Alright, so this isn’t exactly year abroad related as such, but hey, it’s been something on my mind as a student approaching final year, so I figured it deserved a place on this blog.
I am currently in the midst of exam season and so naturally, during a time I should be heart, mind and soul focused on my current academics, I am thinking of just about anything but. Today especially, I’ve felt uneasy – distracted. Distracted in a way in which my mind keeps circulating back to one question, regardless of what I’m trying to focus on:
What am I doing this for?
What are these exams for? These grades? This degree? Where will they take me, if anywhere? Where am I going with it all, where should I be looking? What experience outside of my degree do I need to get there? What do I want to do, what am I supposed to do? What am I meant to be?
Funny that, how the feeling of “meh, I really don’t fancy getting started on this essay, let’s make a cup of tea instead” descends into a minor existential crisis about my purpose on this earth, but there you go.
In some ways, I feel like this ‘crisis’ as such (although I’m not particularly stressed about it? Just mulling things over. A lot.) is very much due. My time in Ottawa is coming to an end; the big ‘STUDY ABROAD’ neon sign that has loomed large on my horizon for so long is almost behind me. I’m rapidly realising just how much I don’t want to leave, and part of that is because I know how much I’ll miss my life here, the people I’ve befriended and the city I’ve worked so hard to make my home. The other part of it however, is because as excited as I am to see family, friends and my dog, the thought of returning to the UK also fills me with a slight sense of dread. Come September I’ll pack my life up into the family car and make the trip down the M5 to Exeter. There, I will be faced with a shiny-responsibility-laden committee position, a new basketball team and training schedule to get to grips with, and 9 measly months left of my education. Come May, my degree will be over. And then?
Well, there’s a good question.
“Tess, I hate to be cliché, but I really feel like I’ve found myself on this year abroad, you know?” Emily confessed to me the other day, as we sat with our cups of steaming tea during another so-called ‘study session’. I told her politely to stop being such an idiot – of course she’s found out more about herself, it’s not cliché to say so in the slightest. This year has been the most challenging, intense and incredible experience of our lives. If we hadn’t learnt something about ourselves, hadn’t been pushed out of comfort zones as a result, then we’d have been doing it wrong.
Because I most certainly have learnt things about myself.
I’ve learnt that I can be truly independent, 5,000-km-away-from-home-independent, that I can navigate bank accounts and phone contracts and health insurance without Mum loitering in the background for moral support. I’ve learnt that it isn’t fun being away from family for 6 months at a time, for my best friends for nearly a year, but that I can do it.
I’ve learnt that my mind will sometimes do what it wants, and that I have the capacity to feel really, really terrible about my life, no matter how wonderful and privileged my situation may be.
I’ve learnt that I can reach out to people who I feel don’t ‘owe me’ anything, because they are human and they care just as much as I would if someone were to reach out to me. I’ve learnt that I can persist, can even thrive, when I feel like I’m doing anything but. I’ve learnt that I can, and will, just as I have in the past, improve my mindset. I’ve learnt that just doing enough sometimes is strongest thing you can do.
I’ve learnt that I can forge new friendships, that I can be the outgoing one who puts themselves forward and invites people directly to social events, even when I feel a bit uncomfortable doing so. I’ve learnt as well that it is the quality of my friendships that are important to me, and the quantity of time spent with those friends that matters, not how many I have.
I’ve learnt that I can be humble (and, interestingly, learnt to appreciate just how much that wasn’t the case before this year.) I’ve learnt that learning isn’t always as easy as I tend to take it for granted, that I’m decidedly not gifted at some things, but that with bloody hard work, results do happen. I’ve learnt that I can be as stubborn as hell, and in that way have more of my Dad’s competitive spirit in me than I realised. I’ve learnt that countless evenings walking home in tears won’t stop me from heading right back the very next day.
I’ve learnt about myself more generally, about my attitude to people, relationships, love – I’ve grown, I can feel it. I am both acutely aware of how young being just 20 is, and at the same time how much older I am now than I was a year ago.
I’ve learnt then, it would seem, a lot. But in light of Emily’s revelation about ‘finding herself’ – I don’t think I have, personally, not yet anyway. Because I feel like in many ways this experience has been just the tip of the iceberg, has made me appreciate just how much I can still grow as a person.
This being the case, the thought of graduating and deciding on a career, choosing a direction of where to go in life next, is beyond overwhelming. It’s painfully a-typical of the final-year-student woes, but, confession time, I honestly don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to be doing.
I know more about myself than I feel I ever have, but have I found yet the person who is best suited at working in publishing? Or being a police officer? Or journalist? Or civil servant? Or a National Trust Gardens tour guide? You bloody well bet I haven’t.
