Have you ever felt like your life was never going to get started?
That your education had brought you nowhere? That your career aspirations were slipping through your fingertips? And that everyone around you seemed to have it all figured out?
This is a little phenomenon I like to call growing up.
Deciding What You Want To Be At 18
It started with the Leaving Cert. I began to feel the heavy burden of expectation on my shoulders.
The expectations of my teachers who had me pegged for medicine. The expectations of my favourite English teacher who is still waiting for me to craft the next Shakespearean masterpiece. The expectations of my French mother who didn’t care as long as I scored an A1 in my French exam.
But what did I want?
I could see myself as many things; the wife of Paul Newman for one. But what use would I be to the world if I did what I loved and studied acting or wrote plays?
These were not ‘conventional’ jobs. Better to tuck these beautiful dreams delicately away and face reality. Get a grown up job – something useful and respected.
When it came to filling out the CAO form I felt like I was re-enacting a scene from Sophie’s choice.
If we were really advanced there would be blood tests ascertaining our aptitude for certain careers. Or we would come out of the womb with a little tag around our ankles saying ‘doctor’, ‘baker’, ‘musician’ – problem solved.
The two great loves of my life are English and Biology. Everybody ushered me to choose the smoothest (most lucrative) course, while my wonderful mother told me to follow my passion.
Ever the daydreaming idealist, I passed on job security and chose an English degree.
What If I Made A Mistake
For four very happy years, in the library of Trinity College Dublin, I immersed myself in books and more books. Trinity became my Hogwarts. I even had my own Albus Dumbledore.
I could read, I could act and I could learn without worrying what lay outside the protective borders of the campus.
Choosing passion over practicality, Shakespeare serenaded science out of my life.
Yet, I still wondered what could have been. I found myself almost drooling as I passed medical students discussing neurological diseases. Their futures seemed so bright, so fixed and pre-determined, as opposed to the insecure life of an art’s degree.
Had I made a mistake?
Just as you begin to have the inside track into this daunting world of academia, you find yourself wearing ceremonial robes, holding your diploma and graduating.
The umbilical cord is cut and you are no longer a cute undergrad.
Realization floods in. You are now an adult. You are on your own!
We become inundated by a series of very unhelpful questions. ‘Have you any plans for your future?’ ‘Any jobs lined up?’ It is enough to reduce the most self-assured people to tears, if not hysteria.
What do you do with a course that ‘gives you a beautiful education’, but is essentially useless as a stand-alone career? I did not know but I did not want to admit to the world or myself that I may have made a mistake in my course choice.
Out In The Real World
I took a year out to work in Guinness Storehouse, in the feeble hope that I would find myself. Here was an environment where there was no pressure, no competition, nothing expected of you but to do your job.
It has been good for me. I have grown here. It has changed me from the anti-social introvert I once was to a social butterfly. It has given me the wonderful life experience. And I have also found some of my best friends and truly unique people.
Two years later, I am still there funding my masters of journalism (the next logical step on my career path), but I get impertinent questions such as ‘why are you wasting away in a bar?’ ‘Are you going to pour pints your whole life?’
What is wrong with having a permanent position, when most of my peers had to emigrate?
Shakespeare said “security is mortal’s chiefest enemy”. I say it is mortal’s chiefest asset, and from a financial point of view, I shall be biding my time in Guinness.
Are we only coined successful if we have 10 digits to our pay cheque, or is not the humble Joe Soap bringing back the proverbial bacon for his family the real success story here?
Even though I think I’ve found my career path, I still have doubts.
Back To The Drawing Board
The other day during an existential quarterly life crisis, I went to Hodges and Figgis and bought the huge graduate medicine book with the intention of cramming a year’s worth of study into two weeks.
Refreshingly, the chatty vendor did not look at me like I had two heads when I told him I was planning on studying journalism and medicine at the same time.
Instead, he said “it is better to have many interests than just one. You will have lived a fuller life.”
We are always going to have doubts. We are always going to question what are lives could have been. It is the essence of the human condition.
So how can we be expected to consign ourselves to one rigid area when we haven’t even finished developing as people?
We will always want what we cannot have. If I was a doctor, I would dream of being a journalist.
It is ok to feel lost. Most people are.
We’re not supposed to have everything figured out.
You have a choice. Sit on your ungrateful ass, or grow a pair and do something useful.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Even if you do not end up working in your dream job now, that does not mean it will not happen in the future. You’ll figure out the rest eventually.
As Benjamin Button said: “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late…. to be whoever you want to be. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it… I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”