Why We Need to Stop Planning Our Future and Start Living in The Present
We are always being told to 'live in the moment', but what does that really mean in a world that thrives on money and success, in a world where people are constantly planning ahead, rushing through life trying to tick off a list of trivial goals? It's very difficult today to actually live in the moment, instantly turning moments into memories to be forgotten at the snap of a phone, with the constant pressure to do better, be better, and keep moving. When we are young we are obsessed with being older, and when we're older we wish for the innocence of youth back. We aren't able to be content with ourselves in the present.
I think there is far too much value placed on how well someone has their life planned out, with 'success' measured by materialistic/monetary worth, when what is truly valuable is appreciating the present, prioritising our mental health and personal fulfilment. Though sometimes thinking ahead is important, I think there should be less pressure to constantly be achieving better and greater and we should be able to accept more readily our current selves.
Graduating from university is one of those life events that is simultaneously euphoric and entirely underwhelming. It is something you look forward to from the moment you begin your studies, it is the ultimate end goal. But what is beyond that goal? Looking into that future is for some clearly set out - if you studied law, you work in law, if you studied medicine, you work in medicine. But for most, the future is not so clear, and graduates are put under great pressure to have a strong career plan and to have something in place post-uni. Even for those graduates who do have an apparent 'clear' path, they often change their minds, or find that the path is not as simple to walk across as it had seemed.
4 years at university, studying, working, travelling. And now you have a degree. You've made it, you've achieved what you set out to do as a wee 18 year old. The world is at your fingertips. Or so you are led to believe.
When all the hard work and celebration is over, you're left with the bitter reality - how rubbish it is being a recent graduate.
You are elated for a while. You're done with studying, you've sat your last exam, submitted your last essays. The struggle of being a student is finally over. But it's bittersweet - moving back home, leaving your new friends and independence behind can be hard, but in many ways stepping into the unknown of adulthood and working life is exciting.
Many final year students spend their final year finding themselves a job to go into once they leave uni. They spend gruelling hours and days applying to hundreds of graduate schemes, internships etc., rife with the fear of leaving university and arriving to emptiness. Some are lucky, they land their dream role. Some are also lucky, but land a less-than-dream role, but they're happy anyway because a job's a job, and it's all about the experience, right? Most, however, graduate from university with no job, and many - no plan.
I was in the group that had no clue to do post-uni. The only thing I was sure of was that I didn't want to keep studying, at least for a long long time. So, it was a big fat 'no' to taking a masters course. I was delighted to be done with studying at long last. By the 4th year, university for me had lost its novelty. Having just spent a year studying in Rome, returning to Warwick was underwhelming, to say the least. I was happy for it to be over. However, I had no plans.
Growing up we are continuously asked the question "What do you want to be when you're older?" As a kid I flitted between wanting to be an actress, a princess or a fairy, so safe to safe I've never had a clear career path. I recently saw a response that said we should instead be asked "What things do you want to do when you're older?". Why is it that we live with the pressure of 'being' something, having a career plan in place, knowing exactly what it is we want to do in our lives, from such a young age? We are encouraged, or forced, to plan our lives before they've even begun. Just think how much time we could save, if we stopped planning everything to the tiniest detail, stopped spending time worrying about not having a life plan. Imagine if we used that time focusing on being happier, better people in the now. We should be teaching each other how to be happy, how to look after ourselves, what's important in life - not that your worth is measured by how solid your plan is, how much money you make and how far you progress your career (the same discussion could be had about finding love).
At some point in my final year, I realised that everyone around me was applying to jobs, but the thought hadn't even crossed my mind yet. I was engrossed in my studies, in writing my dissertation, seeing my friends, earning money. I had no idea I was meant to be applying to jobs already! What were people even applying to? I spoke to some friends who said they'd applied to more than 50 graduate schemes.
I did some digging on the internet, and found myself in a sea of 'graduate consultant', 'business consultant', 'tech graduate', 'tax graduate' etc etc. Graduate jargon, none of which meant anything to me, working to make the idea of graduating evermore daunting. I could not apply to jobs with titles I didn't understand and for businesses I didn't give two hoots about (I am far from corporate minded). I did not have the mental energy or brain capacity. So, I simply didn't apply to any of them.
After finally finding just 2 grad schemes I liked the look of, I felt extremely behind all of my peers, who seemed to have done 50+ applications, and already been offered roles. But I didn't let that bring me down too much, aren't we all on our own 'journey' after all? What was the rush?
When I moved back home after graduating, I found myself a 'temporary' job in a pub pretty quickly, and told myself I'd be there for a few months until I found a 'proper' 'career' job. Oh boy.
Nobody prepares you for how gruelling being a fresh graduate is. After a summer working at the pub, telling myself that it was okay because 'it's just temporary', and after coming to terms with being back home permanently and losing some of my independence, I eventually got onto an internship. It was a dream come true for me, but not without its struggles in itself. The internship was great for me, teaching me so many invaluable skills and making me realise how much I would love to do it permanently. Sadly, after 6 quick weeks, it was over, and I was back to the pub, but with a newfound motivation to apply to entry-level jobs.
