The Post-Uni Void

All my life, I’ve had some semblance of direction in terms of education and work. I’ve always known that I first go to primary school and do well to then try to get into a good secondary school. Then, you work hard for your GCSEs to make sure you get into a good sixth form. After that, you have A-Levels for two years that need to be good enough to get into your chosen university to do a degree. Then it all starts to get a bit hazy. You complete your three (or however many) years, perhaps doing a dissertation because ’employers like that’, and work hard with the notion of getting a good job at the end of it.

For people who do degrees such as engineering and medicine, degrees that are career-based if you will, pretty much have no problem (and I say this with experience personally having a humanities degree, and family who have gone through with career-based degrees such as medicine, nursing etc). Their main focus is to pass their degree – and, of course, there are other levels in terms of the better you do the better your placement etc, but at the end of the day all they need to do to get a job is pass.

Now I know, I know, I’m making it all sound like a piece of cake. My point here is not the degree itself, because obviously doing a degree in nursing is no walk in the park. Everyone can argue about the difficulty of their chosen degrees, so I’m not going to delve into that here. My point is merely that post-uni void, the one that for those of us without career-based degrees have to face. Whilst others are discussing their careers, essentially awarded to them as soon as their positive results came in, I’m left surrounded by applications and notifications from various job websites, alerting me to anything popping up in my area. Whilst some of my friends are settling into careers they’ve been preparing for throughout university, others are trying to figure out what career they’d even like to do. In my last year at university, not only did I have to worry about modules and essays and exams, but also about internships and securing work experience, going to talks to try to meet people and make contacts. I had to go to a job interview during my second term, so sacrificed several days of university work in an effort to prepare.

And then come the rejections. I imagine those in career-led degrees know rejection just as well, but I’m pretty sure that they don’t (at least, I hope they don’t) spend their post-uni months trying to stay positive as rejection after rejection comes in. Most of them are in secure jobs, a lot of them pretty well paid, whilst others (myself included) are trying to figure out how exactly to manage in a world with no more student loan, but a shit ton of taxes and bills they never had to worry about before.

I talk a lot, maybe too much, about rejection – mainly because at the moment it’s what I’m experiencing. The other reason is because, when I read encouragement posts or blogs about life achievements or similar, they’re all by people who have already succeeded. Or even just in everyday life, when someone tells me ‘oh you’ll get there’ and ‘this one just isn’t meant to be’ or, my favourite, ‘you’re great, of course someone will pick you soon’. Whilst it all comes from a good place, more often than not it’s from someone who is in a very stable place in their life. Blog posts and videos from people that are there to inspire are all from people who have already won their prize. It’s difficult to listen to their words without feeling bitter, or at least that’s how I feel. It’s hard to hear about how fantastic someone’s life is turning out and hear their advice, when you’re in a place where it feels like no one can relate.

For the past few months, I’ve been living in a post-uni void where I’ve let those reassurances from other people linger in my mind every night when I go to sleep. I’ve thought to myself ‘it’s just the wrong time’ or ‘something better is coming’, but when I see yet another rejection – be it for a publishing job that I wanted more than anything, or from an agent who didn’t like my manuscript – it makes me start to doubt. It’s like university gives you rose-tinted glasses, and you look at that degree on your CV and think it’s like a key that unlocks the next level, but that key doesn’t always work. People without that key seem to be just as successful and not, so really what is the point of this key?

Of course, then you start to think that of course that key is going to get you places, you just have to put in the work to keep it gleaming and find the right door. I’ve only been able to gain access to such a thing because of my privilege, as someone who comes from a family who was able to send me to good schools and someone who hasn’t had to worry about anything other than working hard. When I read this back, I can’t help but think of myself as being seen as the whiny white girl, who at the first hurdle sits down and cries. But damn, for me this hurdle is bloody huge. It seems every time I try to make a leap and think I’ve gained some ground, I just can’t get past it – even putting in all the effort and hours of work doesn’t seem to work.

