Today it dawned on me that I’m going to be 27 in just under three weeks- this can either be extremely exciting or scary depending on which way you look at it. At the moment I’m going for a combination of those two emotions- but if you ask me again in a couple of weeks I might have changed my mind to ‘absolutely terrified.’
I don’t feel old enough to be almost 27, in many ways a lot of my teenage years and early 20’s were lost in a sea of confusion about who I was and who I wanted to be. I spent much of being a teenager in denial about many things that made me who I am and having very little exposure to normal activities that teenagers do, due to my very noticeable lack of friends. 27 seems to be the right age to actually make a plan for your life, or at least attempt said plan. 27 is also an age when lots of celebrities seem to die, known as ‘the 27 club.’ I can assure you that I’m not planning any of that- but it certainly makes you reflect on life a lot more, when so many people didn’t make it beyond my age. I also lost a friend at only 23 just after I’d left university, and I think about him all of the time and what he’d be doing now as I work out a plan for my future. I sometimes wonder what he’d have thought of this blog. When people you know, with so much talent and positive outlook as he had, don’t live to fulfil their dreams- it really puts life into perspective. It also feels considerably closer to 30 than it did when I was 25. I can’t get away with saying that I’m in in my ‘early twenties’ any more- despite looking like I’m about 17, but that’s another story for another day.
Turning 27 is also significant for me in more ways than it probably should be. When I was younger, and care free- with no big worries about planning a real adult future, all I had my sights set on was going to university and proving to people that I could do everything that they said I wouldn’t be able to do. I was pretty successful with that plan, having achieved more than I could have ever imagined. I also see friends being really successful in their chosen fields, and I really aspire to that. Turning 27 seems like a time to really develop your career and that eating coco pops is less acceptable. The prospect of actually moving towards a grown up life, has snuck up on me and pounced when I’ve been distracted doing other things. It is finally here, and as being 27 is here to stay just as my young persons railcard leaves me for good (I was also one of the resourceful people who renewed their railcard just before my 26th birthday) I must follow this new direction.
It’s exactly two years since since I graduated with a Masters degree- a massive achievement in itself, and like many young people leaving university into the world of work I hoped that I’d eventually fall into a job- with the inevitable long wait, and the knowledge that I had just entered a field when the government was cutting as much provision as possible- not the best time to go into youth work. But whenever is a good time for anything?
After graduating I spent my first year trying to work out what I was good at, and applying for jobs that matched those strengths. I had countless interviews as I tried to break into the world of work. I knew that I needed experience- well we all know that experience counts for everything these days, sometimes more than qualifications. I found that this experience was hard to come by when I kept getting knocked back. The government making less jobs available didn’t help this situation. In my first year out of university, like many graduates- I faced the soul destroying reality of signing on. If you aren’t depressed before claiming job seekers allowance- you definitely will be after. This process was horrible and made all of the hard work I’d done in previous years seem pointless. I had a very clear vision but during the process of having to attend a job centre and being patronised in the most demeaning way possible- I lost some of my determination and drive that had got me through all the previous years of education. The job centre is focussed on getting as many people off benefits in the most brutal and unethical ways as possible. It’s awful when we see in the media, jobseekers being portrayed as ‘benefit scroungers’- I challenge anyone who holds that view to spend one day signing on and I can assure you that those opinions will quickly change. It’s not a life that people easily choose, and I know that anyone classed as ‘long term unemployed’ are taken through the mill before they even receive benefit, and if they argue- they are threatened with sanctions, that has essentially made putting food on the table for many families impossible. The job centre also have a habit of pushing you towards ‘any job’ despite indications of experience, qualifications or life plan. Now for me being Dyspraxic I know that I couldn’t just go for ‘any job’- for one I know that I’d struggle working in retail, in a restaurant or handling complicated data bases in an office. Getting a part time job in a pub would also be problematic. Despite going through life saying ‘I can do anything’ I have quickly come to the realisation that in the world away from education there are actually very few jobs that I am confident doing. After almost losing the plot and all hope for the future after a year signing on, I finally secured my first summer youth work job. This gave me the opportunity to get away for a few weeks, to focus intensively on what I enjoyed and work out the areas that I was good at. I realised very early on that I would have liked to write the workshops, we were asked to deliver. Nethertheless I got stuck into being a youth worker- using the degree that I had worked so hard for and developing my skills in building relationships and rapport up with young people. I realised that I was more than capable of working with groups of teenagers, to develop confidence and skills in a supportive environment. I was good at this, and found myself often guiding younger and less experienced members of the team.
After those four weeks came to an end, I faced the process of having to sign on again and look for more permanent work. After applying for many positions, getting to the interview stage and hearing ‘we really like you and your potential, but please do come back next year when you have more experience.’ A bit like some X Factor competition, I realised that it was time for a new strategy and plan B. I needed the experience, so I was prepared to grab it with both hands and then not let it go once I’d found it. I looked back over my previous qualifications, and realised that I’m also qualified as a teaching assistant- which prompted me to sign up to a few agencies and get the experience that way. I’ve always been a bit dubious of agencies- but some times you just have to go for it and hope for the best. I did my research and found a couple that looked promising. I went to the interviews, then sat back and waited for the phone calls. This was when I first encountered another implication that my Dyspraxia highlighted. The nature of agency work, is that you are often sent to schools at sometimes short notice, and have probably never been to before- I didn’t quite know how I’d feel about this because it was all knew to me, but I thought I’d give it a go. I was kind of hoping I would get local schools that I knew, and could get to without really going through the what ifs of travelling.
