

I came to New Jersey with my family from Pakistan for a better life.  Each grade I went through — from first to 12th grade — I struggled to do good in school, but tried my best at anything that was thrown at me.  

The first few years of elementary school were spent between ESL and regular class hours.  I was not a fan of ESL. I felt like I was labeled as a foreigner who hardly knew any English, how to speak, write, etc. I accepted it because it allowed me to express and improve myself without being judged by other students.  

(Courtesy of Shahroze Ahmad)

I passed ESL officially at the end of the seventh grade and was very proud of my achievement.  

The things I learned helped me go through high school smoothly. I was easily able to write poems, detailed essays, solve complex math equations and set up experiments.

When it was time to apply for college, most of my friends applied to as many as possible, trying to get into the best one, or any college that would accept them. 

I applied to about eleven colleges and was rejected by six of them. I was put on the waiting list for one of them, but had four choices to pick from: NJCU, HCCC, Drew University and Saint Peter’s University.  

Within a week or so, I decided to go to SPU because of its proximity and price.

But I considered dropping out

I had a love and hate relationship with the first two months of college. I couldn’t decide whether to stay in college or go elsewhere.  

My SAT score was somewhat average, but my high school grades played a major role in obtaining a scholarship. With the help from federal and state aids, 95 percent of my college tuition was covered.

I decided to major in criminal justice and sociology with a dream of going into law enforcement.

I looked forward to attending classes, meeting professors and making new friends, but my view quickly changed after I got my test scores from the entrance exam. I had done poorly on it.  

This meant I would be stuck in the college equivalent of ESL and needed to take a two-month course before starting school officially.  

During those two months, I thought long and hard about dropping out of college, signing up for the military, and completing my college education later on.  Before making this very tough choice I sought advice from a close high school friend.  

“Think twice before ditching school. (You) cannot run from your problems,” he said.   

The first year and a half were rough. I failed Composition twice and had to take a summer course before taking Composition 2, which were both required since SPU is a private liberal arts school.  

The rest of my college years were better. I loved every minute of it.  

I took interesting classes such as Intro to Psych and Sociology, Forensic, Social Deviance, Political Science, Conspiracy Theories, etc. I was able to finish college within four years, but wouldn’t have minded staying another year or two.

College was a scary thing to deal with, but I think I was more worried about landing my dream job, having good benefits and further developing myself professionally.

I wanted to get an internship at the Hudson County Prosecutor Office at the end of my junior year.  

I was excited to go to work, even though it was unpaid, but at the end of the day, work experience far outweighed everything else.  

A bunch of criminal justice majors had also interned there. Some had gotten job offers to start as agents and later on would be given the chance to enter the police academy before becoming detectives.

I was not so lucky, but I accepted the outcome. 

I finished my last year of college. But my faith was uncertain since I had not gotten a job offers in my field. 

I did not want to discourage myself and kept on applying to increase my odds of landing a good career.

I sought help from the school’s career service, but no positive result came out of it.

A month before graduating, I got a response from a retail company I applied for and I accepted the offer since it was the only good opportunity I had.

Everyone should work in retail, but … 

Although I believe college students should be exposed to working in customer service-related roles  — because it teaches you how to work hard, deal with people in various situations, build teamwork and adapt to working strange hours — retail wasn’t the best thing for me.

Sure, it helped me prepare for when the right opportunity came along, but having this job didn’t satisfy me. 

For the first three months, I worked six days a week, but soon after I asked my manager for a different work schedule to begin searching for a better job. 

I would wake up four hours early, pack my lunch/dinner, and sit at one of my favorite cafes editing my resume, writing cover letters and applying to as many jobs as possible.  

On my days off, I woke up late, but repeated my job-hunting method.

At the end of 2018, I was interviewed for a part-time paralegal job, which I got, but that meant I had to request an additional day off to relax. Now I worked four days in retail, two days at the law firm either at the office or from home, and one day off.  

I worked in retail from May 22, 2017 to Sept. 9, 2018. 

It was hard getting through my 3 to 11 p.m. shifts.

Five months into work my right knee started to feel weird and three months after that my back started to hurt. Wheeling dollies up an incline or from leveled ground into the store took a huge toll on me.  

