Saunders' Corner

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Graduation is just the beginning Photo credit: Aaron Hawkins (via Flickr)

“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life… the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t”

I spent the majority of my childhood and early teens hoping and praying that I would become an adult sooner. I would spend hours dreaming up who I thought I would be once I had passed the magic threshold of my eighteenth birthday, imagining where I would visit and the things I would do. At sleepovers, my friends and I would sit in our sleeping bags, eat Minstrels and guess who would be first to get married, who would be the richest and what jobs we would all have in the future. I loved school, but I couldn’t wait for my independence and the freedom that would come with age. I imagined eighteen-year-old me to be a poised, confident and elegant woman with grit, determination, intelligence and stunning good looks to match. I imagined I would drink smoothies, go for morning runs, and spend my weekends drinking fancy cocktails and splashing ludicrous amounts of cash. Most of all, though, I imagined that by eighteen I would know the path my life was going to take, I would be confident in my degree choice and would be well on my way to a career which I loved. How wrong I was.

Growing up, it seemed as though everyone knew what career they wanted to pursue. If they didn’t know the exact job role, they know what subjects they were best at and had a clear idea of what careers they would enjoy and the steps they could take to get there. This was not the case for me. When parents, teachers and family members posed the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I had a different answer every time. Teacher, Psychologist, Radio DJ; the answer changed depending on my mood. I was equally average at all subjects at school, and was unable to find my passion or niche that lighted a fire within me and made me excited. I hoped that one day I would have a lightbulb moment where I would read a job description and think; “yes! This is the perfect job for me!”, but as the years went on, this seemed less and less likely. As my level of education developed and my GCSEs and A Levels passed me by, my options became narrower. For example, Sociology, English, Law and History at A Level certainly discounted any chance of becoming a Neurosurgeon. I was envious of my friends who had the advantage of knowing since Year 9 that they wanted to be a Pharmacist, and so had chosen their subjects and work experience accordingly. However, that just isn’t the case for everyone. I spent hours scouring the internet, doing Prospects career quizzes and assessing my options. By May 2014, I found myself reluctantly applying for a Law degree and crossing my fingers that it would all work out. However, courses such as Law are quite vocational, and if you have no desire to go into a career in the legal system, it can be a rather draining experience. On my first day, the lecturer stood at the front of the hall and said, “how many people here want to be a Lawyer or a Barrister in the future?”. Low and behold, 95% of the room raised their hand. I knew then that the course really was not for me.

Nearly four years later, and nearing the end of my English degree, I’m much closer to knowing what job I wish to pursue. But what can you do if you’re feeling as disillusioned as I once was? Firstly, if you’re halfway through a degree that you don’t love, don’t think that your only option is to drop out. A good grade from Cardiff University in all manner of subjects looks fantastic on a CV. People with History degrees will go on to work in accountancy firms, for example. Your subject does not mean that your future career is set in stone. As well as this, the biggest piece of advice I would give is to do loads of work experience placements. I’ve done work experience in schools, charities, marketing departments; even in a florist shop (I realised I couldn’t hack the 5am wake-up). After every placement, I have managed to fine-tune what sort of job I’d like to do. Work experience is such a benefit as it can give you an insight into a company, as well as showcasing you as a proactive and interesting prospective employee. If you’re due to graduate this July but are still unsure about what you want to do with your life, I would recommend looking into paid internships. Many of these schemes run for up to twelve months, which mean that you can get stuck into a role without committing to it for the rest of your life.

I’ve felt a certain amount of pressure to know exactly what I wanted to do with my life since I was a child, and it won’t go away once I’ve graduated. Many of us will feel pressure to land our dream job straight away – but life doesn’t always work like that. You’ve got the rest of your life to work your way up the career ladder and try out different roles until you find the right one to work for you. For now, work hard and proactively look for opportunities wherever you can, take a deep breath and know that it will all work out in the end.

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