‘The Game of Life: Am I Where I’m Meant to Be?’

In the education system, success can be spelt out in marks, friendships, first crushes, sports, homework or popularity. These themes are repeated in schools up and down our country. They’re microcosms of the social currency we will use within wider society. The school system reflects the social mechanisms we will meet later in life. There is power, work and currency reflected in hierarchical systems.

At University, our success is spelt out in marks, drunken stories, drugged up stories, societies, popularity, friendships, sex, internships and what levels of honours you receive at the end of it all. Which is quickly followed by the university ‘bubble’ popping, resulting in the largest hangover in the form of graduate job applications.

As a graduate, success is usually measured by what job you’re able to land. How close it was to what you wanted? Where you’re living now?  How smiley you can seem on the gram to your old University friends? This measurement of success will trickle into your mid-twenties, till it solidifies in workplace anniversaries, living for the weekend, Friyays and thinking god was university really that long ago? And when you turn thirty you go on long weekends away with partners, friends and partner’s friends. You plan your wedding and attend gym classes to compensate for the mass screen time at work. The self that was once dragged from the club, never wants to see one again. The self that used to hate children, softens to the idea a little. Until you slowly merge into a family you find on Gogglebox. Now when you speak, tones of your mothers come out.

A massive generalisation of life in the UK I know but apart from some alterations here and there, it’s a pretty accurate plot line for many. The path we walk from our Mother’s womb into education into uni into jobs and families – is some kind of organised dance. Since the age of 17, I have always been conscious of the template were supposed to step into after secondary school. I am observant of patterns and expectations that society has for us. But rip the template away from the back of our subconscious and were left questioning how we spell success. And are we conscious of a template in life which has been set down for us?

I think 17-year-old me knew that a lot of these templates and expectations were fitting within a patriarchal context. That goals and ambitions were sweet yet sour if they are prioritised over my fertility. And I should jump for the moon in terms of career but be careful to not damage the eggs I carry. And to always leave space for a partner and family in those goals. I think 17-year-old me was pissed about this. They don’t sell diaries that far in advance. Besides, if they did, I wish we’d be so willing to sell them to the men of this world too.

However, I believe that having goals is a symptom of passion. I don’t think that this is a bad thing by any means. Goals drive us and help us to organise our dreams. They help us to define success for ourselves. However, it’s a wobbly tightrope to walk.

When templates turn into expectations, we can start to carry a lot of unnecessary anxiety. We can compare ourselves to others and their timelines. And the older I get, the more I realise that were all just winging it. And growing out of our own perception of societal expectations is like shedding a heavy coat, with rocks in its pockets. You can certainly weigh yourself down fretting about the unexpected cards that life can throw at you. And what should have been expected of you.

I’m not sure if I believe in fate. Because for me, that means believing in a different kind of template. However, I do believe that you are totally capable of shedding that heavy coat. You can change your life if you wish. You’re capable of travelling or just getting a job when everyone is telling you to go to University. You can take up a sport at any age, train for a marathon, start a band. What’s empowering is that your whole life is in your power to change. Be conscious of the template and whether that sounds like something you want. You’re more than welcome to make future plans and set yourself goals. But be prepared for life to come along and try to disrupt them. And embrace the potential for variable paths.

I am a 23-year-old university student at Bristol. I started out as an actor, worked in theatre till it struck me that I wanted to work with animals. After 2 years out of education I got a loan and went back to college. Along the way somehow, I fell in love with spoken word and perform regularly. I am now studying Biology with aspirations of Science journalism. But I am still all the versions of myself I was before. I believe that you’re never really one thing. And I am inspired by all the dreams I have been able to achieve in a short space of time. And for all the change that will come too.

I still spell success in friendships, good hair days, family and happiness. I spell success in leaving a mark, whether that be in your aspiring field or in people’s lives. I already see success in my evolution so far and our ability to evolve. I see success as expressing all the different parts of you, falling in love with yourself and embracing your flaws. I think I truly see success in living as our most authentic selves. And if that self doesn’t like the look of the template? Create your own and be empowered to do so.