There are too many metaphors and similes going on here, which is when you know that I’m being increasingly dramatic.

It’s hard. Life is bloody hard. Trying to keep that positivity in the face of failure and (what feels like) constant rejection is hard. Hearing from successful people the cliche sayings that it’s not meant to be is hard. Looking at people rising up all around you when it feels like you’re standing still is especially hard. I feel like I jump from happiness one day to despair the next, and this is one rollercoaster that I can’t really navigate. It’s like my head space is one tangled web and I just can’t figure out what is going on anymore.

Because, really, at the end of the day I do have a job. Yes, it’s in retail and, yes, it’s my part-time job that I’ve taken full-time, but it’s also a job that I love and am passionate about. It’s a job where I love what I do and love the people I work with, and isn’t that what anybody can ever really ask for? I’m in a flat, living with my best friend, and spending far too much money on food – which I can only just about do before going completely broke. My parents support me, and that’s shown in the fact that they’ll probably read this first and immediately call or text to tell me that they think it’s written well, even though 9 times out of 10 I don’t really think it is.

So when I go to sleep at night (and then wake up blurry eyed in the morning), I’m going to stop repeating those stupid sayings that make me think something will just turn up round the corner. Or, to put it better, I’m going to stop placing all my hope on words that really don’t mean or promise anything. It’s far easier, and I’m sure far healthier, to focus on the present day instead of wishing for something that may or may not be just around the corner. Instead, I’m going to try to think about what I do have and what I’ve already achieved, which I guess is what all those successful people are trying to say anyway in their inspiring speeches. And, hell, I’m successful in my own right, even if it feels that in my current stage of life with its goals I’m not. I’m sure a fifteen year old trying to get into a good sixth form and university would count me as successful, high paying job or no.

Or maybe they’d just think I’m a bit dramatic, and tell me I should probably just go get some tea, have a little sit down, and think of some nicer things. So on that note, I’m going to go put the kettle on and watch some dog videos. Feel free to join me, whether you feel successful or not (that’s the great thing about dog videos, or cat ones if you’re that kind of person; they don’t give a damn who you are, they just like the views).

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Musings of a 21-year-old

That’s right, I made it to 21 without any unwanted pregnancies, flunking out of school, or giving up on everything and becoming a full-time dog walker (though let’s be honest, the latter is something I’d be very happy to do).

21 has always been a big milestone for me. It seems the big ones in my mind were always the ones that are featured a lot on TV or have a lot of meaning attached to them, such as Sweet Sixteen in America. I thought when I reached 18, the legal drinking age in the UK, that would be the moment I became a ‘proper adult’. When I turned 18, I realised that was a load of bollocks and looked forward to not being a teenager anymore, whilst at the same time being absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t be a teen anymore.

So 21 was the age I had in my mind. Me turning 21 would mean that I would have finished university. Turning 21 would (hopefully) mean that I knew what I wanted to do with my life. 21 was going to be the new me, the adult me, the improved me, the me that has her shit together and goals written down on a checklist that I would tick off each day.

Well, in all honesty past-me and readers of this blog, 21 pretty much feels like 20. That’s the problem with birthdays; you big them up so much, have a countdown until the day whilst your excitement grows and grows like some great fire, only to be snuffed out on the anti-climatic day when you look in the mirror and think: I look no different than yesterday. Because your birthday is not the day that everything clicks into place. It is not the day where you feel like an adult or the day that your goals are all met or that you feel so much older than you did the year before. Those things happen in the in-between. I didn’t get more confident when I hit 20; it happened somewhere between my milestones of 18 and 20 without realising. I didn’t figure out what I wanted from life as soon as I turned 21, and I doubt I’ll fully know what I want from life if I just muse about it to a computer screen.

