It’s a weird time for anyone coming to the end of their academic life. Not yet graduated, but no longer having any study-related responsibilities to maintain, this confusing limbo-land between the end of your student years and the beginning of your adult life is daunting. I thought I was going to love finishing exams – no more essays! No more revision! All the rest I want! It was so easy to put off my future before, when it seemed but a distant dream. Now, weeks away from donning my cap and gown, I realised that I had perhaps surpassed the deadline to have something secured ahead of my return home.
I am not isolated in feeling this pressure. Students across the UK, and even beyond, are faced with the same dilemmas upon leaving university. Some people won’t have to entertain the idea, if they have chosen to continue in academia towards a masters degree. Others might travel, see the world, before settling down to a 9-5 life. For many, the next step is starting a full-time job, whether that’s a coveted grad scheme, or something to make ends meet until they’re in a position to secure a career. The uncertainty of life post-university is disconcerting. At least to me, deciding on a future after my degree was, and still is, proving to be the real challenge.
The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to go about planning your future. At just 21 years old, I like to think I’ve got years ahead of me to make these decisions, and I’m well aware that I might not always make the right ones. No one is expecting you to. You’ve got to find your feet and find what works for you, and there is no guarantee that this will happen on your first try.
If you work for a year and plan to go travelling, you could decide after 6 months’ work that you’d actually rather use your money to buy your first flat instead. You might travel for a month and realise you budgeted wrong and you’re running out of money. On the other hand, you might fall in love with a country so much that you decide to move there permanently. You might decide that you’re not done seeing the world, and you want to explore for even longer. You might have a graduate job in place, and a few months in decide that it isn’t the right fit. You might plan to work as a bartender for a few months, and then stumble across an opportunity that helps kick start your career a year earlier than you had anticipated.
The point is, none of us can predict the future. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us, and we could do all the planning in the world and follow a completely different path just weeks later. I had a whole 18 month plan that would see me live at home for a year, work full-time in the hospitality industry (in which I am currently employed), pass my driving test, and move to the city with a career in place. This plan would have seen me achieve all of these things before the age of 23.
But life has a funny way of throwing you a curveball when you least expect it. The full-time position I had planned was no longer available. I still had my part-time job, but I had nothing stable in place as hoped. Already my plan was falling apart, and it hadn’t even started! However, one of my managers once told me “Your positivity is one of your greatest strengths. Make sure you don’t lose it.” I tried my best to take that on board, which was difficult when I found out I would not be able to take up the full-time position I intended. Yet, a mere 2 minutes after receiving the news, I got an email from the founder of a new local PR company I had applied to. She told me she loved the work of mine she had seen so far. She asked me what I wanted experience in. When am I free to get started?
I was gobsmacked. In the space of just 2 minutes, the plan I had constructed over the last 6 months completely changed. Yes, I might not have the stability I wanted straight out of university. But I have the chance to get experience in the industry I want a career in, an opportunity I didn’t think I would get for years. In the space of just 2 minutes, between 2 emails, I hit rock bottom and then shot back up even further.
What I am trying to say, is that you don’t have to get it right first time. You don’t have to get there straight away. You don’t need to have your life figured out by 25. What’s the rush? You could land your dream job at 27. You could also land your dream job at 47. You could have what you always thought was your dream job, then realise it isn’t for you and move into a completely unexpected, yet more fulfilling, career.
When I told my Grandpa I didn’t know what was next, I just knew that I wanted to hit the ground running and find out when I get there, he wasn’t at all concerned. He simply said “you’re not afraid of hard work. You're going to go on to do great things, I can already tell.” That’s the attitude I’ll be heading into the post-university world with. I’m going to go on to achieve things as great as I believe I can. And I’ll be doing it at my own pace.