“Education, education, education”, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s famous tagline for his party’s priorities back in the 90’s. With this ringing in the ears of parents and teachers alike it is not surprising that after years of promoting the ‘school + sixth form + university degree = excellent job’ formula, Generation Y is now left wondering what went wrong. After years of working hard, taking exams and jumping through educational hoops, there are now thousands of twenty-something-year-olds waiting to cash in that cheque and reap their reward. Well, the hard truth is, it is not necessarily going to be as easy as you first thought. And if you have not realised that yet, then you must have been living under a rock (or maybe it is that humongous pile of secondary reading you are currently trawling your way through). Either way, Generation Y is not receiving the other end of the bargain anytime soon, so why are you still waiting around for it? And more importantly, why are you still allowing yourself to feel like a failure for it?
Career aside, your 20’s have the potential to be about experiencing as much as possible, meeting new people, going to new places and trying out new things, and that is not always possible once you step onto that ever so sought-after career ladder. So really take a moment to think, ‘Is this what I want?’, ‘Is this for me?’ And don’t feel bad if it is not, just be ready to come up with a different plan. This is not specific to graduates either; these questions are applicable before you have even left school, especially when it comes to the university debate. Consider if university truly is for you and if it is, then is the course the right one? It is so easy to get wrapped up in the rigmarole of what is expected of you and what everyone else is doing, but it is surprising how many people say “If I’d really thought about it I would/wouldn’t have done this/that” or “If I had had a bit more experience or time I would have picked a more suited degree that interested me more”. So give yourself that time, be smart about it and try to blank out the noise of what other people are saying or doing and be brave enough to swim against the tide and pursue another path if that is what you truly want.
A variety of options should are out there and alternative decisions should not be apologised for (and certainly not spoken about in a downtrodden manner in the wake of a tireless effort to crack the graduate job market). As someone who has been there, done that, got the T-shirt, I know how it feels to be a perky, shiny new graduate waiting to take the job market by storm. I also know what it is like to experience chronic checking-my-inbox-syndrome for a positive response – in fact any response – from an employer, and to never receive it. So you know what I did? I snapped out of it, went back to my retail job, completed an extra course, worked every single bit of overtime available, saved up and took off. I Inter-railed around Eastern Europe and then went to live and work in Italy for a year, which led to an internship in France this past summer. I now have a publishing contact in Melbourne, a host mum who was formerly an editor for a science publication and contacts in the journalism industry, all great to have when I want to enter into book publishing at some point. My friendship group has expanded to having friends (and places to stay for future travelling escapades) in Germany, France, Italy, America, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Scotland and various places in England. I’ve lived, loved and travelled another country, learnt a new language and gained many experiences and new skills along the way.
If you are still hankering for an answer as to how this will help you in the long run for career-prospects, here it is, your CV will be richer and multi-levelled, but most of all unique. You will have more to talk about in future job interviews and you will ace a competency based test as you will have an abundance of anecdotes and examples to choose from. But most of all, you will stand out from other candidates, not only in experience, but in attitude, perspective, opinions and open-mindedness.
I am a firm believer in the saying ‘each to your own’ – that choices should be encouraged, and alternative decisions supported. So if the post-uni career ladder is for you then that is great, go for it! But if it is not and you are not ready to commit to one profession or place, then don’t. Stop beating yourself up for not being able to secure that £25,000-a-year graduate scheme with all the bells and whistles in perks, 10.7 seconds after they have handed you your motor board and scroll. Explore your options, look at volunteering programmes, enquire about internships, research opportunities abroad, learn a language, go city-hopping, save up your money and take off, take up another course, learn a new skill, join the circus if you really want! Pursue the opportunities that you want and that you think will bring something rewarding and worthwhile into your life. If they don’t work out, then that is okay, not everything will, but you will still gain from it and you will learn what not to do next time around. It is all about trial and error.
Ultimately it is your life, your decisions. No one wants to look back and wish they had done something that they no longer have the chance to do. So be proactive, be different, be bold! More often than not, stepping out of the graduate rat race and taking a detour opens up more doors and presents you with more opportunities than you ever imagined, bringing you right to where you want to be.
Photo Credit: Flickr/jenny downing