Birthdays in general make me muse more than often, and I wonder if it’s due to the fact that, as the years go on, events like birthdays, easter, christmas and other celebrations slowly start to lose their magic. All through childhood I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before Christmas, or my birthday, imagining all the fantastic and wonderful things that were a few mere hours away. The next year is exciting and filled with the unknown, which only made it more exciting. Yes, the next year is still filled with the unknown, but it’s about as exciting as it is terrifying.

Still, I’ve made it this far – which in retrospect, isn’t even that far at all – so I might as well keep going and hope that, along the way, I live my life the way I want to. You’ll hear about, regardless.

Where I am Now

It has happened – I have finally got to the point where I can say that I have finished university and my time in education (unless I’ve failed my final exam and messed up all my coursework so will have to do retakes in August, but hopefully that won’t be the case). Finishing university has always been a huge milestone for me, and tied up with the fact that I have never not been in education, it’s a big one. When you’re in school, you dream of the day that you won’t have to be in school any longer. No more exams, no more essays, no more petty childish drama – and pretty much all three happen still in university. I say ‘you’, which realistically is a big assumption to make on behalf of everyone reading this, but what I’m trying to grasp at is that feeling of anticipating the next stage of your life. I, for one, had big expectations of what I would be like once I’d finished in education. I had hopes, dreams, and plenty of those pesky assumptions which I’m now having to reflect on.

The first big thing is independence, which in essence I have achieved in terms of living away from home during university months, doing my own washing, cooking etc etc. Yet when I was younger independence did not look like going down to tesco just before it shuts because you needed to put a wash on and have run out of tablets. It did not look like eating the same meal for three nights in a row because you want to save money. It did not like forgetting simple things every now and then because you’re tired, such as hot ceramic dishes do not mix with cold water. I know, I know, it’s all about living and learning and growing and bettering yourself, but that mantra does no good at 1am drying your bed sheets with a hairdryer because you forgot about the wash you put on.

One big thing I always thought about was what job I would have – and the dream job has changed many, many times. Becoming an author (and by that I mean a good author who has people who like their books so much that they can making a living out of it) has always been a dream job, but there are always others that pop in and out of my mind. First I wanted to be a professional horse rider, then a pop star, and then deciding I wasn’t a good enough singer so a songwriter. Recently, the dream is to be in publishing, and I certainly expected to have a job lined up and ready once university was finished. Yet, here I am, and all those hopeful publishing applications I sent out have been returned with a ‘thanks, but no’. You’re always told that you go to school, then to university, then you’ll get a job – but nobody really talks that much about the in-between. When applying for universities, no one told me about how, even if I do well and get a great degree, a job won’t be there waiting for me. They didn’t tell me that even if you work your arse off not only at your degree but at applying for jobs, it won’t necessarily mean you’ll get one either.

With the job dreams also come the social life dreams, and I always assumed that by the time university was over I would be in a committed, happy relationship with someone who could celebrate with me over all those job offers I had coming in. Again, Little Miss Assumption over here, but when I was younger that was what I thought was the most important. It was like a list of items to take the Life Goals Supermarket, and you would tick each one as you went along. Job? Tick. Relationship? Tick. What else was needed?

I knew I was going to forget a big one, and that is the dream I’ve had for a long long time, probably starting at about 10 years old – and perhaps the saddest one when I look back at it. What I wanted all through secondary school was beauty. And isn’t that just awful? Sure, sure, we can just argue and brush it off by saying that society makes us try to value what we’re born with (looks, parent’s wealth, lack of both) over what we earn for ourselves (perseverance, patience, kindness). And sure, we can all stand around and say that no society, we will not be partaking in that thank you very much. But at the end of the day, when I would go home at 12 years old and look in the mirror, all I would see was acne, a big nose, un-styled hair, and chubby patches all over. I’ve spoken a lot about acne and appearances in the past and how I now feel more confident, but I’m still filled with the memories of standing in front of a mirror and wishing that there were no mirrors in the world so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. Wishing that there was some way to exchange your face for a new one. Wishing that there was a way that meant I could live my life without anyone looking at me. And I wished for that day in the future, the day when I finished school for good, when puberty should have been and gone and left me unblemished, with clear smooth skin, great hair, and a body I was happy with. That was what was going to be my biggest marker of how far I had come.

