What to expect when you’re not expecting anything whatsoever

“Hmm…the cards seem to be suggesting an internship with KPMG…”

Look, I know what you’re thinking. “Has she really just graduated, or has she been a crazy old craft-obsessed hermit this whole time and the student thing was just an elaborate front?”

I know you’re expecting blog entries about the graduate job scene, about applications and interviews and the looming sense of dread, but what would be the point? Between newspapers wailing about the dearth of graduate employment, job sites publishing lists of the top ten positions new graduates aren’t qualified for or skills new graduates are expected to have but don’t, and various relatives demanding to know why the situation is so thoroughly dire, I am sure there is not a single one of you who hasn’t had your fill of the entire doom-ridden shebang. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; make a concerted effort to find something and all you meet with is reports of how impossibly, excruciatingly hard it is to get a job unless you are a forty-five-year-old trained accountant, take a breather while you figure out a strategy and you receive only admonishments for not getting into the game and spewing CVs out into the stratosphere like a huge, chundering lawn sprinkler. Good fun, right?


 
The most fun of the whole experience is, in fact, nothing to do with the progress and success of your job search whatsoever. The joy of the experience lies in how the minute you graduate your friends, family and acquaintances unexpectedly begin coming out with their personal suggestions for the careers they see you fitting into. All of a sudden you are evaluated and receive a momentary insight into the ways the people you know see you and have always considered you, interpreted into a job description. Everyone has their own suggestion and each suggestion is tellingly revealing about both you and the person suggesting it, and it is endlessly fascinating to hear what people have to say.

My mother has been the most diverse contributor, having variously suggested that I go to catering school, become a journalist, work in broadcasting, get into politics, write novels, study horticulture or make and sell my own pickled produce online. My father seems fairly indifferent to the direction I take just as long as it is NOT TEACHING, for that would be ‘too easy’ to get into and a daughter of his ought to be aiming at something far more likely to lead to high blood pressure and a stroke in early middle age. My brother generally agrees with this view with the one caveat that I also ought to aim for something which will, as the saying goes, help me towards the goal of ‘rolling in the benjamins’.

I have been told by media people that I would make the most of my life by going into a career in graphic design, something which I have never studied or even remotely considered but for which I am apparently suited because I can pronounce ‘Adobe’ properly and know what a vector is. I am told that I should follow my dreams and do something in Berlin, although the precise nature of that ‘something’ is rarely explained so I assume they  are referring to wandering about Görlitzer Park drinking Club Mate and accumulating piercings. Others suggest that I write for a living but I can’t afford the drinking problem right now. Many people think that I would be ideal as a food critic because of my love of cooking, but I have enough trouble keeping my pot belly under control without being contractually obliged to eat fried foie gras with black pudding jus. A careers website stated that I should be a ‘counsellor’, but of what and why it was unwilling to reveal. Press, marketing, branding, stand-up comedy, youth work, teaching, translation, PR, professional silversmithing…I appear to be suited for so many different positions that I ought to simply advertise myself as an executive bob-a-jobber.

The difficulty in dealing with all these suggestions is firstly knowing how to respond: for the suggestions that are clearly miles wide of the mark it requires enough energy simply to not choke on my tea in stunned outrage, while many hit tender areas of beloved and wistful dreaming that unfortunately I have to abandon out of a crazy hope to one day earn enough to pay rent and see a film from time to time. Secondly, any time spent with people who have been working for a decent length of time just goes to show that the whole idea of ‘aiming for a career’ is entirely moot. You will rarely find anyone who aimed for a certain job and have spent their lives doggedly and appropriately marching their way up the ranks to become the person who does the thing they wanted to do and then the person in charge of the people who do the thing they wanted to do. Mostly, people’s career anecdotes are sheer, unadulterated serendipity. I met a journalist who writes for one of Northern Ireland’s most popular papers having started his path with a casual letter of complaint to the editorial staff of said publication. The boss of Keo, an excellent factual TV production company, didn’t study anything that even rhymes with ‘television production’, let alone qualifies a person to be one of the main players in the industry. The people who are doing what they love and what they are suited for are almost always there by accident or coincedence, having met someone in a bar once or left their CV on a train or tripped and fell into the lap of a secretary at some huge conglomerate somewhere. It seems that if you want to do what you love, you almost have to wait for it to come to you, and only when it comes to you will you know what it is that you love to do in the first place. 

In the meantime, I have decided that the best strategy for the time being is to aim not for a career that will satisfy your aspirational hunger and quell the yearnings deep inside, but to keep it simple and humble and aim for the mere nuances of a thing that will mean you doing something vaguely difficult for money. I have pinpointed that I want a position, for the moment, where I will be busy and find the work hard and see a value in what I am doing and not be using too much unbearable business jargon. I’ll aim for things where I think that will be the case and where I know I won’t want to slit my jugular with the office stapler. Maybe I will love it and climb the ladder (to da stars, babe) or maybe I will serendipitously end up becoming famous as the new Charlie Brooker after my blog accidentally gets published on the Financial Times website due to a coding error. And in the end I’m not worried, because I always have my pickled gherkin business to fall back on. 


My next entry will indeed be about pickled gherkins.

Chapter 4: The Dark Ages

Thank you The Guardian, for once again representing students in a fair and accepting light.

Apologies for the brief hiatus, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for your patience. Where have I been, you may well ask. But the question that might be more pertinent is: where have I not been? The answer: university.

