I graduated the University of Birmingham in July with a 2:1 in BA English & Creative Writing, and it’s now been just under six months since that day. That incredibly euphoric, holy-shit-I-actually-got-through-a-degree-*relatively*-unscathed-after-three-ridiculously-difficult-years day. Now, everyone experiences life after university differently, but from my experience, I have not been happier to say goodbye to that period of my life. I desperately miss my best pals and even living in Birmingham, but I do not miss the majority of my university experience.
Graduating can be an uncertain time. A period of your life is over – so what next? I think I was lucky that I couldn’t wait to get the hell outta uni and would genuinely have taken any job over exams and essays, so that helped me transition from studying to full-blown adult life. I was ready. But whilst people bemoan life after university for the goodbye-long-holidays, working-and-adulting-sucks lifestyle, and we hear often enough about that, there were many things no one ever told me about life after graduation. And I think it’s about time we addressed these. So here goes: grads, let’s tackle this vast expanse of holy-shit-what-do-we-do-now together.
Attempting to enter your dream career after graduating just will not happen
I want to be a journalist. Instead, I’m currently a Marketing Assistant, who tries to get in her writing by blogging at the weekend, and doing odd writing jobs in the evenings. Was this the route I thought I’d be taking after graduating, if you’d asked first-year Maddie in 2016? Nope.
As you progress throughout university, several realisations hit you. Firstly, I really, truly felt that I couldn’t go rushing into what is still my dream career the second I finished a hugely stressful degree. Whilst my university inbox was flooding with grad scheme opportunities, I stuck to my guns and knew I needed to look for something more lowkey for a year after university. A chance to finally *semi*relax after a few difficult years; I felt like I owed that to myself.
And secondly, if you’re from a working class family and you want to get into journalism, all I can say is good luck. To be within a quarter of a chance of securing a full-time journo gig down in London, you need to work your way around as many unpaid internships as you can, secure the contacts and then be able to afford living down in the capital city on practically peanuts as a young journalist. That’s not something I’m prepared to face right now, and something I definitely can’t yet afford to do, as my family are not in a position to help me out, and I don’t have relatives I can stay with down there.
So I decided to mix the best of both worlds. Move to my favourite city with my boyfriend and enjoy a ‘year off’ – whilst getting professional experience in a slightly better-paid role in a complimentary, yet different, sector of work. All whilst getting my writing fix in my personal endeavours. And I am so glad I made that choice.
There’ll be no one who’s career trajectory you can mould onto your own as simply as following the ready-made transition from school to university – because there isn’t one
I thought once I left university, myself and my pals would enter the adulting world at the same pace, all journeying together through job interviews, moving away from home, and beginning our adult lives. However, that is totally not the case. I have friends who’ve got jobs like me, yet stayed at home, pals who are doing Masters’ (I salute you, don’t know how you do it) to other friends who’ve decided to travel the world for their first year out of university. We’re all in completely different places, exploring different things. And whilst that’s incredible as we can all cheer on our individual successes, we can’t lean on each other like we used to do when we were all stuck on the same university assignment.
Look up to someone in particular from the sector you want to work in? That ain’t gon’ help you either, because a mix of hard work and luck brought them to where they are, and it’s not going to be the same with you.
Even if you’re ready to enter the big wide world, you still won’t be ready when it happens
I was almost too ready to leave university. So much so, that when I was finishing my dissertation with two 3,000 word assignments still to go after that, I genuinely contemplated quitting right there and then. I was done with education, done with learning things that felt like they had no relevance to my dream career or life, and done with the huge amount of stress imposed upon students. Yet when I finished university in May, as ridiculously relieved as I was, it still felt very weird – something I wasn’t anticipating. Pals started to part ways and move out, I had to say goodbye to my adorable third year house, and I realised I’d never live with my best friends again. It’s odd that it’s often the things you can’t wait to move on from, that hit you the hardest after it’s gone. That feeling dispersed soon after I graduated, and I luckily get to see my lovely pals often, but that was a weird transition to deal with.
