It worries me how many young people are clueless about their future. Not just because I am in the same circumstances, but I regard it as a minor human tragedy. As time goes on, more and more frequently I get asked ‘What are you going to do after graduation?’ and I always answer the same: I don’t know. In fact, I never knew. I hoped the university will delay that inevitable moment when I will have to become an adult and off I’ll go to conquer the world, but here I am at the end of the second year of my studies, one year away from graduation – still clueless. There was no delay, because it seems that only yesterday I made the first steps on the university campus. What happened to the past two years that just disappeared?
What am I going to do after graduation? I no longer can escape this question and that makes me afraid. I finished school, I will graduate university and then what? Find a job, start a family and build a house? It’s funny to think that things were actually that easy in the past, if they were that easy…
I don’t agree with the advice that I should worry less because I am still young and the ‘opportunities will present themselves’ because they never do and I am no longer a teenager, but an adult. An average student, who does not have rich parents or extensive connections, has to work harder to create a decent future, and that’s a majority of students. How many of us can afford to take a year out after graduation to travel around the world ‘to better understand ourselves’; to not worry about our future and work in temporary low-paid jobs; take our time exploring our future options? Not a lot of us. A lot of students need to know their future and see their path, otherwise university was a waste. Moreover, if your parents went through a lot of struggle and sacrifices to put you in that classroom, that pressure slams down on you even harder.
More and more young people choose university and more and more people graduate each year. That’s a lot of competition… And the longer you hesitate and plan your future the more candidates you are competing against. So yes, you need to have a plan before you graduate. You ‘should’ know what you want to be… except that we don’t know despite how much we evaluate our options. It’s not that we don’t care or we are laid back, no – we are stricken with the pressure to succeed but it’s far more difficult than anything we have experienced so far. The constant questioning about our career paths resembles a prolonged interrogation that increases the panic about our (non-existing) future. Sometimes it can be difficult for our families to understand how is it possible that we don’t know what we want to become. They grew up in a time where people chose one career for life, but we no longer live in that age and various sources tells us that we’ll change our jobs x amount of times in our lifetime. How do you explain to your parents, who count on you, that you don’t have a plan?
I was not the only student on my course who desperately wanted to find a placement – any placement – to save some money and postpone my graduation, so I applied anywhere and everywhere. Eventually I gave up on that idea because none of the offered placements actually interested me and I don’t have a specific professional field in mind I’d like to work in anyways. Looking back on it, it seems like all the pressure to find a placement came from the university careers department and not from my own choice. But that’s where the joke lies: we applied for any and every placement and of course we got rejected because we were not compatible, but the rejections or no responses just further diminished our confidence so we despaired even more.
Furthermore, you can’t avoid comparing yourself to the ‘successful’ students around you and you become a failure by comparison. The reality is we have to face the uncertainty of the future and start thinking about a career as soon as possible but we do that, every single day. The truth is we have to panic because the problem is real and we cannot shy or run away from it and we don’t. It’s important for us to figure out our path by clearly and calmly thinking, analysing and evaluating our strengths, hobbies and interests to help better inform our future decisions.
Perhaps rightly so, we are no longer searching for jobs, but ‘hunting’ for them. It’s like a continuous episode of The Walking Dead where we are just trying to survive, so we scavenge for ‘employment opportunities’ and ‘transferable skills’ and whatnot. We collect everything we can that will help us to survive: volunteering, extra-curricular activities, networking, employability events and the list goes on and sometimes all of that is purely done “to put something on my CV”. There is a danger in that because our quests for employability can become a sad circus where we manufacture our lives to please the future employers to hire us in the jobs where neither the student nor the employer will suit each other. We roam around and collect everything we find that may be useful because we don’t know what we’ll need. We are lost and among all the experiences we collected we may lose ourselves and our true calling.
University can give us a taste of greatness (a dream, a hope), but life can often steal it away. The world of graduates represents the ‘survival of the fittest’ in its purest form. So, never mind all the real-life obstacles that lie in our path because we are taught the Western values of ‘do what you love’, ‘greatness/success for all’ – we just have to want it bad enough and we’ll succeed… It’s a sad and shocking moment when you realize that life does not work that way.