Done with University...What Next?
Updated: Oct 22, 2018
All graduates reach that wall. First, there's the inevitable anticlimax: three or four years of working towards something - and that something is now done. Then there's the chilling, subconscious, dilemma. It's not total panic at first: just a slight squirm in the stomach. Exams are finished; dissertation is handed in, and now it's time for a few weeks' well-earned rest. But procrastination can't win forever. That unwelcome question we try so hard to push down bubbles to the surface eventually. And that unwelcome question is... What now? What comes next?
Unfortunately, we live in a society that encourages certain outlooks of what constitutes success and what constitutes failure. At my school, there was an unspoken understanding imparted (implicitly) on the students: that, if you didn't get a degree at a good university, and didn't get a high-earning job, you would be a failure.
It is the result of the general underlying principal of a society rooted in capitalism. Money makes the world go around. The best way to make money is a top degree which can deliver a top job. So you can understand why this is the normal denominator against which we're always encouraged to judge ourselves. It makes sense that we follow in the footsteps of those who came before us: spending thirty-seven plus hours a week over a desk performing a job that, ultimately, we're only doing for the money. And that - right there - is what's wrong. We shouldn't be working for just money. We should be working for purpose and fulfillment.
I'll never forget a short video I watched at the age of eighteen. Over a montage of images and inspirational music was a voice clip taken from a lecture by Alan Watts. If you've never heard of him, Watts was a philosopher. What he said stung. Even though Watts died in the early seventies, his words are still pertinent - perhaps even more so - today. If you're interested, here's the clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZ7Y1-0bNeQ
Essentially, the point Watts makes is that we are part of a society stuck in a perpetually unsatisfied cycle. If the object of someone's raison d'être is money, it entails that person spending the majority their life doing something that they don't particularly enjoy. And then they teach their children to follow in their footsteps, and then their children, and their children and so it goes on and on. But what it should ultimately come down to is personal desire. It's a fundamental question, for which most lack an exact answer: what do you really want to do if the money didn't matter?
Unfortunately if the answer is an actor, or a painter, or a writer, we're discouraged from pursuing these careers because they're often far from lucrative. However, if someone nurtures their interest or passion, they can become a master in that skill. And, as a master, can earn money. Admittedly, such an approach can't always be feasible or realistic for the world in which we live. For a penniless writer, honing skills becomes redundant without money to buy food or shelter. But I think Watts has got it right. Our society often encourages people to pursue money and success which results in a waste of life. Yes, you make money. But where's the interest? Where's the spark? Do you really enjoy your life?
It all starts in school. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: teenagers are conditioned to think that they must get a degree to be successful, which results in them enrolled, aged eighteen, studying a topic that they don't really care about - that they're not really interested in - that is a mere means to an end. And that end is money.
When I wasn't sure about going to University, I gave this spiel to my parents about how I didn't want to conform to the path society seems to dictate for us - school, uni, job, family etc. etc. etc. And their response really resonated. Because, in a similar vein to Watts, there was so much truth in it. They said: but you shouldn't be going to University because that's what society expects of you: you should be going because that's what fascinates you.
I ended up going to University eventually. I was in my early twenties, rather than my late teens, and I think I got so much more out of the experience because of that slight increase in age. I was passionate about studying. I realised that, in fact, that was all I wanted to do. I wanted to become an academic; to be paid to research subjects which had me enthralled. But, again, that sensible, school-conditioned voice chimed in: it's a hard career path to follow, the odds aren't stacked in your favour, and you won't make that much money that way. My thinking fell into the very trap I'd formerly identified, exposed and defied.
But the thing is: at the end of the day, I'm still young and there are so many potential opportunities that lie ahead. That is what is fortunate for the most recent generations; we don't have to propel ourselves along one single, crystallised career path like our parents did. We can try different things; learn what we enjoy, and what we'd rather avoid. I've met countless people who fell into careers that they came to really enjoy, but which they formerly hadn't even known existed. So if you've just finished University or school, and that chilling dilemma of future prospects is starting to feed your fears then please, appreciate (or at least try to) that there's plenty of time to figure out what you want to do. And when you do, it shouldn't just be financially rewarding but personally fulfilling too. Often these things really do have a way of working themselves out.