A three-day weekend should be heavily campaigned for, because when we say it’s needed, we really mean it is
When I work 9-5 and have writing to do in the evenings, I bloody well don’t have energy to do life admin and clean during the week. That means I often spend part of my Saturdays cleaning the flat or doing things I was supposed to have done during the week after work. Saturday flies by, and before you know it, it’s Sunday and you spend that day with a nagging thought gnawing at your subconscious: “it’s work tomorrow”. Weekends fly by way too quickly – if we had just one more day, it would be perfect – forget Brexit, this is what the Commons should be debating on, naturally.
You won’t take anything from those three years of education with you into your professional role
I genuinely learnt more *useful* *real world* stuff during my first week in my first full-time role than in the entire three years of my degree. I often feel like university education is great for those who take vocational routes, or training courses that lead to an instant career: like Medicine or Art, but for those of us studying pointless Humanities subjects like English and History, unless you want to become a lecturer with a PhD on Shakespeare’s sisters or something insanely niche like that, you won’t take much from your three years into the rest of your life. It’s a sad fact, but one that should duly be noted.
Unemployment does not equal funemployment, but try enjoy it while it lasts
I spent my entire summer after graduating worried about A) getting a job in Bristol and B) securing a flat. I went on some wonderful holidays, enjoyed a *paid* internship… yet the whole time, I couldn’t relax because I was sick with worry about getting my life in order. Silly really, because I secured a job AND flat within days of each other, in the end. So I spent my summer worrying… about nothing. Nice one, Mads.
You’ll feel a little insecure in your first job, because there’s no instant, graded feedback whenever you complete a task
I still find it weird when my boss says ‘thank you’ for something I’ve done, without then offering up ten critiques and one complimentary phrase. At university, you’re used to everything you’re doing being watched like a hawk, constant academic critique and the odd approval leading you to a life of constantly searching for gratification from others. Sounds like a stretch, but I honestly believe this. I often spend days at my job with the old imposter syndrome, worrying I’m not quite measuring up to the last hire before me, or wondering if I did that task right. But the way it works with jobs is if your boss doesn’t say anything particular to you about your work, it generally means you’re doing just fine.
There’s no ‘right’ job
When applying for jobs in Bristol, I went for my current role and got an interview a few days later. The same day I got the interview, I saw there was a journalism company looking for an Editorial Assistant for an interiors’ magazine. Obviously, right up my street. However, I thought I’d wait to hear back from this interview before setting out on the arduous task of applying for another job. Turns out I was offered the role, and quickly accepted and forgot about the journo one. Sometimes I wonder what I’d be doing if I went for the journalism gig – but then remind myself instantly that the role I got was the ‘year off’ I was hoping for – I didn’t want to go into journalism straight away, for a reason. There ain’t no ‘right’ job – there’s lots of decent ones.
You may actually, kind of miss learning?!
Shocker, I know. I never thought I’d be saying this. But when your job has certain set tasks week-in-week-out, you may just miss learning something new. I went to a writing workshop the other week with a pal, and the instant seminar set-up filled me with dread and made me want to run in the other direction, but by the end of the workshop, I left feeling inspired and excited to have been learning! Again! Terrifying that I feel this way, but there you go.
You realise that thinking about salary vs. work-life balance is a constant, fluctuating weighing scale of confusion
One thing that I knew before leaving university, but that many people didn’t voice, is that a work-life balance was preferable to a decent salary. As long as I have enough to live off, and I’m able to invest in my future by putting away some savings each month, I’m happy. I’d much rather do a job I love, than a job that brings in the dollar. It’d always be nice to have more money, but I keep coming back to the realisation that a work-life balance and an enjoyment in the job you’re doing is much better for your own quality of life.
I’ve personally found that the things people tend to moan about when it comes to graduating and getting a job, such as lack of holiday time and feeling the weight of adulting on your shoulders, are not things I’ve felt affected by. I enjoy the structure and routine of going to work, I thrive off having FREE weekends (something that’s not been felt for three entire years) and I bloody well love my little flat in Bristol and playing at being adults with my boyfriend. But, there’s a lot to graduating and entering the world – it’s a scary feeling – and we need to be more open about how much this, yes, wonderful and privileged position we find ourselves in, can impact us mentally. Here’s to prospering in 2020!