So it’s nearly over, I’m nearly there. The moment I thought I was putting off has caught up with me, and I’m simultaneously incredibly excited and utterly terrified. As of June, I will officially no longer be a student, but I’m not sure what I’ll have become. For most people in my shoes, a quarter-life crisis is lingering on the horizon and needs to be headed off sharpish.
As soon as you go into your final year, the dreaded question starts popping up. Your family are generally the first ones in there, but soon your friends and course-mates join in with ‘So, what are your plans for next year?‘. And you do the same to them.
I don’t know about anyone else’s course, but with modern languages, there is definitely more than a hint of subtle rivalry. For us, this started back in second year, when we started comparing year abroad choices. I’ll put my hands up to having been unable to repress a bit of mild boasting about my AIESEC internship in ecotourism in Brazil, which was heavenly (…there I go again…).
We got back from our years abroad and spent the first couple of months regaling each other with our anecdotes about the best year of our lives, whether or not it was (and I hope not, it was incredible, but I don’t want to peak at 22), but at some unidentifiable moment something shifts and chats in the cafe with people you have had lectures with for three years and still don’t know their names suddenly turn from the past to the future, and ‘what next’ seems to be all anyone can talk about. Including me, I hasten to add.
Now I’ve been guilty of putting this moment off as long as possible. Even the fact that taking a gap year meant I (or, let’s be realistic, the government I’m never paying that loan back) would have to pay £9000 a year for the pleasure of doing a degree rather than £3000, couldn’t persuade me that going straight to university from sixth-form was a good idea. I’d been dreaming of a gap year exploring Australia since I was 10 and no amount of debt was going to get between me and the land down under.
Doing BA Spanish and Portuguese meant I had (thank god) to do a year abroad, meaning that I will actually be leaving university 2 years adrift of those of my schoolmates who launched straight into a three-yearer, and I’ve felt pretty thankful to have been still safely ensconced in education whilst they’ve tried to make their way in the big wide world. I’ll be graduating at the grand old age of 23 (and closer to 24).
The thing is, up till now, this real-world avoidance has all been pretty legitimate. A gap year. Sure, it might have cost me (or, again, the student loans company) an £18,000 extra in university fees, but generally a gap year is pretty standard behaviour. Spending 7 months in Australia and Indonesia is hardly breaking the mould, nerve-racking and wonderful as it was.
University. Again, in the UK going to university isn’t exactly revolutionary. I was extremely lucky and got a place at a good university and have been doing what everyone has expected me to do, and still have the comforting structure of a university year.
A year abroad. Well, it’s compulsory, part of the course! I am going to HAVE to spend a year abroad in a Portuguese speaking country, no need to break out the violins. True, I jumped in at the deep end, finding myself a work placement in Brazil, but I had the comfort of knowing that I HAD to spend 9 months improving my Portuguese in some way, shape or form, and that there was a time limit to the whole thing, and come September 2015 I’d be back in Southampton for my year. As would all the other Southampton linguists.
I’ve always been working to a framework. I haven’t being reinventing the wheel, I’ve been moseying along a fairly conventional path, with only a few detours.
Having suddenly found myself in my final year of university, I realised that from here on out, there’s no framework. Now PLEASE don’t get me wrong, I am so incredibly grateful every single day to have been born at a time and in a place where I can literally do ANYTHING I want with my life. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate, and I’m not complaining for a second, just trying to verbalise the inner battles that I’m pretty sure most 20-somethings in my position have. Or at least I hope they do, or no one is going to have a clue what I’m rambling on about.
Suddenly, all the soon-to-be-graduate has ahead of them are a hell of a lot of questions. So, what should I being doing now? What should I have achieved by this age? Is 23 old? Oh my god, I’ll be 25 next year. That’s nearly 30. Is 30 old? What am I good at? What am I interested in? Should I do a masters? Would that help? Should I get a graduate job? Do I want a graduate job? Do I want to go travelling? Where should I go? Is that just putting off real life? What the hell is real life anyway? Should I have a boyfriend? Am I too young for a serious relationship? Is there something better out there? Why are all these people getting married? Where do I want to live? How much money am I going to need? Do I want kids one day? What’s the point of it all anyway? Most people probably aren’t stressing about all of these at once (at least I hope not), but several of these questions are probably chasing each other around any soon-to-be-graduates minds at any given time.
The biggest question of all, is what if I make the wrong choices? I think that’s what most terrifies a lot of us, we’re lucky enough to have so many options and so many paths open to us, but what if we wander off the wrong way? We’re so convinced that we only have one shot at doing life right, that we are absolutely terrified of making choices, because they could easily blow up in our faces. The way I see it, we only have one life, so we need to make the most of it, but we definitely have more than one shot to get it right.
I’ve been told that I give off the impression that I have it all figured out, but I can assure you that’s not the case. These questions (well, some of them), chase around in my head all the time. But I refuse to enter quarter-life crisis territory, so I’m focusing on the answers I do know, like: yes, I do want to travel more. I’ve been bitten by the travel bug in a big way and I need to see more of the world ASAP. I completely fell in love with South America last year, so September will (touch wood) see me headed back off to explore the parts I missed, doing some English teaching and working on my writing online. I don’t know all that much about myself, but I know I wouldn’t hold up to a 9-5 job I don’t care about in Blighty. At least not yet. I’ll probably eat my words one day!
The main thing I have promised myself, and that I think we should all promise ourselves, is that I will not start comparing myself to other people. I’ve already seen a few friends graduate and agonise over the fact that their ex-house-mate is on a 50K graduate scheme or travelling the world, and see themselves as having failed already because they haven’t got anything to boast about on social media. From what I’ve seen, the quarter-life crisis is always brought on by these comparisons. If we stopped thinking about what other people are doing and focused on what will actually make us happy, we might actually manage to be, well, happy.
What I’m trying to say is that we need to take the pressure off ourselves, and learn not to give a toss about what we ‘should’ be doing, but start doing what we want to do. If that’s a graduate job, that’s fantastic. If it’s not, that’s just as fantastic. Don’t let anyone, your parents or your friends, tell you that you should get a ‘proper’ (which seems to be code for boring) job if you don’t want one, or that you should being seeing the world if you actually want nothing more than to get stuck into a career you’ll love, or having a family. Anything goes.
As a German woman once advised my aunt, if people don’t like it then:
Ursula knew what she was talking about.
Whatever you do, just remember that ‘real life’ can be anything you want it be, and that everything’s going to be okay. Cheesy as it is, we’re all in this together.
Like this post? Please leave a comment!