This month 23 years ago, my girlfriend graduated from the University of Florida and got a job as a reporter at a Top 100 daily newspaper.

At the same time, I flunked out of UF and got a job as assistant weighmaster in the nearby Alachua County Sanitary Landfill. It wasn’t even a Top 100 landfill.

I wanted to be a journalist, but I was working in waste management. My smart-ass brother said I was simply making a lateral move.

I was depressed but undaunted. I freelanced for every low-paying publication I could find. My favorite: Police Chief magazine, whose slogan was, “Born out of necessity, raised on adversity.”

Three months later, I was hired as a reporter – covering the smallest county in Georgia for less than I made in the landfill. Meanwhile, my girlfriend dumped me for an award-winning photojournalist. And that’s how I concluded my first year after college.

So quit your bitching.

If you can’t find your dream job – or any job – in the media-industrial complex, it’s because you aren’t peering around the corners and between the cracks.

Because my professional media career was born in adversity, I raised it out of necessity. I had to look beyond the usual places for work.

So I taught private investigators how to write, designed a spread of nude celebrity photos for the National Enquirer, and pushed a Clear Channel producer down the steps of the Miami Heat arena after encasing him in bubble wrap, then narrating the experience for a popular morning show. (“The bubble wrap is exploding like so much Miami gunfire!”)

I’m not a smart man – I never did graduate from college – so if I can make a living in the media, you can make a killing. Next month, I’ll explain how.

Among the big lessons I’ve learned the hard way…

  • You’ll have at least one job in your life you don’t know exists yet.
  • You’ll have another job that doesn’t exist right now.
  • You can prepare for both without knowing more about either.

For 14 years, I’ve advised the newspaper at a middling state school called Florida Atlantic University. (FAU students call it “Finished And Unemployed.”) Yet our grads beat out those from better schools for plum jobs. I’ll tell you why.

For 15 years, I’ve run this crappy website: South Florida Media Jobs. Because it’s free, I chat with lots of employers who can’t afford (or are too cheap to pay) JournalismJobs.com and Monster.com. I’ll tell you what they’ve told me.

The webinar is free, no strings. I won’t try to sell you an e-book or a food processor. (“It slices! Dices! Makes julienne fries!”)

And my old girlfriend? She still works at that Top 100 newspaper and married that photojournalist, who was later nominated for a Pulitzer. We’re still friends, and we often laugh at how our careers diverged.

We laugh because we’re both happy with the way things turned out.