Baby steps, people!: the life of “life after university”

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Having been signed up to the Bright Network for nearly two years now (they were handing out free churros outside the SU. Quite frankly, there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a free churro), my inbox seldom goes a day without an automated, ‘Dear Mr Goss, this is your reminder about [insert random job application deadline here].’ Cue the anxiety. For every reminder about a job application is really a reminder about how little time I have left here.

To anyone reading this who, like me, hasn’t fully figured out what they want to do after university, I prescribe here the film Kicking and Screaming — Noah Baumbach’s criminally underrated debut. It tells the story of a group of college students who, being on the brink of graduating, are not ready to say goodbye, and refuse to move on. The reason I like the film though, is that instead of being admonishing, Kicking and Screaming is sympathetic. It understands why graduating is a terrifying prospect for a twenty-one-year-old. It understands why having to leave university — where, for the past three years, we get to learn about art, literature, philosophy, politics, history, science — to go get a job with a 4×4 office space, is an apprehensive prophecy. And it understands, more than most college films, that being a twenty-one-year-old is not quite yet being an adult. Ultimately, the film is on our side: it’s ok that we don’t know what to do yet. But at the same time, the film has to admit: we cannot stay in the same place forever.

Every reminder about a job application is really a reminder about how little time I have left here

The biggest anxiety surrounding university, from a finalist’s perspective, is what if it becomes the “happiest years of our lives?” Of course, we all want to enjoy Uni; we all want to make the most of it; we all want it to change our lives. Invariably, we want it to grow us as a person. But once we have left it, do we simply stop growing? Where will that growth go, except to the memories of when we grew? The dread of life plateauing after university is one we all have — whether you’re an incumbent J. P. Morgan analyst, a holder of a Magic Circle training contract, or have no idea what to do next. And it’s a dread difficult to alleviate, because we cannot know if this will be true. Likewise, we cannot evade life to stop ourselves from finding out.

It doesn’t help, of course, that in the UK the emphasis on a “successful graduate” is determined solely on the basis of a tax-bracket. The so-called “Mickey Mouse Degrees” that Rishi Sunak has such anathema for — indicative of his philistine, capitalist mindset — narrows the prospectus for graduates; and it admits the wider problem of how the finance and law industries have completely monopolised the UK economy over the past fourteen years.

The biggest anxiety surrounding university, from a finalist’s perspective, is what if it becomes the “happiest years of our lives”?

This automatically positions students, particularly those in the humanities, on the decline — simply because they had the audacity to prefer Austen over algebra when choosing their degree. Moreover, the chances of landing one of these jobs is incredibly low and often reliant on “who you know”, the great litmus test between the 93 and 7 percent. To define success by such narrow margins is to make it an exclusive, rarefied commodity. It fuels the anxiety amongst a graduate demographic undergoing a mental health crisis. And on the other side as well, those who do end up with a high-paying job have higher risks of being subject to burnout. Long-hours, unforgiving work environments, corporate discourse: seemingly the very antithesis to the liberal freedoms afforded by university. No doubt they must wonder, at times, if the money is worth it.

So what do we do? Must we simply brace ourselves, and prepare to mourn?

I think the greatest hope we can have about life after Uni, is that Uni will not be the happiest years of our lives. That those years are still to come, waiting for us, a little or a long ways down the road (it does not matter which). Perhaps the best solution is to treat Uni as simply another step to getting there. To become the traveller: with a heart full of memories, burning with the energy to make more; and to recognise: life itself is an education.

Image: Tim Packer

One thought on “Baby steps, people!: the life of “life after university”

  • Another similar event is child making. A huge amount of effort goes into preparing one for giving birth, diet advice, classes teaching you how to breathe (!). Then very little help for the rest of its, and your life. Unless you do it really badly…
    But here I am in my 8th decade still choosing to find new things to learn and thus staying happy.

    Reply

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