So, What Next?

Graduating

It’s a question I’ve started dreading being asked, especially by adults. Obviously, when I say adults, I mean adults older than me – I’ve technically been an adult for four years now. The adultier-adults.

‘So, what are you doing next year?’

Cue panic, hot flushes and occasional panic blurt of a complete lie.

Considering I changed my mind five times about what degree I even wanted to do at university, you will see the conundrum of choosing what I want to do with, you know, the rest of my life. It’s not just me, of course – the fear is real in almost everyone I know, even the people who I think have it sorted. I realise that what I do next year, or even in the next few years probably won’t be what I do forever, but that doesn’t stop the question inciting panic. Some days I feel full of excitement for the unknown, the future, the endless possibility. Some days I feel like I’m being crushed under the pressure of the reality of grown-up life that begins after graduation in June, ripped from the womb too early etc…after I feel like I’ve only just conquered the art of cooking the right amount of pasta for one person.

The unfortunate thing is that now, unlike when I left school, I don’t have the convenient cushion of saying that I’m heading off to a good university to study languages. Those four years were mapped out, I had a plan – and, even better, it as really similar to the what I’d had been doing my whole life at school, but this time I had to factor in more alcohol and aforementioned pasta problem. Now? For people graduating, the years stretch out ahead of you, and the stabilising wheels have been very quickly taken off the bike. There is no road map, this is where adulting begins; simultaneously the world tells you to take it slow, and then swiftly reminds you that unemployment is high and you will probably never be able to afford anything, ever.

So, in this situation, is it to be wondered at that many students are choosing the option of graduate schemes and training contracts? Further education has become the mantra as we try, desperately, to hold off on the real world for just one more year.

A lot of universities place a heavy emphasis on banking and finance, and law. Heavy is an understatement, too. Every Wednesday there is a different worldwide corporation handing out free coffee or smoothies – usually a beverage of some description – in an effort to incite students to sign up and explore opportunities within their company. Careers fairs are an accounting conference, and the only thing I want is the free pens.

In my first year I didn’t even know what a Spring Week was (you go and intern at a bank, in the spring). Now? I could quite easily explain the laborious process of interning over university holidays, with the aim of being offered a job at the end of your degree because I’ve had to hear about it more times than I’d care to remember. Banking or insurance might be your dream, that’s completely ok, different people are made happy by different things. Kudos for knowing the the hell is going on, and what you want. In fact, where do the rest of us sign up?

But what if that doesn’t float your boat? What if there seems to be so much choice about what to do that you keep, despite the odds, drawing a massive blank? The job market at the moment is uncertain, and evolving all the time. It isn’t like the apparently halcyon days of our parents when you could move to London and seemingly walk into a job the next day. Especially now as moving to London is so eye wateringly expensive, filing for bankruptcy might seem like the more viable option.

So when you are thinking of navigating an uncertain job market, the high cost of living, student debt, the fact we are ‘generation rent’, grad schemes and training contracts don’t seem like such a bad idea. In fact, when you consider other options such as unpaid interning and work experience, which are often the harsh realities of wanting a job in media or arts, they may seem a very good idea. Arts and humanities students wanting to strike off the beaten path half joke about selling their souls, dreading that they might actually have to.

But what if you do want to deviate from the traditional post-grad options? I have been the recipient of the condescension that greets the response, ‘I’m not really sure what I’m doing next year’. Or, even better, when I explain what it is I think want to do and I’m immediately told how competitive or impossible to break into it is. Great, thanks, fabulous. I’ve also seen friends being laughed at when they say they want to start their own business, or hear the words, ‘your poor parents’ when they say they want to go to drama school. Isn’t it amazing to have those aims? Shouldn’t that be admired? When did we stop being told to ‘reach for the stars’, as corny as that does sound?

If you’re panicking remember that you’re definitely not alone. Reconcile yourself that it’s ok to not know what you want to do next week, next month, or next year. Remember that it’s the time to enjoy the uncertainty. You’re actually really quite young. It’s cliché but you have your whole life ahead of you. Travel, learn, and don’t subscribe to this pressure of having a ‘plan’. Dream as big as you like, know you will need to work hard for it. If you trip up on the way to those dreams, like millions before you, then embrace and learn from it and don’t be afraid to fail. No one else has the right to judge you for not knowing what you want, so don’t judge yourself. Your future might not look like everyone elses, and it might not look conventional, but it’s yours. Don’t be afraid to take the road less travelled.

Illustration: Mariel Abbene