Throughout my childhood, I never knew how to answer the question ‘what do you want to do after you leave school?’
I always felt awkward about it, staring at my shuffling feet and mumbling something about ‘how I wasn’t sure yet’, hoping that my interrogator – in reality usually someone’s mum trying to make polite conversation – would change the subject. I felt like I should know. People seemed to think I would know – some of my friends had careers mapped out by the age of 14! But for loads of people (maybe even most of us?), there’s never been a clear path ahead. Looking back this seems completely normal. At the age of 16 however, it seemed like something to be ashamed of. I think it’s tempting to assume, when we look ahead in life, that because people tend to do things at a certain age – learning to drive at 17, going to university at 18, graduating at 21 and so on – that this will automatically be the case for ourselves. But everyone’s experience of life is different, and our own circumstances and priorities can change over time. At that age, I assumed I would go to university after Sixth Form, because that’s what everyone else at my school did. I could only hope that my chosen career would be revealed to me by some spontaneous bolt of inspiration.
I chose my A Levels based purely on personal interest. Geography and History had always been my favourites; Economics was new but seemed to compliment the two nicely. Unfortunately for my schoolwork, this happened to coincide with learning to drive and joining a band, which very much became my priorities from then on. My A-Level results were consequently underwhelming. Added to this, when the time came to go to university, I didn’t feel ready to leave my hometown, nor did I have any convictions about what I wanted to study. In all honesty, I was fed up with being in full time education. So, I took a ‘gap year’. This, I hoped, would give me the space to figure out what do next. I was lucky enough to have a brief internship at a music management company and I also toured the UK with a band, playing bass – experiences which I still cherish. Nevertheless, I still lacked anything resembling a plan for my future. So, when I saw that a few my friends were moving to London, I followed them to the city and accepted a place on a music course. As time progressed, I came to realise that studying music wasn’t for me; I loved to play, but approaching it academically took away much of what I enjoyed about it. I also found that I was struggling to settle in a huge, crowded city. Consequently, I ‘dropped out’ of my course and moved home.
Returning to my family home felt like failure – I had moved out and started studying just like my friends, but where they had thrived, I felt out of place. With some encouragement from my family, I decided to give uni another chance. This time I applied to the University of Kent, meaning that I could drive to uni, stay at home, and still see my friends. I also chose to study History, simply because it had been my favourite subject at school. On this occasion, my experience of Higher Education was totally different. Though the first term was hard work and adjustment was not immediate, I gradually found myself loving both campus life and my academic work. Additionally, it gave me the opportunity to build new friendships and discover a passion for writing, through the student newspaper. I see it as a hugely valuable experience which I not only enjoyed immensely, but which profoundly impacted my personal growth and worldview; I recognise now that my ‘failure’ was necessary to find a place that suited me better and that I shouldn’t be ashamed of trying something which, in retrospect, took courage.
My love of History took me on to postgraduate study at the University of Bristol, where I found digging into more specific and complex subject matter really rewarding. By the end of the course however, I realised I was ready for a new challenge. Moving to Cumbria, my degree allowed me to find work with Hello Future as this year’s Graduate Intern for Carlisle & Eden, where I’m excited to further develop my passion for communication in a rewarding and worthwhile professional environment. I still haven’t decided ‘what I want to be when I grow up’, to be honest I’m not sure I ever will, but I think that’s okay. As long as I’m involved in projects which I’m passionate about and I keep growing as a person, I’m more than happy not knowing exactly what the future holds.