Saturday 27 October 2018

What do I do after graduation?

Manuela writes about the uncertainty and anxiety of employment after uni, and the importance of self-care.
- Manuela

“I took the first job I could and ended up in a far worse state than I would have after a few more months at home working out what would make me happy”.

After Graduation - What Happens?
Once my course had finished, I clung by my fingernails to my tiny London flat until, jobless and bored stiff, I was collected by my parents after graduation. They whisked me back to the middle of rural nowhere, where I set up camp with my laptop and a notepad, and tried to think of what I’d learned over the past three years that might be an employable skill…. And so began the toughest year I’ve had to date.

My boyfriend and most of my friends had another year to go until graduation; to me it was imperative that I find a way back to them in London. But my greatest fear wasn’t loneliness, it was lack of identity. For the past three years I’d put “student” as my occupation, and for the past 19 years of my life my raison d'ĂȘtre was to fill my tiny head with knowledge. Now that I’d run out of things to learn, who was I now?

I had no idea whatsoever what I might enjoy, or what I would be good at in the “real world”. Through trial and error, I eventually discovered a job title for which the description seemed to fit my personality, and the benefits and starting salary seemed unbelievably generous. I landed my first interview for the position of “junior recruitment consultant”. Manuela - 1 : Hopelessness - 0. I was convinced I was on the road to success now. But I hadn’t stopped to consider what would make me happy…. 

Losing Myself to Work 
Fast-forward through a whirlwind of sickening interviews and miserable morning commutes, I’m a fledgling recruiter and I hate my life. I was balancing my job with rowing, a boyfriend and friends all still at university, staying “in shape” and job hunting for the mystery career that, I believed, would be my ticket to happiness. These were all leftovers from my former student life; I couldn’t throw them away. Most of my support network still being at university, I had nobody to benchmark against and nobody to recognise, when I couldn’t, exactly when “not OK” turned into “really not OK”. I was crying on the tube to and from work, at rowing I was terrified of messing up and consequently my performance plummeted. The only time my boyfriend and I could see each other was the occasional weekday evening and our relationship had started to nose-dive. I couldn’t remember what I used to be like at university, or what I was supposed to be looking for now. 

I hadn’t found a permanent flat, so I didn’t have a GP, let alone the time to go and see one. So it wasn’t until I finally turned to Google that I discovered there was a name for what I was feeling: anxiety. I’d never suffered from a mental health problem before - I struggled coming to terms with it so I sat on the problem for a while hoping it would go away. It took me another four months before I booked a doctors’ appointment, by which time, I’d handed my manager my notice. 

I wouldn’t want anyone else who’s just graduated to make the same mistake as me. I was petrified of reaching September - the month I’ve always started a new term or school or subject - and finding myself trapped at home, doing absolutely nothing and feeling like I was worth even less. I took the first job I could and ended up in a far worse state than I would have after a few more months at home working out what would make me happy. 

Finding What Matters 
Now I’m in the exact same position as this time last year, but this time around, I’m backing myself. If spending my days in an office, or working in London will make me feel the way I felt, then I’m going to have enough self-respect and confidence to turn my back on that lifestyle. I’m going by trial and error again, but this time I’m trying my hand at freelance writing, trying to make enough to fund a lifestyle where I can spend the majority of my time outdoors. This time a year ago I didn’t believe I’d be good enough for a dream job if I did find it, let alone be confident enough to slow down and work out what I really valued. Now I respect myself enough to do what makes me feel good about myself. 

A job is a job, it will give you money, yes, and something to put on your LinkedIn. But if it’s going to be the thing you rely on to give you value and purpose, I’d urge you to stop for a moment. 

You don’t need a title to tell you you’re enough. Do what makes you happy.

I'm Manuela and I'm a King's College London graduate. I had excellent mental health until after university, when I immediately started suffering from anxiety. I'm sharing my experiences of struggling during the period immediately after university when most people lose the support they had while studying. I'm hopeful that by sharing my story and advice I'll be able to help people going through a similar experience realize that they're not alone.

You can find more support on anxiety here. Image taken from here.

No comments:

Post a Comment