I suspect that where I am now in my life now aged 24 really isn’t where I expected to be when I was 18. Your early to mid twenties are a funny stage in life. You begin to see your peers disperse in completely different directions. A few years ago, all of my friends were in the same city and we had all the free time in the world to meet up. Now, arranging a get together requires three months of strategic planning and even then you won’t be able to get everyone together. Welcome to the adult world where everyone is busy just getting on with it and everyone seems to have their shit together.
But what happens when you feel like you don’t have your shit together?
‘I wasn’t going to go and study something vocational just for the sake of what others thought of me’
Recently I have been discussing with friends how ridiculous it was that we chose what we were doing to do with our lives when we were at school. When we were 17 or 18 years old we were expected to choose a University course, or apprenticeship or college course or to get a job straight out of school. I actually didn’t feel daunted at the time. I was a plucky teenager, excited to move into the adult world and to move out of the family home. I knew that I was great at English at school and that I enjoyed writing. I considered journalism but decided that I should study something broader in case journalism wasn’t for me. I decided to go with English Literature. Then came the jokes and the warnings – ‘You won’t get a job with that degree!’, ‘Are you looking forward to being an English teacher?’, ‘Have fun working in McDonalds!’ Of course, I didn’t care what other people thought. I wasn’t going to go and study something more vocational just for the sake of what others thought of me.
The thing is, when I was 18, I wasn’t concerned about what job I was going to get when I graduated from University. I knew I had four years to figure it out. Four years to build experience. Four years to get to know myself better. It was such an exciting time that I had no time to worry about the future.
Who knew four years would go by so quickly? It turns out learning more about the world, about other people and myself kind of made things a lot more confusing. I felt there were way more opportunities open to me after graduating rather than too few. The whole prospect was actually really daunting. Graduating was so exciting but what was next? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue career-wise, so after University, I moved to New Zealand for 7 months before going on to travel Australia and South East Asia. It was the most incredible year of my life and loved every second of it.
Five years on from leaving high school, I really wasn’t where I expected to be.
However, upon my return from my travels, I was now one year out of University and another year into uncertainty. I began to ask myself whether I studied the right course. I started applying for jobs that really didn’t appeal to me, just because I thought that’s what I should be doing. Five years on from leaving high school, I really wasn’t where I expected to be.
This is not an unusual problem. Sitting around the dinner table with two of my best friends last night, who have both recently completed their masters’ courses, I realised that even those people that I think have their ‘shit’ together, actually have anxieties themselves about what steps to make next. I have friends who have taken on Masters’ degrees because they just didn’t know what else to do after being in Education for 18 years. I have friends who have gone travelling and felt pressured to come home and start a career. I have friends who have found a career but feel that it’s not fulfilling. I have friends who want to go back to University again to study a completely different degree to the one they first chose at school. I have friends who have found success and have been promoted in their job but wish they weren’t so tied down.
I know what it sounds like. Nice problems to have, right? And it’s true. We can often be spoiled by opportunity. That’s why it’s important to really sit down and listen to yourself. It can be easy to get lost in others’ advice on how we should live our lives, and that’s how people end up pursuing lives and careers that aren’t right for them.
What would I tell my younger self? Would I do things differently? I don’t regret any of my time spent at University and I do not regret my course choice, even though people were right, it didn’t miraculously lead into the perfect job. But that’s because I hadn’t really thought about it. I’d just glided through University thinking things would happen for me without me taking any real action. So, I would advise my younger self to be more conscious. Conscious of my actions and my choices, even on a week to week basis. Life can kind of sneak up on you in a way. I used to always tell myself, ‘next week’ or ‘next year.’ It’s a cliche, but there’s no time like the present. I would tell my younger self to think hard about what I want and to work on it. You cannot wait for things to happen to you. You have to make it happen yourself.
Be unafraid of uncertainty and take steps with confidence
So in the end, I’ve decided to take a lesson from my younger self; to have a tenacity and zest for life; to be unafraid of uncertainty and to take steps with confidence; to not listen to people who say I can’t do this or I should do that. Having a choice is a great thing. The important thing is to focus and to take control of your choices before you become overwhelmed by them. Just make sure the choices you make are yours and no one else’s.