Beating the Graduate Blues
University is a whirlwind. I am reminded of it around this time every year, when the newspapers post their league tables and campus posters start appearing in train stations. I remember distinctly how eager and apprehensive I felt in equal measure in the September of 2011, when I packed up the cheap leopard-print suitcase I had bought in Matalan the month before and was shipped off eagerly by my father (who, no doubt, had been looking forward to a few months off parenting duty with a great deal of enthusiasm) to a beautiful university in the heart of Surrey where I was to spend the next three years of my life.
The thing that I find myself reflecting on the most now, looking back, is how blissfully unprepared I was for the experience that was to follow. I had wandered in, wide-eyed and a little naive – being a slightly-above-average graded, reasonably sheltered teenager from a very small, rural town situated in what I have since joyously described as “the Armpit of Wiltshire” – to a total smorgasbord of people crammed somewhat unceremoniously into one of the most affluent parts of the Home Counties.
It was terrifying, and brilliant. I made some of the best friends a person could possibly make, worked harder than I ever knew that I could, and discovered about thirty different reasons why it isn’t sensible to drink more than 12 Jaegerbombs in one sitting.
In many ways, Graduating and making that final transition into the Real World is met with the same mixed feelings of apprehension and excitement. Except you don’t have a maintenance loan that you never really intend to pay back (...did I say that out loud?) to cover your bar tab. And there’s no Student’s Union to break you in… well… gently.
So actually, it’s just pretty terrifying.
It’s taken a long time for that feeling to go away. When we graduate from University, we often feel a lot of initial pressure to get a job that is in some way related to our degrees. Now, this is probably fine if you’ve got a First in Neuroscience from Oxford or Cambridge, but let’s face it, most of us don’t. So I did what most other people I know also did – what many third year students across the country are currently doing. I sent a whole bunch of applications to a whole bunch of companies, and took the first job I was offered.
That job was temping in a call centre. And I absolutely hated it.
And thus, the slow, dithery upward cycle of trying to make something of my life began. It’s taken me until the age of 26 to discover what I actually find fulfilling and I am now very optimistic and excited about the future for my life and career. Speaking to people I know, I realise this is actually pretty young to have reached that realisation, and I’m 100% certain that it will change even more, evolve and grow from here, taking me to currently unforeseen new heights in the future.
So, looking back, here’s a list of things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self – that anxious, totally broke 21 year old that was boggled by the new weight of her degree and by what the shape of her contribution to society would eventually take. I hope that, by writing it here on my blog, it will in some way help someone else that’s going through the motions with Graduation now!
1. You don’t have a flippin’ clue what to do next. And that’s totally fine.
I think we all felt that pressure to get a job that’s suitably academic/qualified as soon as our butts hit the pavement when University booted us out into the real world. In retrospect, that pressure was 100% internalised. Nobody else on your course actually expects you to become a senior executive in some up-and-coming industry right off the bat. It isn’t a competition. They’re likely all having the same problems. The truth is, many people don’t achieve senior roles until they are at least in their early 30’s (despite the UK Government’s insistence that University is supposed to instantly unlock high paying jobs for you). Take that crappy minimum wage job, and run with it. Go into the office, collect your paycheck, and document any new office skills you pick up thoroughly on your CV. At 21, or even if you’re still figuring things out at 29, you’re still so young and have loads of time to find your higher purpose.
2. Every job you don’t like is still a crucial learning experience to direct you to better things
With my current work, I hear a lot of people complaining about their jobs, saying things like “it’s really dull” or “I haven’t had any progression”, or “the office politics aren’t great”. While I’m helping someone with a CV and am privy to these complaints, I always encourage my clients to break them down a little further. What is it, specifically, that you don’t like about what you’re doing? What particular areas do you feel you are lacking in progression?
