It’s that time of year again; so I thought this would be a good time for me to reflect on life outside the bubble of academia. This post is going to be a lot more personal than what I usually talk about here, but I thought some recent graduates might appreciate hearing about my experiences just to know that – yes, things are tough at the moment, but you aren’t alone. I would love to say that these early years of my ‘real’ adult life have been filled with excitement, adventure and new opportunities, but in reality the two years since finishing university have been the most difficult of my life. I made a lot of mistakes, and undoubtedly suffered from a few circumstances beyond my control, but I’m finally starting to think that things (just about) look ok again, so what have I learnt?
- Being a millennial is hard work. Recently I’ve read a lot about my generation being vain, lazy, and narcissistic. In reality we’re not living with our parents out of laziness or lack of ambition, but because outrageously high youth unemployment is keeping us there. Guess what? I want to be self-sufficient; I want a job and maybe a family. If I’d had my own way I would have been in full time paid employment immediately after leaving university, and I never would have lived with my parents again. I want my own life, on my own terms, but unfortunately circumstances beyond my control made this quite difficult. I can’t accept the idea that a generation, for whom lengthy unpaid internships are the norm in order to have a chance of even an entry-level job, is a generation that is lazy.
- Living alone in a bedsit paid for by benefits is a terrible existence. I was absolutely determined that I could not move back in with my parents. No, never! So instead I opted to put myself under a considerable amount of torture. I claimed benefits in my university city, which I used to cover the rent on my bedsit. I needed the rent to be cheap so I was living in a bad area, bad enough that I would frequently keep a mental count of how many syringes I saw in a week. This was the least amount of money I had ever had in my life, which was saying something after 4 years of university. I walked everywhere, rationed food, electricity (not heat though, thank god – as this was included in the rent) and just about everything else needed for a reasonable quality of life. I had no TV or Internet, but on the flip side I read a prodigious amount; probably the most I had ever read in my life – which again is saying something after 4 years of an English degree. My friends steadily left the city for more friendly employment climates, and I lived an increasingly lonely life – sometimes going an entire week without speaking to anyone. But my persistence on not going back to my parent’s house lasted a full, miserable 6 months.
- Leaving your university town/friends/life is a process akin to grief, and should be dealt with accordingly. Things had been slowly unraveling since before I even finished my exams, there was a period of time where I think I cried every day. I was seeing someone who I loved very much, but who did not feel the same way about me, and even though I knew we were doomed to failure – I couldn’t let go. Unfortunately this relationship was like a metaphor for the rest of my life in Dublin, and for my university. I loved the city and the university dearly – and I felt really sick about having to give them up.
- Know when to let go, make an effort to do this ‘properly’. I cut my university out of my life first, which was pretty difficult as it is in the middle of the city. But it became too painful for me to even enter the grounds because of the memories wrapped up there (I had even lived in the ‘bubble’ on campus in my final year). Having worked so hard to get to university, and made the most of my time there, I felt like I had failed myself terribly and had not lived up to my education. When I finally did leave Dublin I made a clean break, I needed to clean myself up mentally – I didn’t want to visit the city again until I was ‘over it’. It was exactly like breaking up with a human being, with the same emotions. As soon as I did give up on the last shreds of independence, and admit I was failing badly – I moved home. I made the decision and was back within 2 weeks, it was clear what I had to do. When I got back I went straight to the doctors to ask for help, this was a good decision. When you don’t believe in yourself at all, and despair of the situation you’re in: this is a bad starting point for job-hunting, all other factors aside. It was part of admitting I wasn’t ok, that it was time to move on, and I couldn’t do that entirely on my own.
- Relationships will change. A lot of people who were my best friends at university have dissolved back into the crowd. I don’t know where they are or what they are doing. I know that some of them I will run into again at some point, some I won’t. This is ok. The people who I had the deepest relationships with, my ‘real’ friends are still there, but obviously we see each other a lot less. I feel like if I see some people once every 6 months, or even once a year I’m doing well. I think scattered friends are a part of modern life. So no, you won’t be partying with your friends every night of the week, but they are still out there – and the ones who really matter will keep in touch, even if it is sporadic and not ideal.
- People will support you. Parents, much as they are often looking at things from a different perspective. Surprise surprise, they do want you to be happy, and they know this situation is not ideal. Friends, both home and away. Some will be going through a similar thing to you and have had to move back home, others will be pursuing further education, interning, travelling (lucky!), have a scary real-world job/other. In any case it’s likely they have some problems of their own and transitions are rarely easy, no matter which direction you take. The job center (ha!) if you would like to call that support, you need money to live to though. The doctor (in my case) without a course of anti-depressants to help me out it’s likely I would still be under my duvet crying. If you need help, ask for it.
- You will be lonely. I read somewhere that anyone going through a big transition in life feels lonely, as you don’t quite seem to fit in anywhere. You aren’t a student anymore, but you aren’t a savvy young professional either – this is prime time for an identity crisis. A lot of my friends have moved away from the area I grew up, and I can’t be bothered making new friends here (I want to move away so it feels like a waste of effort). My social life has dwindled to its lowest ebb; I had more social engagements when I was 8. And that’s before I even get started on (lack of) relationships. This is probably the single biggest kicker of having to move home for me personally. In an attempt to pull some hope out of the situation I will say that: I know it won’t last forever, even though it does feel like it at times. It is good to spend time with my friends who do live here, again because I know I won’t be here forever and in all likelihood neither will they – and we’ll be back to the once every 6 months scenario.
- Your parents will not understand. By my age (24) my parents were married with full time jobs and a mortgage. Neither of my parents went to university or had the burning desire to travel which seems to plague Millennials (probably because we know a secure job and buying a house is completely out of the question, so we have to think of something else to do with our money . . . if we ever get a job).
- Job hunting is exhausting, and often a cruel joke, but you have to persevere. If you have only just graduated, then my are you going to have fun with this lot: The group interviews with candidates much older and more qualified than you, the interviewers who never get back to you, the entry level jobs which require 2 years of experience, being told you are overqualified, being told that you are underqualified, the 10 page applications with essay questions, when a job you interviewed for goes to an internal candidate, the way no one acknowledges your applications, being rejected by Primark/McDonalds/somewhere else you never really wanted to work anyway, unpaid internships, knowing your CV was screened out and not read by a human being etc etc. All of this is a total nightmare, but you have to keep playing game.
- Unexpected opportunities WILL arise, and you will probably end up on path completely different to what you imagined. Towards the end of my university career I decided that what I really wanted to go into was publishing. I wracked my brains trying to think of a route in, applied for as many publishing internships, work experience and entry level positions I could find, to no avail. As my job search went on my net got wider, and by the end I had considered every skill I possessed, every subject that interested me just a little bit – I was willing to try just about anything I was half qualified for, and plenty of things I wasn’t – if someone would just give me a chance. This was aside from a steady stream of retail/admin/hospitality job applications. I know that some people will have qualified to go into a very specific field, but if you studied something quite general like me (English) then keep an open mind, you’re only limited by your own imagination as far as job hunting is concerned.
To conclude I will say that it has been a rough road, but I am in a much better position than I was two years ago, and about to head off on a tangent I never would have considered back then. In an ideal world I would have liked to have stayed in Dublin, got a full time job there and watch things improve – but this never happened. To a new graduate I would say: The economy and the figures might be against you but do persevere, seek help when you need it – and try to recognise an opportunity when it arises, even if it is not what you imagined. Good luck!
7th November 2013: Following the responses I have been getting to this post I have written an update which can be viewed here