Maybe you had it all planned out. You thought you’d be starting your grad job in September. But then coronavirus happened and suddenly the future seems uncertain.
I may have graduated two years ago and into a normal world rather than this post-apocalyptic horror movie of a car crash, but I can speak as someone who has had quite a few bumps in the road (and that is putting it kindly).
When I was in sixth form, I naively thought I’d sail through to university, do my four years of French and Italian, land myself an entry-level job in a major publishing house, get married, work my way up the career ladder, have kids, and so on and so forth with lots of sunshine and rainbows.
What I didn’t know was that I would be at university for a total of 5 weeks before dropping out, then would spend a year working all week in a shop selling outdoor equipment and making cocktails for drunk city boys on my Friday and Saturday nights. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just wasn’t what I’d planned.
Then, when I did go back to university, I ended up living at home for the majority of my third year, submitting my dissertation remotely and celebrating in my back garden with a glass of prosecco. Essentially, I prematurely did what all final year students in 2020 have had to do.
So, the road through the education system hasn’t been plain sailing for me. Getting my degree didn’t equal a graduate job straight out of university, and it certainly didn’t equal knowing what I wanted to do. I wanted to write this post for anyone who has recently graduated and has found themselves faced with a plummeting economy, a diminished job market, and a global lockdown.
Below are some statements that might be floating around your head, as they floated around mine when things didn’t go to plan. It’s important to notice and challenge these thoughts as much as possible, because although they are valid, they are simply not worth the angst.
I’m going to fall behind
Behind what? Other people? Your parents’ expected trajectory for your life? The norm? Your own carefully calculated schedule? None of these things are actually real. They may feel real, but they are just constructions that have come to feel like the be-all-and-end-all in your head. While it’s good to have goals in life, they don’t always need to be time-sensitive. Maybe a few months, or even years, will insert themselves into the plan, but when you’ve got your whole life ahead of you that doesn’t really matter. I thought I would graduate at 21, but I graduated at 23 instead. This has never come up in a job interview and isn’t really something that bothers me anymore. You will learn to readjust and see this time as part of the process.
I will never find a ‘proper’ job
Fair enough, you might not find one immediately, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never find one. Perhaps your first job out of uni won’t be what you had in mind, but it will be a way of earning money, gaining professional experience and meeting new people. You don’t need to jump into your graduate job straight away if that’s not looking likely at the moment – it’s not a failure to do something else first. Maybe you’re privileged enough to be able to try an unpaid or low paid internship in something you’re interested in, or volunteer for a charity that’s important to you. If not, maybe you work on the coronavirus ‘front line’ in a supermarket, serving the community, earning money and building your (highly transferable) skills. Lots of people do this post-uni when there isn’t a pandemic on, so there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing it when there is.
This whole year will be wasted if I don’t get a job now
Even if you spent a year watching Netflix and eating Ben & Jerry’s from the tub, the time wouldn’t be wasted. That’s an extreme example, obviously, but during that time you would gain knowledge, encounter new ideas, be exposed to different opinions, and probably put a few holes in your teeth. Also, just because you don’t have a job to start in September, that doesn’t mean you won’t get one in October, November, December etc. The real world doesn’t work in academic years. Maybe that’s patronising, but I think it’s easy to forget that when you enter post-uni life, time is much more fluid. There are no designated half-terms or annual exam periods. You can start a new job at any point in the year. (Of course, this is slightly different if you’re hoping to get on a grad scheme or something similar, but these can always be started next year.) But, in terms of just getting an entry-level job, don’t put pressure on yourself to have secured it by a certain date, especially as the future is so unclear at the moment.
I still don’t know what I want to do
This may all be very well, but what if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, pandemic or no pandemic? This is a tricky one and I’ve been there myself. It’s depressing, overwhelming and makes you feel like you’ve somehow failed at being in your early twenties. Why couldn’t you just be one of those kids who knew they wanted to be a doctor ever since they received a toy stethoscope for Christmas at the age of 5? I think – and this is a note to self too – that it’s important not to be paralysed by the desire to find your ‘dream’ job straight away. You might do one thing for a couple of years, meet some nice people but feel uninspired, then move on. This might go on for all of your twenties. Then, maybe you’ll find a role in which you can see yourself 5, 10, 15 years down the line. Being successful, career-wise, doesn’t necessarily mean getting the industry/role/working environment/whatever right straight away. If you know the vague industry, then that’s great, you can go from there. If not, just search jobs by skill-set instead.
You also could be thinking:
Great, this situation means I don’t have to deal with ‘real life’ right now
This is okay. Or I certainly hope it is, as this thought has definitely gone through my mind at various points throughout lockdown. In normal circumstances, maybe you’d be feeling pressure to spend your summer interning or applying for grad jobs, but this current situ means that you’ve been let off the hook. What job market? There’s nothing much going on right now, so you don’t have to worry about careers until it’s all over. I could give you a pep talk, but my immediate inclination is to say that you’re right – you’ve been given a bit of breathing space. Personally, that’s something I think everyone needs post-uni. It’s too much to go hurtling into the world of work without a break, without room to think, without time to experience things and rest. If this is how you’re feeling (and you’re financially in the position to press pause), then I think you should go for it. Obviously there’s a limit to what you can do right now, but just chill out, take up a new hobby, volunteer, create, eat, drink, just r e s t. You’ve got the rest of your life to work, so if you can, take the much-needed break in both hands and make it your own.
Everyone is different and I hope none of this comes across as patronising. Maybe you can relate to one or two of the statements, or perhaps none at all. But however you’re feeling during this mad time, know that it is completely valid, normal and surmountable.
One day you’ll look back and wonder how the heck you got where you did after graduating into such a ridiculous world. You’ll see these months, this year, as a strange, stressful, uncertain, scary era in your life, but one that has helped shape your future. There are periods in my life which I would rather hadn’t happened, but I know I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today if they hadn’t.