Studying at Durham it sometimes it feels like you should have a fool-proof plan of what you want to happen in your life the next, say, five years’ time. So many peers seem to have flashy internships in their back pockets, a 10-week summer work experience placement, or an endless network of connections that will allow them to wrestle their way into the job market confidently once they have graduated.
I don’t want to knock these people. Oftentimes, these opportunities have been achieved by students through hard work and by having a clear focus on a long-term goal. However, this path in life is not the only one we students can walk, especially when we all have a diverse range of different responsibilities and challenges on our plates. We may all be gifted with 24 hours each day, yes, but we all have different things we must spend those hours on.
The effort to flesh out our CVs whilst at university is a rewarding cause. It’s one of the best ways to begin discovering what we want to squeeze out of life, and the identity we want life to squeeze out of us. This is done in many ways: getting involved in societies and sports; spending time volunteering; and of course, getting internships and work experience.
However, we should not overburden ourselves with achieving the latter, especially when we’re trying to balance our degrees at the same time. In the modern world, there’s a fixation that everyone of university age (if not earlier) should have a clear vision of which career they want to enter into and how they are going to achieve it. It’s a symptom of the neoliberal system we live in: the need to be moving forward constantly, relentlessly.
Yet, realistically, this is an expectation that not everyone can fulfil. Many students do not have the time to think so far ahead into the future, when they find their course difficult enough to manage. Or they have other responsibilities, such as (and this is not an exhaustive list) trying to keep on top of their mental health, living with a disability, complex family lives, or working a number of jobs to make ends meet. Many feel they’ve just lost their direction in life and are using university to consider this. All are valid reasons for not seeking to bulk up a CV right now.
The big bad world of work doesn’t have to start when you leave university; there’s no shame in taking a year out after university to ground yourself, if upon graduation you’re still not sure. We need to take our time to make the important decisions in our lives and this culture of frantic CV building can lead to stress and burn out, which is not a healthy way to start adulthood as it can lead to dangerous habits. Surely an employee who has a healthy relationship with their capabilities is better than one who makes decisions based off of how ‘behind’ in life they perceive themselves to be, without considering their own happiness – and personal achievements to date – first.
So, spend your university time exploring different avenues, tasting a colour wheel of experiences, and learning about yourself, but at your own pace. If you have a step-by-step plan of how you are going to achieve your goals – great! Flourish and go well. But if you don’t, there’s no need to overthink it. Often following your intuition and making decisions based on who you are now is more productive in the long run than making them based on who you think you will be in the future. The former will always lead you down a path that is authentic; the latter you might start carving and only realise it’s inauthentic when it’s too late to put down your tools.
Image: Tim Gouw via Unsplash