Even my personal doctor told me I’d be better off quitting the job and spending time at home looking for other work.   

They told me to “Suck it up”

During Ramadan, I need to take breaks during certain times to break my fast after fasting for 12 or so hours.

Around that time — between 7:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. — we got our delivery two to four times a week, but they simply told me to “Suck it up and get to work.”  

Then came bad incidents.  

Let’s just say, those days were filled with inequality in the workplace.

One of my coworkers was fired. I ended up getting fired Sept. 9, 2018.

Then I found a job I loved

A week after getting fired from my first job after college I landed my first corporate job, and this was the job route I had been looking for.  

Lots of college students are not aware of the ideal job and what it takes to obtain it.  An ideal job is not always your dream job, but it is a job that pays more than just your bill and college loans.  

The perfect job is the one that makes you want to come to work every day. It feels right, it’s respectful to their workers, brings comfort, health benefits, paid time-off and a chance to grow with the company.  

The best part of working at the bank was the 9-5 p.m. schedule from Monday to Friday, weekends and holidays off.  

I was hired as one of four temporary contractors to take on excessive workload, so the permanent employees can focus on fresh assignments. Two of us were Administrators/Project Coordinators and two Paralegals.  

I loved waking up early, taking the train and getting coffee before work even though later on I started taking the bus since it was far more convenient. 

My contract was renewed four times, and I loved it. This was a good sign that I might be hired as a permanent employee.  

Then it was a month before my contract ended, and I wasn’t sure if it would be renewed for the fifth time. 

I scheduled a meeting with the department manager on the first day of the work week. Over the weekend I practiced how I was going to approach her without being too desperate. 

She said, “chances are very high that it will be renewed one last time, but this time for six or more months.” 

But it didn’t end as I hoped

The next two weeks went by and I didn’t receive any updates. 

It was now three days before my official last day, and she told me “(Your) contract will not be renewed, train your co-worker who will take on your workload, and leave detailed notes of all the tasks.”  

I was sad on the last day, but I left with a positive mindset since this job treated me ethically. I was appreciated by my co-workers and I was leaving with skills I had gained over the months.  

Though that contract ended, at the end of the month I was offered another position — this time at a global company.

The job title was similar to my first corporate job, but this time I would be working within the regional headquarter, which meant more responsibilities and new challenges.  

And the biggest challenge was the first month and half where I spent about $400 with commuting costs for rideshare and bus for the 24-mile commute to work and back.  

My dad later bought a car for us to share, so I started to drive to work and loved every second of it.  

Our office building was high-tech with a cool coffee machine that made the best hot cocoa.  I had a personal work phone, a laptop I could take home fro WFH situations, and a fully stocked cafe, which the company paid ⅔ of the cost of breakfast/lunch/dinner and the rest was paid by the employee. Plus, I had a pretty cool cubicle and two monitors to make it easier to get the work done. 

This was the best job I’ve ever had. But good times did not last for too long. 

Most of the time I was on my own. My co-workers were not too helpful and the job became stressful.

Right after that I put my two-week notice in and resigned without a new job waiting for me because I was very stressed and needed a break.

The lockdown was by far the best thing that happened to me because it allowed me to focus on a different career path.  

I started to work right after college and that took a huge toll on my mental and physical health. After working at two corporate jobs and a law firm, it  allowed me to consider going full time as an Administrative Assistant, Project Coordinator, Paralegal, or Client Services. So, I thought of going for masters in Cyber Security or Legal Studies.  

Quarantine helped me reset

When COVID-19 hit, I was about to start a part-time job at American Dream while I looked for the right opportunity.  I didn’t consider the lockdown as a burden, it was more of a blessing.  

It allowed me to focus on my health and studies.

After regaining my motivation and mental health, I started to look for work again and perfect my resume. 

I had no luck for weeks, except for two interviews for the same company for two different jobs.

But I did poorly on the first interview.  On the second one, I was more prepared for, but regardless I got rejected.

I started to network and get feedback by speaking with various individuals working in various positions in my field.

They gave me insight in finding a job, allowed me to use them as referrals, and advised me to take different career routes. They said I should go for a master’s in Cyber Security or HR to increase my odds of landing my dream job.  

So far, no job offers, but I gotta keep on trying, stay positive and focus on mental and physical health. 

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