Back at home I used to work in a pasty shop. God alone knows why, I can’t stand the things myself, but it did mean that I spent a lot of time around pensioners (unsurprisingly it is only them who feel the need for a pasty at 11am on a Wednesday). While occasionally tiresome, not least due to the strain of shouting “would you like a carrier bag” for the eighteenth time, it did allow me to see one of the greatest differences between our generation and those who have preceded us. We simply do not travel in quite the same way as we used to.
Naturally, as people of leisure, they would often sit in the shop and speak for hours, waxing lyrical about days gone by, and tell me of the sights they’d seen in their youths. One thing stood out about almost every one of them: each of them would have had a period in their lives, usually around the twenty-something mark, where they would go rogue, and find themselves a job in some far-flung corner of the world doing some job which I had never considered even existed anymore.
I spoke to one man who spent two years working as a fisherman in Denmark, another who had genuinely been a goatherd in southern France for half a decade and even one woman who had simply upped sticks to Zambia in order to teach at schools throughout the country for nearly ten years. Each of them would tell me this with a look of pure happiness etched across their faces, eyes shining with pleasure at the memory before turning back to the brown sauce covered pile of meat and pastry in front of them. How many of us have genuinely spent a considerable amount of time in another country? Of course some of us had gap years, or travelled over the summer, but that is not quite the same as settling in a country for a period of months and genuinely immersing oneself in the country (the best way being through working there).
Even if the distance is not as great as Zambia, some time spent working in Europe would be worthwhile to all of us. Sadly, with the job market in its worst state in arguably a century (despite some improvement over the last few years), most of us cannot afford to take a few years out in order to do something actually interesting. Instead we pass through the education system, and upon graduation get unceremoniously bundled into the city to be a ‘data analyst’ or some other meaningless job title for a life of soul-crushing slavery to some faceless firm, dragging our knuckles through an endlessly repeating flurry of tube trains, stark office lighting and Pret a Manger. No wonder we are one of the most miserable countries in Europe.
While many companies would insist that they love seeing something in a CV which ‘sets them apart from the crowd’ I would suggest that many of them would be highly suspicious of a two-year gap in your previous jobs explained simply by the phrase ‘Orange picking on a kibbutz in northern Israel’. Instead they would far rather hire some besuited android who can boast a four-week internship at Morgan Stanley in which they learnt precisely how many sheets of paper can fit into a shredder and how to carry three cups of coffee in each hand to some bloke wearing a Savile Row suit who would sell his own nan for a quick fiver. And that is a crying shame. Maybe if there were more people who had actually seen a bit of the world and spoken to a wider range of people than just the village rotary club in charge of things we might not be in the sorry state we are in.
I recognise that things such as internships are important, as is using the momentum of a series of good jobs in order to further your own career, but it seems a shame that we have to start so young. There’s no chance to just head off somewhere for a few years and do your own thing or, as much as I loathe the phrase, find out a bit about yourself, or to simply have a bit of fun.
I’d wager you’re not going to have your eyes opened to the plight of man on the 7:43am from Bedford to St Pancras. They say that our advances in technology and travel helped shrink the world, making us more connected than ever, a species united, but really I feel that we have never been so far apart. We have become too serious, too concerned with building our CVs to actually see the bigger picture and live a little bit. If you ever have the urge and the means to go and have that rogue few years in your life where you do something actually worthwhile, I would sincerely encourage you to, as our own Shia LaBeouf reminded us, ‘do it’.