Have you ever felt like your life was being dictated. Like you were being blindly led from one path to another until you were left at a cross roads to decide your own fate?
For my entire school life I went to a private school, where we were spoon fed subjects for us to pass our GCSE’s and A Levels with flying colours in order to get a university place before taking on a respectable career. Failure wasn’t really an option and there was little divergence to this path. It was accepted that’s what we would all do, give or take a few gaps years on the way.
But apart from help with passing national exams, where was the help for when I left university? With all this talk about university students remaining unemployed despite dishing out thousands of pounds worth of money for a degree which was thought to get us into our desired career?
Recently I’ve felt a little lost. When I was coming up to my finals I had decided that doing a Masters would be a good option, perhaps a way to put back having to decide my future, but also to in some way stand myself above other graduate applications. I have never had a strong sense of what I wanted to do career wise that lasted longer than a few years and although I thought taking a Masters would help direct me in a direction I wanted to be, I can’t help feel that some days I just have no clue about what I want to do. In fact it scares me.
Let me tell you a little more about my past.
As I said, I never really knew what I wanted to do. Obviously I went through stages of wanting to be a doctor, vet, teacher, lawyer, even a ballerina when I was really young! (Actually I think it was even sadder, I’m pretty sure I remember being told to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grow up when I was about eight years old and drawing a ballerina teacher. Not even something fun like a ballerina, a ballerina teacher of all things!) But none of these ideas actually stuck.
Even choosing a degree programme for university was only influenced by a particular teacher who had an absolute passion for politics. I found it a breath of fresh air to finally find a teacher who appeared to love his job and had complete ardour for his specialisation.
Most other teachers would stumble through the syllabus with little enthusiasm for the course itself. I distinctly remember a certain physics teacher who left after we finished our GCSE’s. In true all girls’ school style it was easy to banter the male teachers so we had a fairly mocking relationship with him, and he would often nickname us “silly little girls” or, when he was really impressed with an answer he would say “text book answer” which we found particularly hilarious, mainly because of his strong Indian accent. Looking back on it we gave him a pretty hard time because he was an easy touch to joke and suck up to. Another physics teacher, who mainly taught IT, was similar looking to a nutty professor but again we spent most of our lessons with one girl pretending to be upset about yet another boyfriend who had dumped her. When it got to one a day I don’t think he was very impressed with our concentration and interest in his subjects!
I would like to add here that I did actually go to a good school and I , as well as my friends, did manage to pass with As and Bs at both GCSE and A Level.
But I had never had a strong urge to study politics until I studied it at A Level. University was expected from us and it seemed like an interesting option for something different at a higher level, over the more standard subjects such as Geography or History (I think University for me was mainly about the experience, over the actual degree I had chosen, although it turned out quite well after all.)
School claimed to give us clear career advice but looking back on it we barely got any tuition for it. Or maybe at the time it all seemed too far away to think about and so I just didn’t make use of the small careers library hidden next to the 5th form common room.
I seem to remember our careers teacher being a complete feminist and pushing us all to do physics because there was a lack of women in the industry. I’m sorry, but is that really solid career advice?! Telling us to join an industry just to make women more equal?! Nothing to do with our personal strengths or interests in any way. And I’m pretty sure for a year of about 80 girls, only about 2, maybe 3 at most, went on to study it at university.
University never gave us specific careers lessons. Yes, they held fairs but again there was little solid advice.
As I was coming up to my finals I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
I think I had put off thinking about it properly until I was to finish university. But one summer writing the news for a think tank in North London called the Stockholm Network I discovered an interest in finding and writing news. So I put my head down and filled out numerous applications for a Masters in Journalism. If anything I thought this would give me a year before I was actually out in “no man’s land’.
Journalism became my calling and so I undertook a summer of various internships at ITN, Wall to Wall Productions, the Daily Echo and the Dorking Advertiser. While some of my friends were out having fun and travelling or starting to look for a job, or house away from home to “grow up”, I remained the determined one who believed unpaid internships were the only way to get to where I wanted to be.
And I still firmly believe this. Many industries will require an employee to work unpaid for a substantial amount of time because it’s cheap labour I guess. And at the same time, although fairly laborious and frustrating as it was to be living off my Dad all summer, I was learning and getting an idea of what I wanted to do as well.
Being at ITN made me more determined to do journalism and I finally felt like I had a place in the world. A direction to follow for my future. I was no longer held at a cross roads but given the green light to the path of news reporter. And I was eager to start my course.
I’ve never been one to make a solid decision and be satisfied with it immediately. Whether it be choosing titles for essays or personal decisions about relationships, even something as simple as deciding what to do at the weekend has always been something which I doubt myself in.
And so I guess choosing a Masters in Journalism was always going to spur up doubt in my mind. But I never realised how one thing could create so much doubt. The course content or the tutors, or even the sheer distance of the university away from my home, I can’t tell, but there are days when I go home feeling completely lost and unsatisfied. It’s like I’m stuck in a fog and can’t see where to go. Nothing is clear and I can’t decide where I am, what I’m doing or what I’m heading towards.
Today was one of those days. Waking up at the crack of dawn and tackling the further delays on the barely functional Metropolitan Line I arrived, along with my colleagues, and nothing had been set for us to do. We expected a class yet there was nothing assigned for the day. We all thought, terrific, another day wasted where we could have had been more productive at home and not wasted hours commuting from all over London and Surrey to find out we were not required to be in. The least that could have been done would have been to send us an email to alert us of this fact.
But maybe that’s just life. Maybe I shouldn’t question whether I’m actually getting the most out of my money. And maybe I should be happy that I will come out with a degree that has taught me skills that can be applicable to any career.
And I know that this is the case. And perhaps I am being too harsh in complaining about organisation and support.
Yet I know that I’m not on my own. I look at friends: those who have gone to university, or college, and those who have not and barely any of them are exactly where they want to be. Whether they are stuck in a job they’ve been in for years and are finding it hard to move away from its financial security in order to find something they actually want, or whether they are passing the time in a job just so as to avoid unemployment.
Because that’s what were all being warned about. How graduates are the worst hit in years for unemployment, how there are no jobs and people like me can’t find anything. Quite frankly I’m sick of hearing how there are no jobs out there and how journalists are earning so little money. A little bit of hope or encouragement wouldn’t go a miss you know?
I think my problem is that I seem to think there’s an urgency in finding a career before I get too old. One which I am completely happy with, stimulated and enthusiastic in. But I need to remember I’m only 21. I’m still young and have plenty of time to find something in the end.
I may not have some flourishing talent like my dad, who’s passionate about what he does and quite frankly pretty amazing at his work (see his website if you don’t believe me: http://www.ronbambridge.com/). But I’m sure something will come along eventually.
It’s hard to reassure myself. And I think a lot of other people my age are in the same position. I regret not making the most of the little career advice we had at school because now I don’t even know exactly what the options are for alternative careers.
But then again, in life, we make our own decisions and some of them are scary ones. I need to remember that there isn’t a need to find something immediately. Sometimes it may take years to find a calling. That’s just how things are. Looking back on things I wish I had used more time looking to my future as depressing as that may have sounded at the time. Conversely, maybe I need to remember not to fret so much about where I’m going to end up; maybe it’s the journey there that is what is exciting.