Every year when I see students walking around Bath in their graduation gowns, it always gets me reflecting on the period after my graduation. It was a period that I struggled with immensely, the reasons which will become apparent as you read on, and part of me wishes that I could sit 21 year old me down and give her a little perspective. Since graduating, I’ve learned three lessons with regards to post university life, and I wanted to share them with you today.
Prioritise What’s Most Important
This is without a doubt one of the toughest ones, so lets get it out of the way now. First things first – think about what’s most important. Is it your career or your personal life? Now, I’m not saying that it’s not possible to have both, but I’m saying that it might not be possible to get them both straight away.
For example, I studied psychology, and at the time I wanted to be a therapist after graduation. However, I also wanted to move back home. I went to university in Northampton, but my hometown is a small town in Wiltshire. There weren’t many opportunities, aside from Bath and Bristol, but even then they were few and far between. Despite that, I wanted to move back home to be with my friends and my family, so I put that above all else. However, that meant that the opportunities for me were incredibly minimal. Thankfully, where I’d been working for the last year at a high street opticians, I had enough experience to transfer to a store in my hometown, which meant at the very least I had a job.
What I saw however, was a number of people on my course stayed in or around Northampton, and they moved on to Masters courses and graduate opportunities. Again, the only nearby universities to my hometown would have been in Bath and Bristol, and at the time, they either didn’t offer the course I wanted, or their entry requirements were too high.
I’d love to say that coming out of university, you can have it all, but realistically, this was not the case for me, and I’m sure it wasn’t for most people. The lesson I’d say to take from this is to think about what’s most important to you. If your career is the most important, realistically, moving back to your hometown may not be the best option, especially if it’s a smaller area. However, if your priority is to move closer to your family, consider that you may be a little more restricted when it comes to job opportunities. Of course, I don’t regret my decision – I wanted to be nearer to my Mum and my friends. It was what I needed for my mental health, and after struggling so much throughout uni, I needed my home comforts. What I didn’t think of though, was how it would affect my career prospects. I expected to come home and still have opportunities fall into my lap, which definitely wasn’t the case.
Don’t Give Up Easily
One thing I found while I was working in my opticians job was that it was so easy to give up. I started volunteering for a mental health charity in order to get some experience, but I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it. One thing about retail is that it’s incredibly draining. So much to the point that on my days off, I wanted to isolate myself and spend time on me. It was incredibly selfish and looking back I know that had I stuck with it, I probably could have gotten a foot in the door to some further training. However, I gave up, and quit the voluntary work telling myself that I’d start things up again in a few months time. I never did.
I think part of the problem was also the fact that I got too comfortable which meant that even after a good year or two, I was reluctant to move on because I don’t like change. Even though I hated the job itself, I had made some amazing friends – why would I want to jeopardise that?
Maybe deep down, I didn’t want to be a therapist. Or maybe during the five years I spent in a retail job, I simply lost any desire to work with the general public. Anyone who has worked a retail job will tell you that it drains any and every ounce of patience you have for people, and for me that was definitely the case. Some might argue that to for it be beaten out of me that easily, maybe I didn’t want to be a therapist in the first place. To be honest, I’m still not sure myself.
My point? If you wind up in a “stop gap” job, don’t give up. At times it’ll be easier to stay in a job you hate simply because it’s easier or because you have friends there. However, focus on your endgame. If there’s a career you want that badly, you’ll do whatever it takes.
This was what I struggled with the most. Some of you may know that my husband and I went to university together. Obviously we studied different subjects, but throughout the whole three years it was easy to compare myself to how well he was doing. I’m ashamed to say that I felt as though no matter how well I did, he did ten times better, especially when it came to graduation. Watching him graduate with a first after I thought I had made my peace with my 2:1 was a surprisingly painful experience, I hate myself for admitting that.
What I neglected to consider though, was that for my husband, his subject was more than just the subject he was studying. It was a hobby. A hobby that he loved and therefore committed a great deal of his time and effort into. For me, while I loved psychology, particularly the mental health aspect, it wasn’t something I actively took time to read about. It’s something I have to remind myself of even now, and I hate myself for it.
The other thing I struggled with? Social media. Over the few years after graduating, the joys of Facebook and Instagram meant that I would be the first to know about how successful other girls on my course were. Over time I saw them getting graduate jobs, promotions, and getting onto masters courses. After a while it got to the point where seeing their successes was too much. I found it far too difficult to be happy for them when I was so unhappy in a job that I hated. At the risk of seeming like a jealous bitch, I deleted A LOT of people I went to uni with. It may seem petty and childish, but at the time, seeing their successes meant that I was a failure, and deleting that from my life was the best thing I could do. Looking at it from a slightly more mature point of view, I see this was childish, but at the same time, I think I did what I needed to do at the time.
You may be able to tell that I’m feeling sorry for myself as I write this post (crappy day at work and all that). I’m sorry that this post ended up being such a downer. As you can probably tell, I have lots of conflicting emotions about this subject, even 6 years on. One thing I will say though, is that in spite of everything, I don’t have any regrets. Like I said, maybe deep down, being a therapist wasn’t for me, and putting my personal life ahead of my career was my mind’s way of telling me that. Had I decided to pursue more courses or work experience, I wouldn’t have the life that I do now. While the job stuff has completely and utterly gone to shit (and that’s a whole different discussion for another day), I have some amazing friends, a wonderful family, and a husband who loves me and takes care of me. And of course, the most adorable little kitty.