It’s over, people. I am no longer a student. The discounts stop here, no more trips to the library or arbitrary essays or poncy formal dinners from now on. From now on, we are adults, now doomed with nothing to looked forward to but the ever increasing woes of taxes, ageing and petrol prices. Unless of course you have chosen to do a masters or postgraduate course of some sort, in which case go back to bed and sleep peacefully knowing how lucky you are that you are still on board the student gravy train.

Or so everyone will tell you. Graduating is a horrifying, morbid prospect nowadays. Whereas once you might peacefully lope back home, spend a few months squelching about the house wondering what you were going to do to earn your bread and placidly absorbing the light naggings of your parents, these days the new graduate is immediately plunged into the black abyss of abject terror that is Being A Graduate. The breath-taking fear that you will never find a job wraps itself around your neck like a boa constrictor as you read article after article lamenting that 90% of graduates never find a job, or end up working at Asda for the rest of their lives, or are simply laughed out of every job interview they ever have simply for having been stupid enough to think a university degree might get them as far as some schmoe with plenty of experience who’s been working since he was 16. The gentle nagging of parents has been replaced with franting bleating, urging you to start applying for things immediately and take any work experience you can get, whether paid, unpaid, menial or requiring huge chunks of the day shovelling excrement out of a middle eastern dungeon. Newspapers fling up their hands in desperation at the state of our Young Adults, who have been mollycoddled by ‘soft’ degrees and student loans and are now not fit for a job in the real world. 


Graduates themselves absorb all this with passive, worried cooperation, simply because we have nothing else to go on other than what we are being told by these factions. We frenziedly apply to graduate schemes, most of which promise a pittance of a salary for you to end up in some job called Accounts System Human Resources Coordination Overseas Consultant (i.e. professional email forwarder). Companies offering these schemes, aware that these jobs appear like glistening gold nuggets held in their pudgy fists, demand that graduates complete a four-step application process including two online questionnaires and aptitude tests, a 2000-word essay on your suitability for the role, an interview held in either London, Glasgow or Helsinki (applicants will be informed of the interview location two days before interview) and finally a submission of a felt effigy of the Hindu god you feel best evokes your positive qualities. We freak out and worry that our CVs are poor, and do anything to accumulate experience. We start blogs under the delusion that they will be a worthwhile arrow in our quiver (cough cough). Ever day spent at home simply enjoying yourself or remembering that you actually quite like your parents and/or your cats is tinged with the guilt that you are not at that moment on a train to The City to be interviewed for something. Even living at home for longer than the couple of weeks it takes to sort out a placement is seen as somehow pathetic – as if your graduating changes your living at home from being the standard state for young unmarried people into the type of ‘living with your parents’ which becomes the immediate No factor on dating websites for the over 40s. Any recent graduate who reads this article will find themselves whooping with joy that at least one public voice has recognised this and is happy to affirm how preposterous it all is.

Graduating isn’t a sudden plunge into adulthood. It isn’t the end of hope, dreams and fun. To begin with, we should take time at home or abroad to think things through, partly because we ought to have a chance to relish a few weeks without any deadlines or tutorials whatsoever, and partly because these are life decisions that shouldn’t be made in panicked haste. We should recognise that it is a prudent and normal decision to live at home for as long as necessary because rents in the UK are organ-thievingly high and there isn’t the lovely flat-share culture you find in places like Germany. And if we want a job, we should be allowed to feel confident about the fact that for the time being, any job is good enough, whether it’s a low-level lackey job or a part-time thing on a shop floor. Earn money, gain experience, meet new colleagues, great. Just don’t do it out of the fear and illusion that it’s the only chance you have from now until your final breath to break into the industry of your dreams – the course of life is endlessly and astonishingly forgiving, flexible, and it goes without saying that there are no absolute final chances.

And cheer up, noble graduates! There may be some who are doing masters because they want to stay in the student lifestyle, but the adult lifestyle is so much better and so much richer! Yes, you have to pay taxes, but you are still left over with a bit of income which is all yours, and the satisfaction of that is thrilling in itself. Yes, you have more responsibilities, but there is a total pleasure in finally being in charge of your own things and having to clean your own loo and find your own dentist because you are now mature and tough enough to be trusted with such things. Life is better because it is less easy: people are not parcelled out in societies and corridors but rather you have to find your own people whose company you can tolerate, and for that you develop a smaller but much more pleasurable group of friends; you don’t have essays and worksheets to fiddle with so you have to find new and more interesting hobbies to fill up any formless stretches of time you might have; even losing the student discount is nice, in a way, because it means you are now finally recognised as a real and respected member of society rather than a poor yet gullible well of profit who needs the incentive of a saved pound fifty to be goaded to spent nine pounds anyway.

Because in the end, and this may sound sad, all I can think of is the things that I won’t miss about being a student. I won’t miss never being taken seriously, and the assumptions that if it’s 2pm you’ve probably only just woken up from your drunken stupor. I won’t miss relatives assuming that I’m waking up in strange beds and subsisting entirely on Pot Noodle. I won’t miss nebulous work that expands or contracts to fill whatever time you might have to do it in and nonetheless is expected to be of the same exemplary quality every single time. Look at the photo at the top of this post again. The way that the ‘student voice’ is evoked by a photo of three drunk idiots dressed as zombies. That is why graduation is wonderful: university is one big coming-of-age ceremony, the western version of having to spend a day hunting in the rainforest having taken a poisonous drug extracted from vine toads, and only after you come out of it do people finally treat you like a man. We hope.