Written by Anonymous
Illustrated by Shazmeen Khalid
Introducing: our newest monthly column about working in your twenties.
When I was five years old, I was struck with unadulterated joy upon opening a brand new dress-up outfit on Christmas morning. I wore it every day, well into 2001 and beyond. I had talked of little else for months and months. For as long as I could remember I had wanted to be a nurse and now I could finally look the part.
It made sense, I guess. My mum was a nurse and having not yet heard about the wonderful world of recruitment, procurement and the job market at large, nursing seemed like a viable career option. I entertained myself for hours on end, treating my new in-patient teddy bears and testing the very limit of what can be amplified through a stethoscope by holding it up to inanimate objects around the house.
Roughly 10 years later, I started to become a little bit (and really only a little bit) wiser to the world and what it had to offer. I had now heard of many other jobs beside nursing and also started to take more notice of what my mum actually had to say about it. Think unsupportive management, lazy colleagues, heartbreaking patient stories.
I don’t particularly remember at what point I stopped thinking about wanting to be a nurse. All I can remember is starting to worry about what I wanted to become instead and never really coming up with anything. I never had an answer when family friends asked me about what I wanted to do.
I always got a bit perturbed when people asked what GCSEs/A Levels I’d picked. I only seem to remember picking the subjects I hated the least – I certainly don’t think I had my supposed “career prospects” in mind and yet everyone asked me as though I should.
Despite not being particularly enamoured with the UK education system, I never thought I wouldn’t go to university after school. I hope it sounds sincere when I say that I know how lucky I am to be able to say it, and how much I took for granted that I could go to university. It’s something I still feel guilty about to this day.
But in my naive privilege at the time, it never particularly occurred to me that you could do anything else. Even when those same family friends asked what I wanted to do, they more often than not asked what I wanted to do specifically after university. No one around me seemed to think that not going to university was an option so neither did I.
Having since become a little bit less naive (and again, really only a little bit) I still haven’t got a clue about what the world can offer me work wise and what it is that I can offer the world. I have genuinely felt that I would be happier if I wanted to be a West End star, singing for my supper every day. Alas, I have no inclination to be a West End star and regardless of my inclination, something has gone terribly wrong if I was ever allowed on stage. I just feel that the reassurance of having something to aspire to must make life so much easier.
The truth is, I know I’m not alone in feeling totally at sea when it comes to a career. I know that I’m not alone in having fallen into the trap of believing school and college teachers when they piled the pressure on to succeed academically or else, we’d have no future.
Now, 18 years after prancing around pretending to hook soft toys up to IV lines and offering them what I now know were probably fatal doses of Calpol, career prospects (or lack thereof) are something that makes my anxiety rear it’s ugly head time and time again.
Careers in your twenties are a special kind of bullshit, a perfect storm of abusive bosses, false promises, exclusivity and insincere inclusivity, and long periods either languishing or floundering in unemployment. I don’t know, but I really don’t think I’m alone in feeling the pressure to not only manage to acquire a “proper job,” but actually enjoy it & support myself from it.
If it’s not just me, why aren’t we talking about it? Why aren’t there more people coming forward to say so? Why don’t we have a better understanding of the job market and how it’s changed so that we can better navigate it?
Sure, some of us can turn to our parents but it was so different for them, they could wonder out of school and go and work for an accounting firm if they fancied. It seems that if you want to do that now, you have to leave school (probably a very good one), go to university (probably a very good one), do a finance/business/maths course (probably a very good one), get your degree (probably a very good one) and try to get yourself approved onto a training or graduate scheme (probably a very good one).
I need reassurance. I need to feel as supported in my career choices now as I did when I was five and my parents bought my first ever uniform. In my bid for change – I hope you will indulge me a column on working in your twenties to help shine a light on many of the problems we face such as (but not limited to): bad bosses, graduate depression, the shortcomings of the UK school system, how to enjoy work when you don’t know what kind of work you’ll enjoy, the hospitality industry and why there are so many young people in it, dodgy interview practises and how to write a CV.
In the immortal words of Dolly Parton, working 9-5 is “enough to drive you crazy if you let it”. And yet, dear old Dolly failed to mention precisely how to not let your working life drive you crazy. In the absence of her wisdom, I hope you will accept what little I have.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous