As a fourth year student at Durham University, I would say that most of us finalists are feeling some degree of pressure to sort out what we are going to do after graduation – whether it be a grad job, internship, master’s or travelling.
Talking to peers has made me realise how much pressure there really is to “get our lives sorted”. Endless phone interviews, skype calls and application after application… As of yet, I and my two housemates haven’t done anything concrete. That doesn’t mean, however, that we lack ambition. We are dedicated to our studies and hope to go far in life, but just don’t know which path we want to take yet. And there is nothing wrong with that.
For me and my housemates the prospect of not knowing what we’ll be doing and where we’ll be in the world this time next year isn’t worrying – it’s exciting. Life’s too short to think about the future all the time, especially when you have a dissertation and YOLO final year mentality to take into account.
I am quite lucky in the sense that I don’t have parents who are constantly nagging me about my post-university plans. In fact, when I emailed my mum enthusiastically a few weeks ago for advice on several potential postgraduate opportunities I had found, this is what she said:
“Please don’t get caught up in a whirlwind of deciding so far in advance what you want to do after uni. There is no rush. Make the most of your youthful enthusiasm, independence and free spirit… The world is your oyster.”
She is so right. With these musings in mind, I refuse to succumb to the pressure in this academic sphere and capitalist society to secure a graduate job with a five figure salary as soon as possible. Making money, buying a house, spending thousands on a wedding and striving for promotions are not my prime ambitions in life. My role models are not defined by how much money they earn, how much power they have or how attractive their partner is. Rather they are defined by their generosity, open-mindedness and courage to go against the norm and make a difference to the world.
Take my 30 year old Spanish friend Gloria. As well as housing refugees and teaching them her mother tongue, she has gained extensive knowledge of other cultures through travelling around the world and living in a multinational flat-share in Berlin.
Gloria is one of the most caring and selfless people I have ever met. Getting to know her really confirmed to me that the key to happiness in life is not following a money-oriented career path you’ve had planned out since the age of 20. Happiness is achieved through kindness, human warmth and altruism – and not just towards the people we know, but strangers too.
Bearing this in mind, it isn’t surprising that Paris didn’t come across as a welcoming place to me during my 6 month year abroad internship there. I got a rather unpleasant insight into the so-called “city of love”, where people look down on each other, shun talking to strangers, and throw innocent homeless people out of their warm refuges to maintain the city’s façade of wealth and beauty… So much for “love”, Paris.
Anecdotes aside, I close by reiterating the fact that we young people should be enjoying each day, meeting new people and learning new things – not overthinking about our careers and futures. Maybe in a year’s time you’ll have moved to Mexico like my Durham grad friend Naomi did. Or maybe you’ll be taking a year out to gain some volunteering experience and help a disadvantaged community.
Individual success and money-making do not have to be (and in my opinion, should not be) the key to fulfilment. Exploring the world and making a real difference to people’s lives are. As my wise-old mother said, the world is our oyster. So let’s embrace it.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.