Try asking a recent University graduate in their early twenties if they’ve figured out what their purpose in life is and you might be met with a panicked look, heavy breathing, and sudden perspiration. At best, you might get a stammered response full of “maybes” before a swift change of subject. In fact, if you tried asking my fifty-three year old father that, you might get a similar response. The popular answer for a man of his age would be something along the lines of: “my purpose in my life is my children”. But the truth is that most people need a purpose independent of those around them; something that is only theirs. And in a world driven by productivity, this often leads back to job satisfaction.
Now, I’m no graduate. I’m a long twelve or thirteen months away from my graduation. But according to a lot of people, this summer is when I need to begin preparing myself for that apparently nerve-shredding period of my life where I will leave the so-called ‘comfortable’ bubble of education that has formed not only the past three years, but my entire existence, and enter the working world. For a long time, my sole purpose was to get to University. Now that I’m here, where am I meant to go next? My plans are an odd agglomeration of skills I’ve acquired, pipe dreams from a time before I knew any better, and feasible ideas.
In a climate where young people are paying £9,000 a year to be educated to a degree level, the anxiety of making the wrong decision and invalidating your investment is equally as high. What if I pick the wrong graduate program? What if I decide I want to do a masters when it’s too late? What if I’m unhappy later on? What if I don’t have enough experience to get to where I want to be? What if I have no idea where that is?
The primary alleviation from this anxiety links back to my aforementioned father. In September of 2015, my dear old dad became a fifty-two year-old undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia. He originally left school aged sixteen and worked as a gas engineer until a work-related accident forced him to stop in his mid-thirties. When my dad walked on to that campus late last year, he wasn’t backtracking, or returning to something familiar, he was starting over.
His desire to find a new purpose has been an underlying current of my entire life, as I was only three months old when he stopped working, but I only noticed it as I got into my late teens. His decisive action was prompted by a single question, the one I frequently think that students looking towards graduation forget to ask themselves: What’s the worst that could happen?
Say you choose the wrong graduate program. What next? You start over until you find the right path. In fact, don’t fool yourself, you will probably be searching for ‘the right path’ for the rest of your life. A 2015 report by the London School of Business and Finance found that 47% of the UK work force would like to change their careers. Furthermore, a 2014 survey by the New College of Humanities reported that not only did a mere half of all UK students find work in a field related to their degree, but 96% had switched careers by the time they were 24.
While the loosely-named ‘graduate season’, which in fact lasts for several draining months, is frequently presented to those at the centre of it as a Monty Hall-esque probability puzzle in which only one of several doors have the evasive ‘prize’ of purpose behind it, the reality differs enormously. Once you have chosen which door you want opened, there will, in fact, be more on the other side. It might be twenty years before you get to the next door, or it might be three. When my dad first gripped the handle that would lead to his life as an undergraduate student, it was a realisation that this door was never closed, it was simply one that he had never tried to open before.
(originally published at huffingtonpost.co.uk/blog)
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