A year ago I sat down and thought about my future and where I wanted to be in a few years time. At 27 I’d entered the ‘late twenties’ bracket and this terrified me. I’ve always felt the pressure to be at a certain place by a certain age, prompting questions when I’ve always appeared miles away from where people expect me to be. Meeting societies expectations is a rubbish way to live your life, no one should have to justify themselves to others. But we do – all of the time. “Why do people always want to know why?” As I pondered during a recent phone conversation with a friend. A career change was certainly something I’d hoped I would have to think about a few years off yet, but there I was. Pondering. And watching the news. Advice: never watch the news when you are having these kind of thoughts.
Four years ago I trained as a youth worker, I loved my training, my time at Durham and I really do enjoy working with young people. However recent events made me reassess this decision. A year after I qualified I had to deal with the bereavement of a friend, which in hindsight contributed to my patchy start to youth work. No ones fault – just one of those life things we all have to deal with as best we can. There’s no manual telling us how to cope with the unexpected, and even if there was I doubt it would be much help. I’ve been a sessional worker ever since which has meant that work has been infrequent and often unreliable. When I took time off at the beginning there was no paid leave, I was only paid for the hours I worked, so it doesn’t take long to financially fall apart. It also means that there’s no certainty or predictability, routine is often non existent, hence my failure to actually eat lunch so often. I certainly can’t make any long term plans to move away or any other plans that require consistent sources of income (i.e. driving), something that I want to do sooner rather than later and has become more of a necessity as I’ve got older. I’ve lost count of the number of jobs that my lack of driving has prevented me from applying for. Since I qualified the job market has got worse, with services being cut, council youth services becoming non existent and youth centres closing. I grew up in a time when about ten youth workers worked in the same building but not anymore. You’re lucky now if you have one youth worker and several volunteers running a whole youth project. I really felt this austerity when I began looking for jobs.
I’ve always had to work with what I’m good at, and unlike my siblings and many of my friends have been unable to get ‘filler in’ jobs as a student until something ‘better’ comes along. I’m too Dyspraxic for retail or bar work and I’ve been very aware of this. When I tell people this I’m often met with phrases of ‘you’re putting yourself down’ and ‘you will be able to pull pints if you try’. (I always remember and giggle at that episode of the IT Crowd when Moss accidentally ends up behind a bar, and wonder if I’d be similar if I tried…) I’m not snubbing these jobs by any means, in fact quite the opposite – I’d love to be able to have something with a consistent income and more routine. I’m also very aware that I’m lucky and possibly fortunate to be in the position when I don’t have to struggle in retail or similar, as I know there are many people with Dyspraxia who aren’t. In terms of youth work I am good at the most lucrative kind and the jobs that everyone wants and are applying for, so naturally there is more competition – delivering training, youth participation and issue based workshops. As services are being cut and managers are applying for lower level jobs, leaving newly qualified youth workers little chance of getting to the interview stage.
So last year I reevaluated everything I wanted to do, which is pretty scary for a 27 year old who had hoped it would all work out after qualifying. I’d hoped youth work would be something I could do for a few years yet. I wanted to give young people the same opportunities I had growing up and I felt (and still do) incredibly passionate about this. I also realised that I had always been good at writing, and that anything I do from now on had to include it.
Those who have been following this blog (or my life) for a while will know that I decided to go back to university, to pursue something that is probably more competitive and difficult to get into, but is something I could be good at. I chose to study another Masters in Magazine Journalism – I knew I would enjoy it, so in that sense the decision was made but I shouldn’t have had to feel forced into a career change that has left me feeling almost as ill-equiped as before. I certainly wasn’t ready three years on from qualifying in something that I thought was going to be my career. That said this course has been one of the best decisions of my life.
As a student I have encountered confusion but also assumptions as to what they consider students to be. People often think I’m younger than I am, and mistake me for an undergrad, so when I explain I’m doing an MA, they often don’t know how to respond. “You’re at university AGAIN?” They say. “You’re a student, you must spend all of your time partying?” They ask. Well no, I spend most of my time worrying about my future, that of my friends and where this country is heading. I’ve dealt with lots of awkward conversations in the past but the ones about being a student really do win at awkwardness. Mental health problems amongst students are a bigger concern than we are given credit for (or understanding), and it’s no wonder given how burnt out and exhausted we all feel. It’s rare to find someone who gets that deciding to become a student again was not an easy decision.
As this MA comes to an end, I face the prospect of looking for jobs again and the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough. Most writing jobs are scarce as it is that I appear seemingly under-qualified for (adverts often ask for X amount of experience) – volunteering is great but it’s not possible to live on fresh air, or the alternative to staff jobs being having to set up a business. I am definitely not in the right place for the latter and the former seems a repeat of a time I knew before. I don’t feel I can call myself a journalist yet, despite journalism being something I’ve spent all year doing, and haven’t worked out a name for what I am. Friends who are already freelance tell me that it is definitely not the easy option. For people in their 20’s and 30’s, finding where they ‘fit’ takes longer than it did years ago. Those whose skills are more ‘specialist’ like mine and many of my friends find it so much harder to secure that ‘break’ or to climb an increasingly unstable career ladder. Changing careers before I’d barely had my foot in the door of the first one is a very odd feeling. We really are living in uncertain times. My advice for anyone in a similar position as I was a year ago, is to go with what you’re good at, find something you enjoy and work the rest out from there. We’re all just working it out as we go along, aren’t we?