Work Experience? Rather, Life Experience

Words from a Girl Who Is Actively Avoiding Being Boxed-In

The ocean of opportunity is expansive and ever-growing.

I love my father. But like every daddy-daughter duo to ever exist, we disagree on several topics. One happens to be employment, careers, and the form my life should take. 

My father thinks that employment equates to power and happiness. Growing up, his background required he work as soon as he was able. He worked day and night, earning money and gaining vital experience that helped him to escape the difficult straits he was born into. There are no words to express my admiration for him and what he has achieved. From Mississippi to Merton, there can be no doubt that he is an inspiration.

But my context is different to his. His hard work afforded me a comfortable upbringing. My friends at school and university came from similar backgrounds, if not ones that were actually more privileged. For many years I struggled with my mental health, and upon graduating university in July, I felt more than anything that I needed a break. I needed to press pause on my life and take a second to actually enjoy it. I wanted to stop doing things that I should, and do things that I want to do. For a couple of months this will no doubt take the form of seeking out sunshine in the Southern Hemisphere, but at large it means finding jobs that are meaningful and spending time with people that I love. Ironically, as I write this, I am sitting in an office that brings me neither fulfillment nor joy. But this placement will end in a couple of weeks, and then onto my journey of self- and professional fulfillment I shall go.

My father is not happy. In honesty, I didn’t expect him to be. Professionally dawdling and experimenting is a far cry from his experiences and one he sees no value in. But surely there is value in trying to avoid being boxed into a career as early as 22? Surely it isn’t so bad that I want to try as many things as I can before deciding what actually works for me? 

In the six years since I started taking work experience placements, I have already seen the insides of a Roman palace, travel agency, national newspaper, ice cream stall, night-club, Sports Direct, television Production Company, and an HR firm. There is no logical progression to these work experiences. At a simple level, these are the people who chose to hire me at any given time. But these experiences have shaped my interests and introduced me to career paths I never knew existed. Work experience is just as much finding out what you don’t want to do as much it is about identifying your passion(s). I have enjoyed my weird and wonderful professional journey, and I’m not yet ready to sit down and dedicate myself to a single role.

There is a societal notion that graduates must find jobs immediately. My father is certainly of this mind. Education is over, go find yourself a job. In fact, the number of times I have been asked, "What is your plan?" in the last three months must be in the thousands (answer: how about no plan?). 

But research tells us that the global population is getting older. Medical advances, longer life expectancies, and decreasing procreativity means that soon the "old" will outnumber the "young." In terms of generational developments, Millennials are largely referred to as experiencing "delayed adulthood," marrying and having children later, giving up smoking later, and buying their first homes much later than their parents’ generation (this perhaps has to do with student debt vs house prices). The trajectory of life is no longer birth, education, career, retirement, death. Rather it is far more complex, irregular, and unpredictable. The young of today are no longer expected to stay in one job for the rest of their life. Instead, they will likely experiment with a number of careers interspersed with bouts of further education and sabbaticals. The young seek out what makes them happy and live life according to these principles; not, as the older generations did, work in the hope that it eventually generated happiness.

The changing demographic — and subsequent social and professional landscape — is perhaps difficult for our parents to grasp. We do not and will not live like them. But this is not a bad thing. Life is long. There is plenty of time to travel, swim in clear blue seas, kiss boys, take a number of work experiences, and then buckle down and dedicate oneself to a specific career path. From where I’m sitting, graduates should not be forced to find a niche so soon. When we'll be working until we're 80, why start at 22? The ocean of opportunity is expansive and ever-growing, and I think it is far more important that the young are allowed to be young. Careers, houses, and babies can wait. 

For now, I am going to embark on my journey of professional experimentation and discovery. Do it with me?

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Work Experience? Rather, Life Experience