Wednesday 17 May 2023

Finding your feet: what it means to think about your future

Alex, a counselling student, shares his thoughts on navigating mental health, academic life and previous experiences in employment and the emotional impact. He offers signposts for figuring out what happens next.

- Alex

What happens next can feel like entering a forest alone and without a guiding light. 

I’ve just finished my first year at university studying Counselling and Psychotherapy. While the last year was a mix of excitement, challenges, fun, and stress, I feel an all too familiar sense of anxiety as I find myself at the threshold of the summer holidays …entering into the wilderness of the real world and within that wilderness I must get a job. 

So, a little backstory … Coming to University has been a long journey and one in which I may proudly declare myself as a mature student. I love University: attending lectures, meeting new people, building friendships, countless study sessions in the library, and that feeling of boggle-eyed excitement that what I’m studying will follow me beyond my time at Uni. More than educational or professional development, however, I love the freedom University provides me!  Before University I was in lacklustre and unfulfilling jobs for twelve whole years. While these jobs paid the bills, I always felt and always knew these jobs kept me in a cycle that was detrimental to my mental health. 

A twelve-year cycle of zero-hour contracts, grasping at every extra shift, and ultimately being a doormat for companies that could replace you as quickly as they could fire you.  Within my first year of Uni ending very soon, I can already feel both a yearning for September to swiftly arrive and dread having to fill the subsequent time with work. Maybe anyone finishing their degrees feels a similar sense of anxiety regarding the unknown.

Maybe it’s the temporary popping of the social bubble that university provides. 

Maybe it’s knowing about the “all business” atmosphere employment seemingly functions on.

Maybe it’s all, none, or more of the above.

I feel panicked at the idea of undoing all the personal and professional growth I’ve achieved over the last few years by compromising for a paycheque. Trying to find that seemingly elusive unicorn of a job: a job that develops and challenges my current skills within my chosen degree; a job that pays the bills; a job that doesn’t drain my passion or negatively impact my well-being.  For me, these anxieties conjure within me as debilitating and catastrophizing questions... 
  • “What jobs look good on CVs and Placement applications?” 
  • “How do I find these perfect jobs?”  
  • “What if they turn out to be dead-end or unfulfilling? 
  • “How do I know that this job isn’t going to be like my previous negative experiences of jobs?” 


Noticing these is half the battle. Behind these fears and concerns are passion and enthusiasm, not just for a career, but for myself. There’s a want and a willingness to be my own biggest fan. 

It is this inner “cheerleader” that I listen to when I look at opportunities or seek support. I know what I want and what is best for me. I’d encourage anyone to listen to that inner voice and where it pulls/pushes them regarding what happens next. Yes, career highlights are important, as is keeping yourself financially stable during these trying times. 

Some top tips: 
  • Speak to all you can and seek out opportunities for growth but ones that feel right for you. In addressing my own employment experiences, the world is seemingly turning to what employers can offer YOU rather than the other way around. 
  • Interviews can and should go both ways, what can these organisations offer to you? 
  • Whether you're in the middle of Uni life, like myself, or at the end of your degree, speak to as many of your fellow students, careers advisors, and lecturers as you: out of many conversations a new idea may be brought into your awareness!
  • Try writing it down: write down what your inner voice is telling you! spider-diagram any and all ideas that feel right for you!
  • Balance your navigation of  "what comes next" with personal downtime... or better yet non-time, enjoy doing nothing at all once in a while, you deserve it!

However, with the idea that not every aspect of you must be an employable commodity, look at the things you love, that you enjoy, and how they flow into what you've studied, you may just make something brand new!

Remember, you’re not alone in the forest. We’re all finding our own way through.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.

I'm a Counselling and Psychotherapy student wanting to share my experiences of being a student and my mental health. I love drinking endless cups of coffee! reading all I can! Screening movies! and not sitting still!

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