I wouldn't blame this weekend's UCLA graduates if they're less than delirious with glee at their accomplishments.
They entered college when the country's job growth had just barely begun to slow. They are exiting into one of the toughest labor markets the nation has seen in more than a quarter-century.
Sure they're armed with diplomas from one of the country's most respected schools.
But they're also carrying in their heads a long list of things they can't do and jobs they can't get. I could feel the angst in the room when I served on a panel on writing careers at UCLA's Career Week this spring.
We panelists kept offering up versions of essential advice that has stood for generations: Find something you love and work hard at it.
I wondered how well it would serve them, given their anxiety, until a query in a quavering voice pushed past all those questions that began, "In today's economy…"
"What if," asked a slight young woman, "you don't know what your passion is?"
I didn't know how to answer to that. So I turned to the experts at UCLA's Career Center.
I'm an ENTP (Extroverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving), according the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).
Journalism, it turns out, is a perfect career fit.
For 50 years, colleges, corporations and career advisors have used the MBTI to find employees who fit a company's culture and match students with majors and professions. It aims to measure "psychological types" — patterns in the way people perceive information, make judgments and respond to others.
It has been in heavy rotation this year at UCLA's Career Center.
Counseling manager Karol Johansen has seen a steady stream of students at the center, which is one of the nation's most comprehensive. Counselors lead students through a series of assessments to figure out their interests, learning style, personality types and set them on the right path.
Johansen says she is thrilled with the uptick in student requests, but troubled by the level of student angst.
Students are weighed down by the stunted economy not just as they prepare to graduate, she said, but from the moment they walk on campus. When the time comes to pick a major, "They're asking not 'What do I enjoy?', but 'Is this major marketable?' ''
That might draw a cheer from some parents wanting a return on their investment. But it's not the best way to choose a career or to chart a satisfying journey through life.
I stumbled into journalism because my mother knew somebody who knew somebody who ran a weekly newspaper in my hometown. Midway through college, I had scrapped plans to become a teacher after a summer spent tutoring wore me down. I graduated aiming for law school. But I needed to work for a few years first to pay for it, so I took the newspaper job.
Thirty years later, I'm still here. My career, as it turns out, found me.
That's the way many of us wind up with jobs we love. It's something Johansen calls "unplanned happenstance." And it's how she wound up as a counselor, instead of in a financial service company as she'd planned.
She was so unhappy at her first post-college job "licking envelopes all day," she said, that "my boss sat me down and told me 'Maybe this isn't the job for you.' "
She bounced around until a career assessment identified her as an INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving) — a perfect profile for a counselor. She's been at UCLA since 1986.
"The process of finding a career should be a joy," she said, even if it is riddled with wrong turns and uncomfortable revelations. What she wants to tell the students: Forget about this "financial calamity" stuff. Identify your values, interests, skills, goals, "who you are as a person."
"But figuring out 'How can I find my place in the world?' is difficult when you're worried about marketability."
According to the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers, increasing numbers of students are reconsidering majors and career choices based on projections of who's hiring, not their interests.
It's understandable. They're surrounded by bleak statistics: The unemployment rate for young job-seekers is close to 20%. Only one in four college graduates reached commencement with a job in hand, compared with more than half three years ago. The dearth of jobs and depression in wages may stunt their incomes for a decade to come.
But their anxiety seems to be stoked by their parents too. The panic and resignation Johansen hears when students relay parental concerns "can be heartbreaking," she said.
Her job, as counselor, is to lead students to the information they need to understand themselves and the job market.
Ours, as parents, is to give them permission to follow their hearts.
Maybe we're really the ones who need Johansen's counseling. We could use reassurance that there is a future out there for a newly minted grad who likes to sleep until noon, that the first job is an exploratory mission, not a lifetime commitment, that it may take awhile for that first job to come — which doesn't mean the kid will never leave home.
To the new grads, I say: Be grateful this tough time is hitting when you don't have children or a mortgage or medical bills.
Now hurry up and find yourself.