I was inspired recently by a thought-provoking book I read, ‘the opposite of loneliness’. This is a moving collection of short stories by an aspiring writer who died just after graduating from university. She wrote a piece about what people do after graduating, and was appalled to find out that 25% of Yale graduates enter the consulting or finance industries. She couldn’t understand how such a diverse group of people could end up doing the same thing, and came to the conclusion that they weren’t really interested in those industries but saw the jobs as easy to get into, and a chance to gain transferable skills. They had the attitude of ‘get a job that pays well now, save the world later’. A lot of the people she interviewed were passionate about art or music or nonprofits but entered a line of work they weren’t engaged in and rationalised it because it was a safe choice and they didn’t know what else to do. She saw this as a waste of talent that would do a lot of good for the world elsewhere, especially because there are many more life-affirming ways to gain skills.
It made me think, how many graduates are doing what they actually want to do? How many twenty-something’s are changing the world in their own little way? The last year of university was stressful for obvious reasons, but one of the things that panicked me most was the number of people who were job hunting from the word go and had secured their grad jobs before Christmas. I started hearing about all these people who had ridiculous starting salaries with KPMG and Deloitte and JP Morgan and I was like shit, I’m going to finish third year unemployed with no prospects whilst all my fellow students go into the big bad city and earn their dollas. Then I looked into it a bit more and realised, those kind of jobs were so un-me it was ridiculous. And I couldn’t understand why so many people wanted to go into them.
Whenever I got good grades at school my friends would say I was going to be rich when I got older. Turns out it doesn’t exactly translate like that. I know I could have gone for a competitive grad scheme and it would have given me skills and experience and moneys, but what about job satisfaction? What about feeling like you are making a tiny bit of a difference to the world and the things you care about? To be honest, I work for a charity but on a day to day basis I don’t feel like I’m changing the world at all. I feel like I’m sitting at a desk and doing admin and making calls. But then I have a meeting or a workshop or an event and I see the bigger picture again and realise that what I do is contributing to something pretty damn cool.
I’m not saying everyone should go work for charities, not at all. That’s not where everyone’s passions lie and it’s definitely not the only way to change the world. I’m saying, life and careers shouldn’t be solely focused on the money we earn and progression in a powerful sector. We spend 57% of our waking life at work, so surely we should get enjoyment and fulfilment out of that time? It is possible to spend your life doing what you love, and changing the world in whatever way you want to. Even now I’m doing what I’m passionate about I still find myself constantly on the lookout for more opportunities to fill my life with rewarding activities and make a difference in more tiny ways. I’m one of those people who never finishes a project because I get too excited about the starting something new part and then lose interest, simply because I want to do everything and can’t accept that there’s not enough time in life.
Being a twenty something in London is about making mistakes, buying into fads, getting caught up in the here and now and fun that the weekends bring to life. It’s about not taking life or yourself too seriously, going crazy and being whoever you want to be for this short period of life where it’s okay to do that. But we still get stuck in our petty short-term priorities and day-to-day worries and often fail to gain perspective on life and see the bigger picture. We forget that we can use those little things we feel passionately about to effect change, we can make a difference to the world THROUGH the fun we have being a twenty something. The random ways we choose to spend our free time and activities we take part in show our creativity and the endless ideas that we have about life.
At the end of the day life is just about being happy. Whatever brings you happiness, do it. We should be devoting our life to the things we love and creating something lasting that we are proud of. I’m going to quote P.S. I Love You, and it’s going to be very cringe, but I watched it the other day and I feel this line is quite fitting here. “All I know is, if you don’t figure out this something, you’ll just stay ordinary, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a work of art, or a taco, or a pair of socks! Just create something new, and there it is, and it’s you, out in the world, outside of you, and you can look at it, or hear it, or read it, or feel it… and you know a little more about you.” And then Gerard Butler does his beautiful cute Irish thing and all is right with the world because he is everything. But the words still stand, our business is to create something, whatever that something is. Life is too short and those petty worries we have at this age mean absolutely nothing when you take them out of your life perspective and look at the world in it’s entirety. Maybe that thing that makes you really happy is making a difference to the world, and maybe it’s not. But live in the knowledge that you CAN achieve all that you want and all that makes you happy whilst changing the world in your own little way.