But, as is the way of life, things didn’t exactly go to plan. Here I am, university finished, but just after the days of stress with my emotions all over the place and a few days of very hot weather, I’ve had another skin breakout. I have red spots dotted around my face like some flicked paint at me with a toothbrush. I’ve got black heads on my chin and nose, and something resembling Mount Etna on my neck. You stare in that pesky mirror and it’s pretty hard to think that you haven’t come that far at all.

Then I have to slap myself for being so melodramatic. Because I am not that twelve year old girl thinking that people won’t like me just because I have a spot on my chin. Like, jesus christ Eleanor, it’s not the end of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it kinda hurts when you poke it, but it’s just a spot. There’s the magic of makeup if you’re feeling super downhearted but other than that, your face and your looks do not define you. Twelve-year-old me hardly knew how to write paragraphs, and here I am having just written a 10,000 word dissertation on a topic I love on top of my various other coursework and exam revision. On top of that I have worked every single weekend for almost two years now so that I can keep living in London and support myself. On top of that I have been going to different opportunities to make contacts and get work experience. And on top of that I’ve surrounded myself with friends who I love (and who assure me they love me back when I’m not being so ridiculously melodramatic).

And so, like most of these blog posts go, this has turned from reflection to being a self-affirmation that whilst all my hopes and dreams haven’t exactly come to pass, I’ve realised that they’re allowed to change a bit. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a bestselling author telling the story of how she almost let a pimple keep her from chasing her dream, and everyone will say, “Man, she was a melodramatic child”.

The Dream

Apparently it’s my 3 year WordPress Anniversary today – so happy birthday to alwayslovetowrite. I thought it would be fitting to post about today what 16-year-old me had hoped for this blog to one day be.

Since I was in primary school, I knew I wanted to be writer. The earliest bits of writing I can remember include a play about a mystery involving some kids, a dog and a graveyard (I was big on Scooby Doo at the time), a book that explored a crush I had at the tender age of eight with it’s sequel written when said crush moved to another country, and several poems.

In secondary school, for the first year I thought I’d be a lawyer – but then I realised I had no interest at all in being a lawyer and went back to writing. In my second year, I fell in love with supernatural and fantasy genres due to the discovery of Twlilight. Even though I can say now that there are a million books better than Twilight and that the writing really isn’t all that great, I can’t deny that it did have an impact on me as a twelve year old girl. Soon I was writing my own fantasy stories, most of them about werewolves because it seemed obvious to me that turning into a wolf was ten times better than having a pair of fangs. My best friend and I started writing our own book in our third year, Year 9, about guardians for humans which were in fact angels – it also included two very attractive guys and a kickass heroine who rode a motorbike. We even wrote a song to go with the book and fell in love with a few secondary characters, which is when I first discovered that you didn’t have to be the attractive hero of the book in order to be the one that everyone loves.

Years passed and I wrote story after another on my laptop up until the point that I had literally hundreds of documents in my ‘Stories’ folder filled with ideas that I’d started. I’d be writing every day, whether it was in a notebook, on my computer or even on my phone. In a few of my lessons, I would stop the person next to me paying attention to the teacher by telling them all my latest story ideas. Some of them were downright awful and my writing completely undeveloped, but none of my wonderful friends every complained.

So it’s safe to say that my dream has always been to be an author and be able to live off my books. I attended a journalism course in sixth form when I was seventeen and that showed me a completely different way that I could live off writing, but my ultimate dream is still to be an author.

