“Just make sure you have a plan for what to do after.”
These were the words of advice my eldest brother gave me as I entered my second year of uni. He was trying to look out for me and prepare me early, as he had been plan-less after he graduated from uni, and he recalled it as the worst year of his life before he managed to figure out what he wanted to do.
I, however, had only just entered my second year of uni, and I still remember thinking how far away the end of uni actually was; how I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I could figure it out later; how I didn’t like the way my brother acted like I was a stupid kid and he was my dad.
In reality this isn’t how it was; he just wanted to spare his little sister his bad experiences, and I was a second-year uni student, so mature and so not in need of advice from anyone (sorry, Josh!).
I felt so anxious and twisted up about what I would ever want to do with myself
So, I went about my second year of uni with little thought as to what I wanted to do after graduating. I considered the route of education, maybe I wanted to be a teacher? But my mum was a teacher, and Josh was a teacher, and my other brother always said I’d be a teacher, and I didn’t want him to be right again [he is already right too often], and the final nail in the coffin was that the primary school right across the road from where I lived, where I had considered asking for work experience, was Catholic. Really, that last detail means nothing, but to second-year me it meant that they wouldn’t want me: faithless, tattooed, pierced heathen that I was.
So, no, I didn’t want to be a teacher. They work too hard and get paid too little for it anyway. What did I want to do then? After putting ‘educator’ aside, I sort of stopped thinking about it. Probably distracted by a TV show or a book or…literally anything else.
Second year came and went in a blur – as it seems to have done for many of my friends – and suddenly I was in a lecture about my dissertation. I had already decided that I would do a creative writing piece, because I knew I would enjoy it more and do better than if I did an English Lit dissertation.
Winter rolled around and again I began to consider what would happen to me after I graduated. Would a job and a purpose magically be bestowed upon me? Not bloody likely. So again, I started to think about what a person like me is good for. Spoiler: not a whole bunch.
It’s embarrassing to have people ask ‘How’s the job-hunt going?’ and to have to explain that yes, you are still jobless, and it feels like you will be forever.
I felt so anxious and twisted up about what I would ever want to do with myself, having always been something of a directionless sloth. I started writing about how awful that stage of my life felt, and how difficult it seemed, and how it seemed entitled and shitty to write about how difficult it seemed. I turned it into a script that I wanted to experiment with in my free time.
This lead me [somewhat embarrassingly slowly] to the realisation that writing is the thing I am for. I have written stories since I could first write, and whenever I have been in a difficult situation, I have always turned to writing, to figure out what I should be doing.
Realising what you want to do with your life is incredibly uplifting and relieving. Realising that you want to be a writer is not.
Being a writer in my head is living in a nice apartment above a café in France, or living in a renovated barn in the middle of the countryside, cranking out best-seller after best-seller. When I imagine a writer, I never imagine a 22-year-old sat at her computer, listening to lo-fi radio at 3 in the morning.
I had a destination, just no established journey or direction.
The final weeks of dissertation-writing came around, and the dreaded future loomed ahead. A friend of mine suggested I do a Masters, as that was her plan, and she thought it sounded like my kind of thing.
At the close of my third year of uni, I knew I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, not just yet. I hadn’t really enjoyed my first two years that much, and I felt like taking one more year to specialise in creative writing would be good for me, as well as giving me an edge when it came to job-hunting. I loved my MA and if I could I would do it again for another year, and probably just never stop. But of course, it did end, and once again I was faced with that question: ‘What now?’
Looking for a job is draining, depressing, and to be honest, a little embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to have people ask ‘How’s the job-hunt going?’ and to have to explain that yes, you are still jobless, and it feels like you will be forever.
Getting close to a job – as I have done on a few occasions – and then missing out is equally terrible: you start to wonder if you’ll ever be the lucky one that gets to go home knowing they’ve succeeded.
I’m sure for some, this article is not at all encouraging and it may even fill you with dread.
Fear not, you are not alone.
I think more than anything, I want people to know that it really takes time to figure out what comes next, and then after you’ve figured it out, it takes even more time to find the right place for you to take the first step.
You can fail again and again and again and it’s still okay as long as you keep trying. Don’t be deterred by your failures (and there might be many failures).
Keep going and know that when you find the place that lets you in, it will definitely be the place you’re supposed to be: for now, at least.
As for me, my goal right now is to keep on writing, and keep on searching for the right place for my first step.
Make sure you get the most out of your uni experience.
Oh and if you can, at the risk of sounding like my older brother: please, please, just try to have a plan for what to do after.
Bethany Massey has a BA in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Newcastle University. She is currently living and writing in Newcastle, and tweets from @B_R_R_Massey.