It’s swiftly approaching an entire year since I graduated, and I feel the need to address the fact that I still don’t really have a clue what I’m doing.
I’ve always felt astonishment and slight envy towards the people around me who have just seemed to know what they want and where they’re going, whether in terms of their personal or professional life. My boyfriend has always known he wanted to pursue Chemistry/do a PhD at the very least… but how?! Much to my parent’s anguish, each of their questions and probes concerning my long-term/life plans has been met with a feeble shrug for the past decade, at least.
Like most children, growing up my career plans changed daily alongside my underwear. I was going to be a vet, then a writer, then a marine biologist, a journalist, an interior designer, a filmmaker – but this mentality unfortunately stuck throughout my teen years and has showed no signs of shifting since entering my early twenties, either.
When choosing my GCSE subjects, A Levels, and even my bloody £27,000 degree, I was quite content in following my teacher’s instructions of “just study what you enjoy”, but no-one seemed to pick up on the fact that the things I enjoyed at 12, 16 and 18 weren’t necessarily going to be the same things I enjoyed at 22, 30 or 55. And I’m not saying I don’t enjoy reading/writing right now, because I definitely do, (why else would I be attempting to write a blog for the fun of it?) but how did I know I enjoyed it enough at the tender age of 17 to gamble on it being a safe decision to rely on for the rest of my life?
I think the entire system is pretty messed up, actually. I’m currently in a profession that I didn’t even know existed when I was studying for my A Levels and picking my way through various prospectuses, desperately trying to find a course that I was happy to gamble over three years of my life and thousands of pounds on. It’s a profession I (fortunately) stumbled upon. But how are you supposed to build towards a career you aren’t even vaguely aware of at the time? I was told that essentially it wouldn’t matter what I studied, the fact I’d obtain a degree would speak volumes to future employers, but try telling that to the incredible numbers of Arts grads who have found themselves up shit creek without a paddle.
The truth is, degrees are seemingly becoming less of a commodity. Now, almost anyone can study at Higher Education level which is fantastic in many ways – class distinctions aren’t nearly as problematic as they were 50 years ago – but it also means that we need to be doing even more to stand out from our peers. An insane number of young people are graduating every single year, and the competition for jobs is fierce, which drives many to a point of desperation when it comes to job-hunting.
I applied for around 30-40 graduate-level jobs before I was actually offered anything. I’d worked in numerous retail positions for 5-6 years, had a degree from a university placed in the top 1% in the entire world, and my CV was pretty fleshed out, too. But I was declined, or in many cases just plain ignored, a minimum of 29 times before I struck gold. You see, most job descriptions required specific experience, but no-one wants to offer you paid work to gain that experience in the first place. Grads/undergrads are expected to work for free, which is another of my bugbears that deserves its own dedicated rant some other time.
In all honesty, if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I’d have even bothered with university. Or at least not for a good few years, when I’d given myself time to grow, mature and actually get to know myself. Being asked to decide on what you want to do for the rest of your life at 17/18 is a pretty big deal, and I feel that far too many people – myself included – are indirectly pushed into making rash decisions that are effectively going to spell out the rest of your goddamn days.