I’m twenty years old, and a lot is expected of me every single day.
I was expected to go to college, get A-levels, know exactly what degree I wanted to do. A lot of people are expected to follow this path. Then when we go off to university we’re expected to have fun- but not too much fun because you also have to graduate with a result that your grandparents can tell their neighbours with a huge smile on their face.
And by this point you should know exactly what you’re going to do next. A postgrad, graduate employment, etc. We’re supposed to have an end goal, and a plan on exactly how to reach it.
That’s great, in some respects. It’s amazing that people want us to succeed. That’s what drives me to go to university all week and work every weekend. It’s what makes me work so hard at everything I do. That’s partly why I’m writing this, that’s why I’m running this blog, and I’m writing a novel and so many other things that my tired mind can’t think of. Because people believe that we can succeed, therefore we believe that we can succeed.
But, it’s also horrendous at times.
It’s horrendous because I don’t have an end goal, and we shouldn’t have to have one. I’m ok with the fact that I don’t have a goal. I don’t know what I’ll be doing this time next year once I’ve graduated, and yes that is pretty fucking scary, but it’s also exciting and freeing.
Feel free to ask me what I want to do (I love being nosey and asking people), but please try to not have that terrified look on your face when I say I don’t know. Not knowing doesn’t mean I’m not going to do something brilliant. It doesn’t mean I’ve wasted my degree, even if I don’t do something directly linked to it.
And if you’re the one being asked. Be proud of your answer. Be proud of whatever it is you want to do whether other people are going to query it or not. It’s your life, and these are your choices.
It’s horrendous because every single choice feels like it’s going to change your whole life.
The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make was what to study at university, and where to study it. It feels like the hugest decision in the world. And making that choice at such a young age is awful. For months my life was full of league tables and lists of pros and cons.
Now I’ve made the choice, it’s not ever been altogether clear whether it was the right one.
This is partly because every time I tell people what I do, they ask “what can you do with that degree?” I can literally do whatever I want with my degree. I could be an artist, a curator, a journalist, an art therapist, a teacher. I can work in a shop, I could get a loan and train to be a pilot. I could do another degree in something completely different.
I ask people, including myself, to stop limiting my future when I’m just twenty years old.
It’s horrendous because when you’ve made your choices, no matter what they are, people will judge them.
People don’t always mean to. I’m doing an art degree, which means I get a lot of condescending looks and people asking me to draw something (both of which you shouldn’t do). People judge me. Even my friends sometimes. People don’t think it’s as hard as other degrees, people think it’s easy. Even my parents, I can tell they don’t mean to, but the way they talk about other degrees implies they’re a lot harder.
I’m telling you now, it’s all bullshit. All degrees are hard. People on all courses are all clever, their knowledge simply lies in different areas. While I know nothing about molecules, a person studying sciences might not know anything about the history of feminist art.
It’s horrendous because people expect so much from such a young age.
From being at school I was told I’d go to university. As someone who is academic that was great, that was my plan anyway. But if university isn’t for you, you don’t have to go. It’s not the only way to be successful, there are so many other things you can do that don’t require a degree and are awesome.
If you go to university and drop out, don’t feel like you’ve failed, because you haven’t. You’re just doing it differently. If it was your plan to go to university and you didn’t get in, don’t give up. Don’t be scared because life’s not going exactly how you planned it to.
I know so SO many more people who chose the wrong degree, who aren’t going to university at all and are amazingly successful, who dropped out, who changed their mind, who didn’t get in and have found another way of reaching their goal.
It’s our job to each other to support everyone’s decisions. To support everyone’s life choices whether they’re the same as yours or not.
It’s horrendous because success is equated to being rich.
Being brought up in a working class household taught me a lot. It taught me that some months there isn’t as much money as others, that you can’t always go on holiday and buy everything you want. It also taught me that I want more. It taught me I don’t want to struggle for money- because I love buying things. I love travelling and clothes and expensive make up.
But happiness isn’t all about money. What makes me most happy is my family, my friends. I’d rather give those material things up than work a job that makes me miserable. And happiness is the whole point isn’t it?
It’s horrendous because sometimes you need time out, and you don’t always feel like you should.
Gap years sound super exciting, right? But in reality it’s sometimes really hard. Taking a year out isn’t always a stereotypical gap year. Sometimes you have to work, because you can’t afford to not. Sometimes something happens that means you need a time out.
You can take time out, you’re not falling behind because life isn’t a race. If you need an extension on a deadline, ask for it. You’re not a failure for doing so. Admitting you need help is the hardest thing, but it’s also one of the bravest things. The gap on your CV is worth it if it means you can refocus your mind.
Take as much time as you need.
Life is so stressful, particularly when you’re not only trying to figure out who you are, but what you want to do with your life, how you’re going to do it, if you can do it. It’s hard to not pressure people, because we want them to be fabulously successful, we want them to have everything they can, to have the best life possible. But we need to recognise that that is different for everyone. There isn’t one definition of success, everyone has a different way of achieving and finding their happiness. And you have to find that yourself and not base it on another person’s definition of happiness, because that won’t make you happy at all.