Months passed - 10s and 10s of applications sent off, a few interviews, a few rejection emails, and many many radio-silences. People tell you to just keep going, email people, 'network' - 'it's all about who you know these days'. But, it's grinding. At times it's soul destroying. Some of these applications take hours to complete (if you're doing them properly!), asking you specific questions, including various stages. It's not just 'send us your CV and we may interview you', it's drafting loads of personal statements, cover letters, a CV, then telephone interviews, video interviews, online tests, face-to-face interviews, assessment centres. After all that, you are lucky if you get any response at all, even luckier if you get useful feedback.
The 'so what do you do?' 'so what are your plans?' 'when are you moving out?' questions keep coming, and keep wearing you down. It's not okay to not have a plan, it's not okay to 'coast'. It's not like we've just spent the last 20 years in and out of schools, filling our brains with information, learning how to survive, learning how to live - but having a break out of studying is frowned upon. You must go straight into full time work. You are in your early 20s - not like you have the rest of your life to settle into a career and buy a house and start a family or anything...
I must clarify that I feel very lucky to have been able to study, and have the experiences I've had - I am not complaining about any of that. And much of being a graduate is actually delightful (I am so happy to be free from the shackles of deadlines and continuous student-guilt). I just wish that there was less pressure on graduates and people in their 20s to have their life 'together' as soon as they're thrown into the real world. It's easy to tell someone they should spend all of their free time applying to jobs, chasing people and networking, without thinking about how draining all of that can be for the average person. Everyone needs and deserves some time to work out what it is that makes them happy, what kind of work fulfils their specific needs and desires.
In addition, this pressure applied to graduates to be 'successful' and find a job, means that many end up working jobs they hate. Sure, not everyone will be lucky enough to love what they do; however, I believe it is the pressure to earn a high salary as soon as possible, and do a job deemed respectable, that drives people to jobs they dislike, and to staying in those jobs longer than they'd like because they feel secure. We should be encouraged to find our feet first, even if that means working a 'lesser' job for a while, gaining the skills necessary to find a path that actually suits us. At the same time, everyone's timeline will be different, some will be ready to jump into full time work sooner than others, and that's okay.
With the latest pandemic-caused recession peering over our shoulders, prospects are looking even worse for my generation, and for recent graduates. Any graduates reading - if you do not have your dream job lined up, there's nothing wrong with you. If you don't know what to do with your life, well nobody does - again, there's nothing wrong with you. Be patient with yourself, even if those around you are not.
A lot of this comes down to my own worries about my future. Living with cancer, I have learned that you never know what's coming. Cancer forces you to live day by day, appointment by appointment. Scans and appointments become your new calendar. You can't plan where you'll be in a years time, you don't know if your health will let you do what you want on a specific date in the future. Any planning you do ends up feeling like you are taking a risk. People are now experiencing a similar sensation as a result of the coronavirus pandemic: we can't plan our next holiday, because we don't know when we'll be free to travel again; we can't plan when we'll next see our family, because we don't know when it'll be safe to do so. So many things are now up in the air, impossible to put a date on, lives put on hold. Nobody is uncomfortable with the unknown, which is what makes circumstances like these all the more challenging to cope with. People during this pandemic have been forced to live in the present, whether they like it or not.
It is a far more beautiful and peaceful being, to live in the moment. If you feel like you're a failure because you don't have the 'perfect' job, or you don't know what you're 'doing' with your life, try and remember what makes you happy. Right now - can you think of 3 things that have made you happy in the last week? Remember that life is too short to be worrying about the future, and to be criticising your life so harshly. Be kind to yourself, remember you're on your own journey, and that there will always be something left that makes you happy and feel fulfilled. You control and measure your own success, nobody else.
In some cases, it is important to look to the future, and quite often we do need to plan ahead. But sometimes, it is far more important to stop rushing ahead and simply appreciate the present. Even if the present you are experiencing isn't perfect, take in what's happening, how you feel, and allow yourself to truly be in the moment and process it. TRUST IN THE PROCESS. The future will still be there waiting for you, it's not going anywhere, so why not give yourself and your life a bit of attention now?
We need to stop achieving goals only to rush on to the next one, and start pausing and reflecting on how far we've come and how much we've achieved to get where we are right now. Celebrate the little things - indulge yourself in them!
Life as a graduate can be stressful, but I intend to enjoy this period of my life now, as I'm certain one day when I'm older I'll be wishing for it back, and regret ever taking it for granted.
I hope you enjoyed this slightly longer blog, I clearly had a lot of thoughts and let them run wild a tad, but that's what this blog is here for! If you did like this, why not like and share (I'd love you if you would), and if you have any thoughts on anything I've said I would love to hear them - I am more than open for debate on this topic.
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Until next time,
P.S. This year I am taking part of the 500km Virtual Runner challenge, running/swimming/cycling 500k over the year, as well as taking on lots of random challenges each month! This is all in support of Sarcoma UK, the national sarcoma charity that funds vital research and support for patients and their families affected by the rare cancer. If you want to support me, then you can donate whatever you can through this link. Even £1 would be greatly appreciated, and you can donate completely anonymously!! Thank you!