When we search for specifics and look at them as valuable experience, we can more easily identify what our personal strengths and weaknesses are, and what we’re really looking for in our work. The reason I didn’t like call centre work was that I disliked performing only one business function (that being Sales) in my working week. The reason I left Project Management was that, even though I had much more task variation and a degree of autonomy, senior management still kept me in the dark about the business’s overall strategic progression and that’s where my interest is. Taking these feelings on board, identifying and rationalising them, led me to the conclusion that self employment was the way forward for me, and now I couldn’t be happier! But the only reason I can do this now is because of all the things I learned (good and bad!) in those other roles. If we view our negative experiences in work as a signpost instead of a ball-and-chain, it’s surprising how quickly we can move things forward for ourselves in the longer term.
3. Don’t devalue the asset of your personality
This is a big one. University in general (and not just the course we’re on) plays a huge role in shaping who we become as adults. So upon graduation, a lot of us feel that we are somehow “selling out” if we take a job in an industry that doesn’t strictly cater to our personal values or goes against things that we’ve learned as Fact during our degree courses (trust me, with a BA in Geography it came as a big shock to me just how little manufacturers care about the environment, and how little Marketers care about the impact their work has on people’s mental health and world view at a wholesale level. But I felt the need to suppress that as a price for putting food on the table, and I’m certain I’m not alone). Therefore, I know many people that adopt “personas” for work, suppressing their individuality in order to survive a preconceived ideal for the working environment.
The truth is, if you are suppressing your values in order to fit in more in your workplace, you are never going to find fulfilment in that job. Plus, it’s really hard to sustain and your managers will pick up on that. It’s a tough thing to riddle out in our brains, as we are conditioned from childhood to believe we have to make this sacrifice in order to survive today’s Ultra-Capitalist world. But stick to your guns on this one.
Everybody has innate skills and talents embedded in their personalities. Looking at it this way, it’s therefore really important to recognise that the value of your degree is not just in the specific subject that you studied, it’s also in the personal development you picked up along the way. Maybe you’re a chatterbox that loved meeting new people in Fresher’s Week. Perhaps you’re a highly creative introvert that has learned they do their best work when alone. A close friend of mine that’s a highly confident, driven, inspiring and deeply caring Linguistics graduate has just celebrated becoming a successful Personal Trainer, and frankly I can’t imagine a better person for the job!
Don’t let society convince you that these traits aren’t commercially valuable. There will be a job out there that you don’t have to “pretend” in, and it’s a lot closer than you think. Place value on your innate skills and advertise them in your CV, or use them to be an advocate for positive change in your current role. Trust me, it works wonders for your self-confidence when you put it into practice.
4. Help is out there.
This is another really big one. About two years ago at a really tough and transformative point in my career, I sought out and paid for some professional counselling that I now credit as the single most important event that changed my life for the better. I had always been quite proud of my self-sufficiency and determination to make it on my own, and had, until that point, been resolute not to “fall back” on support services, viewing it as a sign of my own weakness and inability to cope. Looking back, I wish I had done it a lot sooner. Talking through what was lacking in my life, what was stressing me out and how lost I felt against a human sounding-board was what brought me to that crucial “what the F am I doing with my life??” moment, which went on to kick start loads of new ideas and a fresh pursuit of happiness, confidence and fulfilment.
With this new found discovery that asking for help works wonders, I found a whole host of other services that are literally designed to help you out with whatever you’re doing. Did you know, for example, that if you let your local Job Centre know you’re interested in self employment, they have loads of free training they can get you on and can offer round-the-clock support from an adviser to help you get yourself started?
So that’s why I started Rising Sun Careers Consultancy Ltd. I wanted to use my innate drive to help others, combining it with the professional skills I have learned and my faith in the power of asking for help to create a world where cheap careers guidance, self-confidence coaching and a fountain of useful information is accessible to everyone. Because sometimes we all need a little bit of direction, and I truly believe we all have it in ourselves as individuals to attain anything we set our hearts to.
The Graduate world is big and scary, but with these tips, I hope it now seems a little more manageable! If you are still feeling lost and would like to talk it through with an adviser experienced in multiple industries (first and foremost in Recruitment!), don’t hesitate to get in touch and book an appointment.
Remember – whatever your degree, experience or personality, you can still achieve your dreams!