I know that I’m beyond lucky that the world can be my oyster; but as it turns out I’m a vegetarian and find weird shell-fish intimidating as hell.
I don’t even know where to start. In the past I’ve had ‘callings’ for various career paths in life. When I was 10, I wanted to be a farmer, because I didn’t really care what I did as long I was working outside. Aged 13, I was set on being an author and writing a historical fiction best-seller. At 16, I had visions of being a jet-setting career woman, exemplifying all the attributes my ‘girl-first’ education had instilled in me, and putting my mark on the world in international policy at the highest levels of government. Last year, I dithered between all three if I’m honest, and started to throw new ideas into the mix; basketball coach, policewoman, publisher, journalist. I’ve entertained even more radical ideas – joining the army, going to medical school for goodness sake, something I swore growing up in a house of doctors I would never even consider as a possibility. It’s been a wild ride.
Now, just over a month shy of my 21st birthday, I feel about as thoroughly confused as ever. Except I’ve also begun to appreciate additional, more practical concerns in terms of a future career path. What job will allow me the flexibility to be a Mum, something I know is incredibly important to me? Do I need a Masters to get where I want to go, and would I be able to secure the funding for that? (Thanks Wellcome Trust scholarship for making me question further education again, I thought I was sorted but apparently not.) Where can I work outside of London, because there’s no way on God’s Green Earth I’ll be able to afford a reasonable standard of living there? Do I want a job that provides the income and lifestyle to support travelling as I have been able to growing up, or the flexibility to enjoy things in life that are important to me, like my sport or owning a dog? I know that the idea of staring at a computer screen 9-5 24/7 makes me want to pull my own hair out, so what jobs are there that aren’t confined to the office?
I tell myself I just need experience, just need to dip my toe in various industries to get a feel for the sort of environment I’m interested in, but then I’m faced with the work experience or internship application questions:
1.”Name 12 reasons you would willingly remove your own right arm from your body and/or sacrifice your first born child for an opportunity to work at this company.”
2. “Describe the first vague electrical impulses you received in the womb that laid out before you this industry as your sole purpose in life.”
3. “Regale us with your bountiful experience in this sector and/or the dozen or so internships you presumably have already done just like this one.”
(Okay, slight exaggeration aside, you get my point.)
And I’m left staring at the screen and chewing the end of my pen because?? I know I can’t answer any of those for any sector I have interest in without fudging my feelings towards said-sector to imply an enthusiastic keenness I don’t really feel. And then I think that if I have to do that, have to really work hard to fill out a convincing application, it really isn’t fair on the people out there who really do feel passionately about it, as I know there will be many, and perhaps this isn’t the job for me.
Which leads right me back to square one. What do I want to do?
Earlier on this year, I predicted this crisis. I talked to my best friend about how I’d been mulling over internship-related things for the summer and she said “I knew it, I KNEW this was coming.” Feeling ashamed and predictable, I talked myself out of my anxieties. I was mid-watching the final season of Friends at the time, and seeing Rachel get her Paris job offer made me realise something.
She’d began the show with no experience, no real plan for her life, working as a waitress. 10 seasons later, she had her dream job offer in her dream city. Perhaps I’d be the same, I decided, perhaps it’d just take me time. I would have a portfolio career, and arrive at the place I was ‘meant to be’ aged 30. As long as I was surrounded by good friends in a place I enjoyed living, it didn’t matter what I had to do to get there. I named this my ‘Rachel Epiphany’, and even though I realise I probably shouldn’t be taking career advice from a 90s sitcom, it was a comforting thought.
Now however, with friends back home facing imminent graduation, said-Epiphany feels a little less practical. So what if it takes me time to find what I’m ‘meant’ to do; that doesn’t stop me from needing to know what I’m doing this time next year. And lord help me, if I can avoid waitressing, that would be a plus. I can commit to things, try things out, police college, a Masters in journalism; but these all cost time and a whole lot of money. I’d hate to get so far down the line of investment before I realised I’d made a terrible mistake.
So as you can see, there’s really quite a lot going on in my head at the moment, besides trying to keep track of sorting my Holocaust notes into documents vaguely resembling essays. If I’m honest though, just ranting about it all in a post has been a therapeutic exercise. Perhaps I can just forward the link to this in an email to the Careers Zone at Exeter with the subject line: ‘i know you must get this literally every day but pls help’.
For now, I should probably be getting back to this revision. But maybe a cup of tea first.
Edit: A good night’s sleep can do all manner of wonderful things. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since writing it, and although I’d still say I’m pretty darn confused, I’m less panicked about that being the case. Also, I watched the video I’ve added below and felt a lot more comfortable. I’m not going to find my ‘passion’ straight off, but there’s no harm at all in experimenting. I’ve just got to suck it up and go for that first experiment.