I sat back and waited for the agency to call me with opportunities of work. The first few phone calls offered me places that it would be either difficult to get to or possible but would have taken me over two hours travelling time. I have so far never learned to drive- there is still a question mark over whether I will be actually fit to drive, something that I hope to address in my 27th year. Not having a car makes just ‘popping over’ to the depths of Northumberland more difficult. I think sometimes people who rely on their car all the time, can often forget how different life can be for those without a car. I also encountered the problem of literally being unable to find places or accept unknown schools due to my anxiety and poor sense of direction. I found it virtually impossible to take a phone call, be given a school for work and decode the transport network to navigate myself there successfully. These initial barriers led to me turning down a lot of possible agency work. Eventually I received a positive phone call, I was offered an interview for an agency job in a school, that would include mentoring, leading lunch time activities and after school clubs. This sounded great, and the experience that I desperately needed. I also had time in advance to prepare myself, unlike the previous spontaneous phone calls that I found difficult to handle. I went along to the interview and got the job. In reality this job didn’t include any mentoring, that I was looking forward to as I knew 1:1 work is one of my strengths. Some of the job became quite tedious towards the end- I quickly lost count of how many times I played ‘what’s the time Mr wolf.’ I found working in a school to have it’s hidden challenges- some things that most people don’t think twice about. I really struggled to get my head around the photocopier, number 16 in this article really resonates with how I felt about any kind of admin. I was also occasionally asked to laminate things in between my games of ‘what’s the time Mr wolf’- I am convinced that teachers are obsessed with laminating but to me it didn’t make any sense. One after school club I was asked to be involved in was a craft club, so you can probably understand my frustration when I was asked to thread a needle, and everyone’s bewilderment as to why I found a seemingly simple task so hard. in hindsight, if I was more assertive as to why those tasks were so difficult, maybe they would have been understanding. Working at a school certainly taught me lessons about what I want to move forward with in my 27th year. (and things that I should probably avoid for my own sanity.)
Since I left the school I have been working as a sessional youth worker, this is great for gaining experience, and testing different areas of youth work but isn’t necessarily a life plan. As I reach 27- I need that plan, the plan that will be the making of me and give me a direction to travel towards (I’m always prepared to get lost though, I will factor that into my plan.) I have also realised that I need to make more money, as at the moment I’m avoiding signing on because I don’t want to go back to where I was two years ago. I also want to be able to afford to move away from home before I reach 40. Growing up I always loved writing, I used it as a way to express myself and voice my opinion. I have also recently realised writing isn’t just a hobby- it is also one of the only things that I am actually good at and people respect me for. It is obvious to me more than ever that writing must form part of my 27th year plan, as much as I love being a youth worker, I have realised that I will never demonstrate the same talent that I have for writing. The spontaneous nature of many open access youth sessions, has caused me to stumble over what I need to do or say, because there isn’t a clear structure. As much as I am able to lead an issue based workshop or speak at a conference, I find initiating conversation around the pool table a challenge. It is important to play to our strengths, I tell young people I work with all the time, to find what they’re good at and build on those skills. So at the age of nearly 27 I have decided on a new plan, to set my sights on freelance writing and journalism. I have been assured that I don’t necessarily need qualifications in that area to get there, being able to write well is half the battle- and I’m pretty much there, with making words sound good on a page. This filled me with the confidence that I needed at the time. It seems one of the most obvious career choices for me, and I have never been so sure about what I want to put all my energy into achieving. For as long as I can remember I have always felt drawn to writing, there is something about the written word that I have always found fascinating. I also realise that to grow any kind of career prospects, in writing or youth work- I need to find out if I can drive, I’ve put it off for this long because of my own anxieties and feeling a failure if I am never able to get there, but if I finally know for certain, I can then factor possible driving or complete lack of car into this 27th year life plan.
I realise now that I’ve almost reached 27 I have another focus, something to build on before I reach 30- which I’m sure will come around more quickly than I expect. The last couple of years have given me a whole host of experiences that I can develop into the future, I have learned a lot about myself, met some useful people and some people that were not so helpful, who were just in my life to take advantage of my natural empathy and good nature. I believe that every birthday, brings on the inevitable’I must try something new’ reaction and sometimes provides the motivation to start all over again or to finish what you started years ago. When I turn 27 I will spend my time enjoying the things I have, working on what is important to me and cultivating new friendships. However as I’ve mentioned before, I still believe that, when in the right environment ‘I can do anything.’ I have always been very creative and resilient- and this positive outlook on life will help to make my 27th year life plan a reality. Now it’s time for a cup of tea as I ponder life some more…