The myth of having your sh*t together: graduate perspectives

A video call with a university friend has fully reaffirmed that I miss the uni bubble: going to seminars hungover, evenings spent at Spoons, and truly being ignorant to the woes of adult life. After all, what is a better antidote to financial stress than an arranged overdraft?  I am now in paid employment and accountable to someone other than myself (a dramatic shift for the serial lecture skipper!) Moving from the uni bubble and into graduate life has been surreal especially with the added layer of a global pandemic.

When I started university I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Twenty-two-year-old recently graduated Emma is a far cry from sixth-form Emma who would rather psychotically pour-over colour-coded diaries, neatly organised stationery and five-year plans (I genuinely think I regressed at university). Naively, I felt very sure my career would unfold in a very straight and narrow way, however, the beauty of life is that it often takes your expected plans and says “fuck it”. In spite of my attendance at a horrific amount of networking events (a great excuse to get a free meal and drink lots of wine), I graduated like many without the prize* of a graduate scheme.

Instead of crying over this newfound reality, I decided it would be beneficial to find out how some other graduates are coping- sharing is caring right? Emily Till and Daisy Farrow are Bristol graduates like me having studied Politics and English Literature respectively. Their unpolished honesty is needed because we tend to be fed this myth of having your shit together which intensifies as your graduation date approaches and you realise your prospects of living back home to save are increasingly becoming a reality. 

I first encountered Emily in a rather stereotypical way, on a pre-University fresher’s Facebook chat; the kind that you unmute in your first week of uni and leave after three months when questions about laundry and lecture locations start to piss you off.  Her experience is one that I resonate massively with especially about the realities of coming to terms with competitive job markets.  

As she writes: 

I’ve personally had a huge reality check since graduating, perhaps more so due to recent circumstances and graduating into a pandemic. As someone who attended private school (but as a bursary student from a working-class background), it has been quite a shock. I was taught from almost the moment that I walked into uni that my sole purpose for this education was to attend a ‘top university’, in order to get a ‘top job’ that was ‘well paid’ and was in your desired field.

At university, this was further embedded into my mindset. Whilst this is encouraging during your education, once you leave, there is limited support when this actually doesn’t happen (which in my case is true). Although I have now come to terms with a very competitive job market, and have accepted that I won’t walk straight into my dream job, it was something that I wasn’t exposed to until it hit me like a brick wall and I walked straight into it.

Whilst I have some friends who have been fortunate enough to have extremely useful contacts, this is not something I have experienced, and I truly believe that this ‘illusion’ of everybody walking straight into their dream job is one that has now caused more issues than if my institutions had been far more realistic from the beginning.

When you attend a ‘good’ university it is all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that this alongside a few society positions will be enough to secure a well-paid graduate job. As I have now painfully found out having a 2.1, student society involvement and event attendance that required more skill in being able to drunkenly hold a conversation without looking like a total twat than in showing career competence is just not enough.  Being at a ‘good’ university can give you a certain belief in your own greatness that seems to be immune to the whims of online testing and the ball ache of writing long applications that can rather depressingly lead to speedy rejections (job rejection undoubtedly hurts more than being ghosted from a guy from Tinder 100%). 

Our university student newspaper brought me and Daisy together and her Welsh accent and unfiltered ability to translate information in a relatable and truthful way is what I am really drawn to. 

I decided to include her words as she literally wrote it (in response to an Instagram story post). Read on for her wisdom which had me howling! The duality between people literally buying houses vs. buying “booze and weed” was way too close to home for me: 

IM ADDING MY OPINION LOL 😂 I just feel like as a recent graduate you can’t do anything right.

I’m very lucky and have a job, I got one like 3 months out of uni and I will admit that that’s partly due to luck, but also I applied for 215 jobs!!! So I’m proud of myself that I got this job. It took a lot of hard work but at the same time I have friends and cousins who have graduated and DON’T have a job yet and I feel wrong for talking about it; I don’t want them to feel like I’m bragging.

When I actually was applying, it was so stressful. On one hand my parents didn’t understand how they were able to leave uni with a job ASAP (as you could 30 years ago) but recent graduates can’t do that. So there was the expectation that I needed to get a job soon and start the ‘leaving the nest’ process. But on the other hand, when I was telling them how much I was applying they were like “what’s the rush?” And also got lowkey offended that I seemed so eager to move out?

Essentially, early 20s is such a weird age. I have friends who are PARENTS and are saving for a mortgage. And I have friends who spend all their money on booze and weed and you’re being pulled in so many directions. You’re expected to have your life together as soon as they hand you (post you) your degree, but you’re only 21/22/23! I have no idea what I’m doing. Just because I have a job and I’m planning on moving out soon, doesn’t mean I do.

Life doesn’t fall into place and you’re not blessed with clarity about your future as soon as you sign a contract for a job.

Yknow??

I hope you enjoyed the short but sweet contributions as much as me. I am still waiting for the penny to drop, for the congratulatory email to drop into my inbox until it does I guess I will continue to debate whether there would be a market for my foot pics (I am half-joking, don’t worry!)

*please take the use of the word ‘prize’ with a pinch of salt- not having a graduate scheme is totally fine and even just graduating is still a HUGE achievement. 

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