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I’m doing all the things you’re supposed to be doing. I’m networking, I’m volunteering so my resume won’t look like a blank void, and I apply for at least one job a week. Why is nothing happening?” appealed a 20 something friend of mine whom you might reasonably assume to be unemployed.

He has a job, albeit, one he’s exceedingly overqualified for. He’s underemployed, not by the official definition of underemployment – workers who are unemployed and looking for work or workers who are employed part-time seeking full-time work, which Gallup recently calculated at 18.70% – but in that he was able to master his job responsibilities within a week and there hasn’t been much opportunity for growth since. He’s languishing, watching the clock, waiting for the days to be over. He’s exhausted the pipeline of “special projects” and he’s reached the limit bureaucracy will permit him to excel. He’s bored due to lack of responsibility, but now doesn’t want any more because that would mean less time to job search.

I’ve been unemployed and underemployed – underemployed is the preferable of the two. Though with the exception of no income at all, underemployment lacks few of the stresses of not working at all. The days are slow to end but seem to multiple exponentially.

Wanting to make him feel better about his situation, not wanting to invalidate his feelings – “But look what you have accomplished,” I offered. “This job is your first job in a new field you wanted to get into. The function of what you’re doing may be lacking, but now when you apply for your next job there will be an obvious continuity. You won’t be starting all over again. When you first got this job you were thrilled. You’ve just grown out of it.”

Underemployment is relative to our expectations, which at one point, maybe even the time we accepted the opportunity that now bores us, we were excited to have. Move on from the past without dismissing its value.