I was thirteen when I learnt to live by the motto: “You can have anything you want in life, if you work hard for it.” And I mean live by: thirteen year olds tend to take things more literally. Anyone who knew me could attest to the amount of time and effort that was dedicated to selecting the most poignantly heartbreaking My Chemical Romance lyrics for my MSN name (clearly the way to harpoon the affections of the boy who hadn’t quite caught on yet that we were meant to be). That and other things that seem to be at the forefront of a thirteen year old’s slightly short-sighted conscience i.e. the Jane Norman bag which I devoted hours of not-so-subtle hinting at the dinner table to acquire. Priorities.

So, here we are dealing with a girl who was not (and still isn’t) afraid of putting in the hard grind to reap the rewards (shortly before being dumped via text obvs, and purchasing a bag which now has little to no sartorial credo).

Less importantly than both of those character-defining moments, were my GCSE’s – a time when you were constantly reminded than anything less than 100% effort would land you a position in the Argos stockroom for the rest of your life.

Not the dream.

If you thought about having a WKD at the weekend you better start writing those McDonalds job applications right now (…that actually might still stand purely because who even drinks WKD anymore? But that is beside the point). The need to put in 100% effort never ends for the generation that has the world at its fingertips. School onwards to university: exams, dissertations, more exams. And then into job applications and the shit-storm that is a job interview, where, if you can’t recite the entire company history and haven’t had a job prior to this one, then you’re in for a pretty bad time regardless of that first class degree you spent three years slaving over (a vicious, vicious circle that tends to end in wine and then that Argos job application.)

Forever under the impression that if at any point in this circus of work you are to slip-up and not achieve your goals, it can only be testimony to your being a lazy moron and prioritising re-runs of the O.C over another day in the library. Because rest is for the wicked, you have the same hours in a day as Beyonce and you can sleep when you die. We are always told that anything is within your reach if you work hard enough for it.

I’m calling bullshit.

As a natural hard worker, I hate this mantra. It irks me beyond belief when I fail at something and think of this phrase; how can I avoid thinking what if I had tried that little bit harder (even though deep down I couldn’t have – working hard is my jam.) I call bullshit on people not just saying ‘tough luck buddy, sometimes life doesn’t go as planned even though you worked your ass off’. Why can’t we say this?

I feel that this phrase completely infers that if you are to fail at anything, even something completely outside your capabilities, it’s because you didn’t apply yourself enough. And that is sucky. And it makes people feel bad.

I’m telling you right now, even if I desperately wanted to be an astronaut, that isn’t happening. I also want to be able to afford to rent a flat in a part of London where I won’t become embroiled in gang warfare every time I leave the house, but even if I put on the hardest working hat in my cupboard (cupboard is a strong word, more shoe box because again, London flats), that is not going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong – it is empowering that our generation (especially us lucky ones with vaginas) have more options than ever before and the world is our oyster. But I think it is our oyster in the sense that sometimes you find a shiny pearl and make a beautiful humble-brag-necklace and can put it all over Instagram and other times you just get a mouth full of disgusting salt water. Life is basically like shellfish.

Is having so many ‘opportunities’ available as crippling as it is empowering when it makes us feel like we haven’t achieved it all? Maybe I don’t want to be told I can do anything I want, largely because I can’t. No one can.

You only need to look at our current economy and job market, or at least for all the graduates since 2008, to see that even if everyone was working to their upmost capabilities, some poor sod isn’t going to be getting hired. Life is, and always will be unless we find ourselves in some Brave New World scenario (arguably also not the dream), a little bit hit and miss.

Sitting on the sofa eating chicken dippers and watching Jeremy Kyle all day isn’t going to get you the life you want; but 3 years of studying, countless unpaid placements and caring for kittens in your spare time doesn’t entitle us to our dreams. So why pretend it does? Why can’t we embrace failure?

So I won’t stop working hard, but I’m okay to cut myself some slack. You should be okay to cut yourself some slack too; the world is your oyster, but sometimes oysters give you food poisoning.

Illustration: Emma Palin & Maddison Burford

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