There was one story that I wrote 54,000 words of in sixth form, though reading it today it has elements of being a good book but isn’t written well at all – which is ok. I’m still developing as a writer, and I’m slowly learning that what I once thought was my best writing ever isn’t my best writing now. There was, however, a small story that I had started to write and used to always send little excerpts to one of my best friends and, like a true friend, she’d tell me how much she loved it. I poured my heart into this book with scenes that I’d experienced, from the bad to the good, and little one-liners that friends or family had said that stuck with me. When I finished school, I left this little story and spent my first year at university, but this summer I discovered it again and started to write. At only 20,000 words, I felt that it was finished. And I liked it.

My Mum always has this little joking quip of ‘When are you going to do it?’ when I talk about being an author. I always claim that I’ll send off my work to someone someday, but I’ve never done it. I suppose when you’ve dreamed about something for so long, when it comes to it you just don’t know where to start or if you can start. All my journalism work and university has done wonders to help build up my confidence, so this summer I decided ‘screw it’ and I sent off my little book to a huge list of agents.

Then, the rejections started coming.

I’ve always heard – well, I’m sure we’ve all heard some story – that all writers get rejected and it can be years before you get that first ‘yes’. Everyone likes to use the example of J.K Rowling with rejection stories and it’s all well and good telling yourself this, but it’s hard. It’s horrible. I hate it. Of course you know not everyone is going to like you or your writing, but being told that they don’t like it is something entirely different. I’ve spent the last week – because yes, I’ve only sent off my work to agents over the last week or so – feeling completely demoralised. Is my dream that far out of reach? Am I actually just a shit writer? Why am I even bothering with all these rejections? Why don’t I just give up?

Again, it’s hard to do things like this when you’re life’s dream is on the line. This is all I’ve ever wanted, and alwayslovetowrite has helped bring me to this place as much as anyone. Every time I get a notification of a new follower or someone liking one of my posts, I do a childish little happy dance, or squeal, or grin, or punch the air, or all of the above. 16 year old me started this blog to just post chapters of my writing, searching for some reassurance that she could write and that other people liked it. It’s fine having friends or family tell you it’s good, but to have a complete stranger make a nice comment is completely different. Of course then I didn’t think that anyone would just copy and paste my work or steal my ideas, which is what I was certain a famous author had done when I wrote a chapter of an idea on mythical water horses – which wasn’t that good, but I was very proud of the title ‘Race Against the Tide’ – and then a few months later an author released a book on water horses. Obviously they hadn’t stolen my idea, as it takes a lot longer to write a book and then have it published than a month, but I stopped posting chapters after that.

So now alwayslovetowrite is a true blog, where I vent, complain, attempt to relate – all that fun stuff. I thought for this anniversary I’d go back to the roots, tell you a little story and give you an update that is now constantly on my mind. For those of you who are curious, I’ve written to 44 agents and have had 8 replies; 7 rejections, one of which gave me some pointers and another which gave me a positive response, and 1 request for the full manuscript. We’ll see where this all goes, most likely to nowhere as it’s my first attempt to actually put my name out there (or, more accurate, my writing out there with a pseudonym because no one can say my surname) but I’m still trying. There’s that saying that goes along the lines of if you never try you’ll never succeed, so this is me ‘giving a go’ at actually achieving my dream.

I kind of feel like I’m giving a speech or an origin story, so to make it even more generic I’m going to say a bunch of thank yous even though I haven’t actually achieved anything yet. To my friends at school who probably didn’t do as well in class as they should have because I kept telling you about my latest story, you rock. To one of my best friends who has always read my work and told me how great it was or asked on updates for the characters, you know who you are and you know that you’re the best person in the world. To my parents, my biggest cheerleaders who read every blog I post, especially my Dad who remains the ‘Top Comment-er’, words can’t describe my thanks – especially for putting up for my mood swings and existential crisis recently.

Finally, to all of the people that read/follow/accidentally found my blog – thank you for the support, the love, the constructive feedback and everything else. Happy third anniversary, I guess!

This turned soppy far too quickly.