It’s late and I’m huddled over my desk with several hundred tabs open on my laptop. Research for my dissertation is mingled with grad scheme applications and the looming feeling of what’s next? Up until now, there’s always been a set path. School, sixth form, university and then… a job? Doing what I have no idea. Three years at university was supposed to help me decide what to do and here I am at graduation with no clearer idea than when I spoke to the careers advisor aged sixteen.
I’ve been out of university for almost two years now so I thought it would be interesting to see how things have changed. Graduation came with the feeling of reaching the edge of a cliff. There was so much excitement and opportunity if I took a leap into the unknown but wasn’t it better to stick to structure and secure a proper job right away? With a degree in English, I thought my best bet was to join a big company and do something like management consultancy or a leadership scheme.
I’d move to London, rent a tiny room and commute on the tube to the office where I’d work long hours and commute back to my tiny flat late at night to repeat the whole process the following day. I’d work hard and learn everything I could. I’d move up in the company, dreaming of the day when I had enough money to leave and buy my dream home in the countryside, away from the stress of London living. I had created this whole life for myself in my head that I knew already I didn’t want to live. The London-thing wasn’t for me, so why was I forcing myself to do what seemed like the logical and right thing?
So I went travelling. A gap year and last hurrah before the world of work. I had a plan. Eight countries ending with Canada. I felt better with a plan in place, I’d filled that blank page after university and labelled myself a recent graduate, rather than unemployed. I’d give myself a year to figure it all out.
As I ticked the countries off my list, I half-heartedly looked at grad schemes again. I compromised with myself and researched grad jobs out of London. This narrowed my search and there were a few schemes I could see myself doing. I convinced myself I’d enjoy it. At the back of my mind though was the crazy idea of finding a job in Canada. I have dual citizenship and it seemed a shame not to use it. That was not in the initial plan though. Where would I even begin to look for a job in Canada? They didn’t seem to do grad schemes like the UK and everything was just different. I began to curse my degree in English as every job wanted a degree in Marketing and Communications, or four to six years of experience for something seemingly entry-level. Following your dreams is all well and good until the prospect of job applications rudely awakens you to the real world. This was a bad idea I told myself. How do people even get jobs? I should have studied something more practical, something more employable.
Despite everything, almost exactly a year after leaving university I got a job. I remember trying to write my dissertation on the university campus with my friend, Holly. It was almost midnight and we were about to be kicked out of the room we were in. As usual, our conversation had strayed from dissertations and we pondered where we would be in a year. I think I’d mentioned travelling, said I maybe work in publishing because that seemed at least related to my degree. I’d probably be applying for a grad scheme I’d said or potentially find a job in Canada. That seemed so far off, a kind of off-hand comment. It’s weird to be sat here writing about that now, knowing that I’ve actually done it.
I think it’s ok to take time to figure things out. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do. You might not get your dream job right out of university, or even any kind of job at all. I think it’s important to decide what kind of life you want though and work towards that. I’m looking out on the Rocky Mountains as I write this because it’s mountain life, not city life that makes me happy right now. My friends are all doing different things in various places and I love that everyone has gone in the direction they want. If it’s the grad scheme that will allow you to get the job you’ve always wanted, do that. If doing a ski season is something you’ve always wanted to do, do that. If doing a Masters let’s you study what you love, do that. The possibilities are endless and that’s what makes it so difficult to decide which direction to go in. Pick the direction pointing towards your goals and if your journey to get there is a little wiggly or off-course that’s all good.
So, life after university is scary and exciting but I hope this reassures you that it’s ok to take some time to find your feet. And once you’re on your feet, make your mark on this world and stride confidently towards your goals. You’ve got this, graduates.
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