Bullish Q&A: How do I pull myself out of this godforsaken hole?

I’m nearly 26 years old, still living at home with my dad. I spent a few semesters at college, but never even finished an associates degree. I’m currently working a slightly above minimum wage job, behind a coffee and juice bar at a grocery store.

I’m tired of busting my ass, and having nothing to show for it. I’m tired of living to paycheck to paycheck, and unable to move out of my parent’s house. But I’m in a bind: I didn’t finish college, I have no real skills to speak of (I can make coffee?), and I have no money. I don’t see anything ever getting better if I stick it out, but coworkers and family tell me I should just be grateful for $11 an hour and health benefits, and that I should just shut up about it. It’s something I’m simply not willing to do.

I’m trapped in shit and I’m fucking over it. I want to pull myself out, but I don’t know how. So, the question is: How do I pull myself out of this godforsaken hole when there are no viable options available?

Hold up! Your situation is not nearly as bad as you make it out to be.

Let’s look at the advantages you have — there are actually quite a few!

  • Free (?) room and board while you work on your next move.
  • If you want to start any kind of foodservice or retail business, you have valuable experience — you’d be amazed what people who have never worked in service/retail don’t know
  • Your job doesn’t take all your brainpower. This is really, really crucial. If you worked at an office-type job during the day, it would be very hard to start a side business that feels like “more of the same”; you’d be mentally exhausted.
  • It sounds like you do shift-style work, which means you may be able to rearrange your work schedule, or your sleep schedule, so that you can spend your best, most awake and motivated hours on a side project.

So, here’s what I recommend.

Adjust your schedule as much as you can so you have 1) time to do online research, writing, networking, learning, etc. when you’re feeling nice and fresh, and 2) time to meet people and go to events (generally M-Th evenings).

Now start meeting people. Wherever you live, there are events for small businesspeople, entrepreneurs, coders and wannabe coders, women in business, etc. Insert yourself into all kinds of events you don’t really belong at. You don’t need an excuse. Events that are open to the public are just that — open to the public. If anyone asks, you’re “looking for your next big project.” Which is true!

Since you don’t have a lot of cash, start by focusing on free events. Also, send out emails to groups that charge for their events, and say that you’re new and would like to check them out (you’re not a student, but you can say you’ve “just started learning” the topic the event is about, which will get across the same message), and ask if you can come one time for free. You could even offer help setting up before the event or breaking down supplies after the event. Ultimately, if you find one of these groups that has potential for you, you might be able to offer volunteering in exchange for free membership/attendance, which would additionally get some volunteer experience on your resume.

Speaking of which — get some volunteer experience on your resume! Check out websites of all the nonprofits in your town and find out what is needed. All these causes are worthy, so there’s nothing wrong with picking the volunteer gig that would look best on your LinkedIn page. So instead of walking dogs for the ASPCA, see if you can help them with fundraising. It’s also a good idea to volunteer somewhere where the other volunteers include professionals and wealthier people in general — you may meet your next boss or collaborator.

Also, go learn something. Browse Coursera and other online learning platforms for classes that interest you and that, preferably, will teach you a skill that you could use in a full-time dream job or on your own as a freelancer. Do not pick something vague, like “branding.” I mean, that’s not vague if you work for a top advertising agency, but if you are sitting at home learning about “branding” on your own, it’s hard to prove that you’ve learned anything. If you’ve learned to code, I could look at your code or give you a test. If you’re an expert in Google Analytics, I could pull up my analytics and you could, you know … analyze them. Pick the most quantitative, quantifiable thing you can stomach. Or something with visual proof – if you want to design logos, obviously I could look at your portfolio.

Do both of these things — the networking and the learning — at the same time. That’s not too much. You’re young and you have a lot of access to coffee. Make a realistic commitment — 10 hours a week of learning and 2 in-person events, for instance.

When you go to these events, be interested in the topic and interesting to be around. You can say, “I’m just getting started learning about X. I studied a little bit of Y at university, so my perspective might be a little different from some people’s.” And ask people a lot of questions about X and why they got into it and how they do it. People will want to talk to you because you really don’t want anything other than information; you’re not a desperately unemployed person sneakily trying to get an “in.” People love to talk to energetic young people who look up to them (people who bother to show up to networking events, anyway).

If the coffee shop/grocery store thing comes up, be honest about where you work but then emphasize what you’ve been reading/learning. “It pays the bills and gives me time to work on my X skills.”

Having an open mind — the desire to really DO something, but not knowing what — is actually a huge advantage. Entrepreneurs and employers are out there wanting someone young and hungry, but moldable. Someone willing to make the startup’s mission their own.

Really cast a wide net. Maybe you end up at a monthly meeting for people interested in investing or racecar driving or real estate. You never know.

You belong in any of these places you want to be, so get yourself ready (maybe get some business cards with just your name and email address, so you look kind of cool and mysterious) and go forth!