Life after graduation: comparison, making it up & the fear of failing

20 Aug 2017

Life after graduation: comparison, making it up & the fear of failing

I have this memory from my childhood. I think it may be a combination of a few all blurred into one. It takes place on the landing in a house; either the rented house I lived in with my mum and sister the year my parents split up or the house we lived in after that, that my mum and step-dad still live in now. I can never quite work out which house it is. Anyway, I remember being told one day, if I wanted, I could go to university to study writing. I feel like I was probably clutching a Harry Potter book (I’ve done that for most of my life tbh) and probably talking about my desire to write (I’ve also done that for most of my life).

I remember being fixated with the idea that one day I could go to a ‘school’ where I would be allowed to write and nothing else. No science (nah), religious studies (snooze), maths (ew) or PE (double ew). Just write.

Fast forward to 2010 and there I was, 18 years old and about to start a 3-year-degree in Creative Writing with English Literature. It was three years of writing and tequila shots and the best times a girl could wish for.

However, I think it’s fair to say I lived in a state of denial about what I was going to do next. I paid no attention to ‘afterwards’ because I didn’t know what post-graduation life was supposed to entail. And when I eventually got there, to the ‘real world’, I didn’t particularly take to it. The real world was an unpaid internship. The 7:30 train into London. The real world was living in the bedroom I had as a teenager. An empty bank account with none of the perks of being a student.

It was all consuming, and not necessarily in a good way. I lost sight of me for a while, and I missed being carefree and happy. There was an enormous pressure to have a plan, to make a decision and I wanted to. I just didn’t know what that plan or decision was. I had no conviction in anything because I had doubts in every idea or option. Knowing I wanted to write gave me no comfort. I’d always known I wanted to write. But knowing you want to write isn’t a career plan; it’s just my life. A basic need or instinct. Like sleep or sex or food. Basic need doesn’t help you decide which GCSEs to pick or what you should do for the next 30 years.

From the moment we enter the education system, we always know what the next ‘stage’ is going to be. For me, it was nursery, then primary school, then middle school, then upper school, then sixth form, then university.

And then, you’re just kinda left to it. Which is exciting but also equally alarming. Because if you don’t have a plan, or even just an idea, then it gets confusing pretty darn quickly.

(Particularly if you’re someone who really loves a good planning sesh.)

But that, in case you are unfamiliar with this revolutionary concept, is OKAY.

Confusing, yes, but okay.

Some people have a life plan. Some people know what they want in five years time, whether that’s travelling the world or becoming a director, and work towards it.

You do not need to be that person. You really don’t have to have it all figured out. You’re allowed to feel a little bit lost. You’re allowed to feel like you’re the only person who hasn’t got their shit together. As long as you realise that you’re not alone in this feeling.

So. Many. People. Feel. Like. This. So stop partaking in the hellish game that is comparison. There is no point in comparing yourself to someone else. Zero. Zilch. It’s like putting a giraffe and a flamingo next to each other and asking why the flamingo can’t reach the top of the tree or the giraffe can’t be, er, pink.

That was a weird metaphor.

You can only do you is what I’m trying to say and freaking out because you feel like you’re just making it up as you go a long or putting unnecessary expectation on yourself or comparing your life to others; well, that just stops you from enjoying the ride.

There have been times since I finished university in 2013 where I’ve deemed myself to be ‘failing’, essentially because I wasn’t where I imagined I would/could be. Like when I was working for free (the joy of internships), or doing temp work, or being made redundant or taking a pay cut. But I wasn’t failing, I was just making my way through life as best as I can. I know that now, I think I knew that at the time yet I felt under a lot of pressure to know what I wanted, what I should ‘do’ with my life. It was very easy to scroll through social media or look at my friends and decide I was the only one who wasn’t extremely successful.  It’s weird that we’ve all done this at some point. You’d think we’d realise that if we’re not uploading Instagram photos of ourselves crying into a bowl of pasta pesto, then other people probably aren’t either.

Most of the time, I think the pressure was simply coming from myself. I’ve improved massively in this department of my life since being a shiny new graduate but it takes work and the weirdness of your twenties doesn’t make it easier. I’m sure there are many other people who feel the same way.

Give yourself a break. See being a new graduate as exciting, rather than scary. Get off effing social media. And remember it’s absolutely okay to not have a clue what you’re doing. You may be someone who has to re-learn that every day (*waves*), just as long as you always remember that it’s about the journey, and not the end game.

You’re gonna be fine kid.