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).