You have your life together. You are graduating in a few months and your whole life is going to fall into place from there. After all, you have a university degree.
If, like me, you are in your early- to mid- twenties and are still struggling to build, and some days even just envision, the life you are hoping to create (maybe even the life you thought you would have by now) ... it’s okay.
I have become almost entirely convinced that we are so overwhelmed by choices and options that it can be debilitating. In many senses, our widespread access to further education and career choices is a luxury that many across the world do not have, and it should not be taken for granted or diminished. However, the accompanying reality is that we grow up expecting everything to fall into place, and have to come to our own realisation that this is often not how life works.
"Even at university, though you feel like an adult because you buy your own shampoo now, you are heavily institutionalised with timetables and academic supervision and deadlines."
Unfortunately nothing can prepare you for the hugely life-changing adjustment of finishing university. You have spent the last 18 years of your life surrounded by people your own age, in largely controlled environments. Even at university, though you feel like an adult because you buy your own shampoo now, you are heavily institutionalised with timetables and academic supervision and deadlines. For the first time in your life, no-one is there to tell you what the next step of your life should be. You don’t have a fixed number of options to narrow down. Even with the most understanding and sympathetic parents, fitting back in at home after living away for years can be problematic, and your autonomy as an adult can be undermined.
Whilst it is unrealistic and potentially unhelpful to be spoon fed, I don’t think there are enough accessible and engaging resources provided by universities to prepare you for life after the bubble. Career services are often overwhelmed and not enough importance is placed on them – a weird little office in the Student Union that has few answers to your soul searching questions. More emphasis should be placed on the importance of things like unpaid work experience, and putting yourself out there while you have access to the most potential for trying out new things that you will ever experience. Contacts and connections are everything, and even something like being encouraged to create a LinkedIn profile early on at university to track colleagues and contacts for the future would be potentially invaluable.
Loneliness and aimlessness accompany the transition out of university. You move out of your beloved flat with your beloved friends, not because you want to but because you probably can’t afford to stay there. As inevitably happens in life, people are beginning to move on and create their own lives outside of the city you have all called home for the last few years. For those who walk into amazing graduate jobs, congratulations and well done – it’s not easy and is something to be incredibly proud of. For those like me, who are struggling to find their place in the world, congratulations and well done – its not easy and is something to be incredibly proud of.
"Whilst your degree may not have led you straight to a dream career, the chances are that if you put a lot in that you have gotten a lot out of it. Just because somebody else is doing something a certain way, it doesn’t mean that this is the right way."
I have friends who fought their way into their dream jobs straight out of university and are hugely successful, both financially and professionally. I have friends who took a year or two to do a ski season, or to travel the world. I have friends who got their first full time job, even if it is not one they see themselves pursuing a career in. I have friends who continued in academia and pursued a masters or even PHD. I have friends who moved back home, friends who moved to new cities, friends who stayed in Manchester. And, as far as I know, they are all hugely intelligent, funny, kind, caring, worthy people. And they demonstrate that there really is no right or wrong way to do life. Whilst your degree may not have led you straight to a dream career, the chances are that if you put a lot in that you have gotten a lot out of it. Just because somebody else is doing something a certain way, it doesn’t mean that this is the right way.
Personally, my degree raised more questions than it answered, and after taking a year to figure out what is going to make me happy, I have decided to return to education to pursue a masters. Is this partly because I have been conditioned to be comfortable in institutionalised education? Maybe. Am I absolutely certain that it is what I want to do? Absolutely not. Will my life work around this decision and deliver me to where I need to be regardless? Hopefully.
Be thankful. Continue to learn and expand your world view. Try, and I mean try, to remember that your life is not being measured against any kind of fixed timeline. Time is not an infinite resource, and above anything, you should do a lot of what makes you genuinely and completely happy. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow. It is more rewarding to measure your success on the journey than on the end result. One day you will end up exactly where you are supposed to. For now, just celebrate the small wins. Find happiness in your own journey, because there is no right or wrong time to do anything.