We all experience a level of uncertainty and confusion in the period following graduation. Creative Writing graduate Alice Priestley’s here to remind us that it’s important to take our time when writing our next chapter.
I always thought I’d got it figured out. I’d finish university, get a job and that would be it.
Never did I think I’d be stuck in this horrible limbo for such a long time, and that finding a job would be so difficult. After all, people around me seemed to get a job straight out of university without so much as breaking a sweat.
What was I doing wrong?
I knew for a fact that by the time I’d finished my undergraduate degree, I was nowhere near ready for the ‘real world’. Thrust into unemployment, those three long years suddenly didn’t feel like anywhere near enough time.
But I’d decided long before I graduated that I’d do a Master’s degree, and while I was throwing myself into something in which I would thrive creatively, deep down I knew it was also a great way for me to stall the inevitable. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to take this approach. At this point, I knew what I wanted to do, I just wasn’t ready yet.
Countless questions barged through my head, but in my bones, I just knew that it wasn't for me anymore
Since I was little, I’d been obsessed with magazines. I used to make my own - ‘The Groovy Times’ back in my Groovy Chick phase (which may have lasted longer than I’d like to admit). I’d pass them round the classroom in primary school, beaming while my classmates flicked through my clunkily stapled together pages with gloopy gel pen captions scrawled under cartoon character cut-outs on the front page.
My passion grew even more after discovering Ugly Betty when I was 11. That was it. I was going to be Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan magazine (which I later decided) and no one was about to stop me.
Fast-forward a few years to university, and this ambition was still very much alive. Having written a lot for the uni’s magazine, been a part of its committee for two years, won an award and finally climbed my way to being Assistant Editor, I still believed that this industry was my calling.
While we’re encouraged to be independent, most of us don’t have a clue what to do post-uni
By the beginning of my second semester as a creative writing Master’s student, I’d also bagged a month’s work experience at Women’s Health (WH) magazine in central London, which remains a highlight in my career so far.
But after I finished my MA, and my internship - which began just three days later - I was left with an overwhelming feeling of doubt. I felt lost, because I realised I no longer wanted to work at a magazine.
Countless questions barged through my head, but in my bones, I just knew. Despite having virtually grown up with the image of me running one of the world’s biggest women’s magazines, I realised that that wasn’t my dream anymore. I had been completely consumed with what I thought I was supposed to be doing compared to what it was I actually wanted to do.
And that’s what often unconsciously happens at university. We’re guided along, ushered into a career, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right one. While we’re encouraged to be independent, most of us don’t have a clue what to do post-uni.
For the first time in four years, life was slowing down - and I was enjoying it
Soon after I returned home from London, coming down from the proverbial high, I became even more restless and the previous ‘lost’ feeling returned – I didn’t know what it was that I wanted at all, for the first time in my life.
And also for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to do anything. Having only had three days’ break after my Master’s dissertation deadline was due before starting at WH, I was straight back to full, chock-a-block busy days again, working unpaid from 10-6 for the next month in the capital.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the buzz the experience gave me, but I didn’t give myself enough time to wind down and press pause. And, as it always does, life caught up with me.
Not that I was being lazy or apathetic when returning home – as is easily done – but quite the contrary. I was trying to be proactive, doing things left, right and centre. I was writing bits for my blog, doing some paid freelance work, applying for all of the jobs and internships in my field. But it all seemed pointless, as the more I did, ultimately, the less I wanted to do anything related to my future.
Being at home and having a moment to breathe, I realised not what I wanted to do, but what I needed to do
I decided in order to fix the limbo I was in, I’d install myself into my next project, which was attempting to start my career – at this point, it was very vague and aimless. The familiar, dreary routine of job applications, CV re-jigs and job-searches was soul-draining and exhausting.
The prospect of getting a job at all made me feel miserable, and spoiled for thinking that way. But for the first time in four years, life was slowing down - and I was enjoying it. I used to be obsessed with getting on the career ladder, comparing my life to others’, worrying constantly about my age and lack of employment history.
But now, being at home and having a moment to breathe, I realised not what I wanted to do, but what I needed to do. I realised that, for once, deviating from the norm was no bad thing.
I was walking my dog along the local canal, and like a clichéd scene in some tacky movie, the pieces I’d been fumbling over for the past few months finally came together.
I was going to forget about starting my career, drop everything and just go – something I’d always promised myself I’d do ‘at some point in my life’. And that split-second moment has ironically been the one that’s opened my eyes to opportunities that I never thought would happen.
Not everyone has a plan, and that's something that shouldn’t be looked down on
While I had nothing tying me down, and some savings that were just sitting in the bank, the timing couldn’t have been better. This was exactly what my over-worked and confused state of mind needed. I decided to go alone and as soon as I was able to. I booked the flights after some deliberation and 3 months later, that would be it.
I decided to go and explore South East Asia and then go and work (and play) in Australia three months later. Although they’re the classic backpacking destinations, travelling solo, I thought I’d be more likely to meet more people in the same boat (or overnight sleeper train, even) – plus there’s an abundant history in Cambodia and Vietnam, not to mention the incredible beaches, cheap prices and vibrant cultures in the surrounding countries.
After that, I booked a one-way flight to Brisbane to start working there indefinitely. Though it’s a scary prospect, it’s one that is equally as exciting – and one that will hopefully allow me to continue travelling for as long as I can.
Currently, I’m not sure if or when I’ll be home come the end of the year. I’ve never felt more liberated knowing I’m lucky enough to have this kind of freedom - especially since I’d always preached about never straying from the career ladder.
I’m using those butterflies I had during that split-second thought on the canal, and I’m taking the plunge
Clichés exist for a reason, because they’re often true - so when I say ‘There’s no better time than right now’, I couldn’t use any words that are more apt. It’s drilled into our minds, especially in our generation of competitive highlights reels and the ‘one-up’ culture on social media, that we must always be the best.
That we must always be on our A game. That we must always be creating or doing or achieving, when in reality, this just isn’t realistic and dare I say, destructive. Not everyone has a plan, not everyone knows what they want to do and to even not want to do anything is something that shouldn’t be looked down on.
After graduation, we’re spat out into an alien world, and it’s a scary place to be if you’re not already on a Grad scheme, have plenty of contacts or simple pot luck.
Though we are technically adults, it’s unfair to assume that people straight out of university have things figured out. Instead, it’d be more productive for them to be given the benefit of the doubt, rather than be held under the massive pressure of other people’s pressing expectations. The job market for us millennials just isn’t the same as it was 20-30 years ago (shout-out to the baby boomers).
It’s absolutely normal to be confused after uni and it’s equally normal to not get (or even want) a job right after graduating, too. Time is a construct and it’s your choice how to use it – what might be the right time for one person might be totally the wrong time for someone else.
So, while the time is right for me, I’m using those butterflies I had during that split-second thought on the canal, and I’m taking the plunge.
Despite the fact I’ll be an older job applicant when I return, I’ll be able to realise my dreams of living abroad and, most importantly, seeing a koala bear in the wild. And I know I’ll finally be able to let go of the idea that not having my life figured out yet defines me.