I somewhat dread leaving St Andrews and going home. I’m in the extremely annoying position of having very successful old schoolmates, who have – rather selfishly, I might add – completely sorted their lives out, and are doing quite well for themselves. Not only this, but, because I made the dual mistake of both choosing a four-year course and taking a gap year before starting it (Bali was amazing, thank you for asking), I’m going to have to cower in the searing heat of their achievement for at least 14 more agonising months.
Of course, I’m happy for them. I suppose. But it does make presentations, coursework, and exams even more nerve-wracking, something I hitherto thought impossible. Not only has the stark reality of how important university is suddenly slapped me around the face, but it turns out my friends’ relative prosperity is ready and waiting to give my other cheek a good wallop as well. Yes, the nation’s new intake of civil servants, financiers, and managers have got it easy. When will we, honest and hardworking students that we are, get the break we deserve?
Not that I’m particularly comforted by what people are doing up here, either. A frustrating amount of people that I know have had the sheer gall, the cheek, the jaw-dropping audacity to rack up plenty of work experience whilst at university, and have actually managed to build impressive, substantial CVs. And, somehow, they’ve managed to do this whilst balancing a healthy social life with getting top grades. I wish it were possible to learn this power.
So now I’ve been left with the rather disturbing realisation that I probably need to start preparing for a career, not that I know how to. Sagacious as ever, my father tells me to “get your arse into gear, mate”. Yes, thank you, Dad, but it was all very well and good for you when you went to university in the 1800s, and the mere act of getting in made you some sort of übermensch. Everyone and their cat seems to be going for a degree nowadays and, rather worryingly, about three-quarters of them will leave with at least at 2:1, whether they deserve to or not. It seems that distinguishing oneself from this graduate horde is now a prerequisite for mediocrity, let alone success, and I’m not sure I’m all too thrilled about it.
Oh, and the only way to get ahead, it seems, is to play a very, very rigged game, where ability, dedication, and intelligence count for very little. (Not that I possess these traits in any large quantity.) In discussing my concerns with my family, mother dearest wasted no time in telling me that the son of a family friend had just been offered a highly-paid summer internship in the city. Clever bloke, you may surmise. Ha! Of course he isn’t. He just plays golf with one of the traders, and schmoozed him in between strokes. He’s not even that good at golf, for pity’s sake.
Not that I really have a right to complain: I haven’t the faintest idea of what I want to do after I graduate. This uncertainty is quickly becoming a luxury I can no longer afford, and I really am getting a bit bored of the classic “I don’t know” response to the ubiquitous questions about my future career.
But, I think this is normal. (Well, I hope it’s normal.) Shouldn’t we be a bit suspicious of people who claim to know what they want to do with their life by their early twenties? As much as people try and hide it, I seriously doubt that anyone really wanted to become a quantitative analyst for Deutsche Bank when they were growing up. But, these people, with their platitudinous LinkedIn profiles and their constant, transparent, cloying, slippery and positively repugnant attempts to “network” with everything that breathes will be the ones earning the big bucks when they finally escape the bubble so, as much as I despise them, they’re clearly getting something right.
It may be tempting to follow these sheeple into the sunset, and start debasing yourself in increasingly desperate attempts to find something “proper” to do after you finish your four-year beach holiday. However, I’m increasingly of the opinion that this is just about the worst possible thing you can do to yourself.
This is mainly based upon observations of my more career-inclined peers. Of course, their CVs are as enviable as they are intimidating, and they undoubtedly have bright futures ahead of them. They may well become a captain of industry, the next Atticus Finch, or even a new wolf of wall street. But, when I look at these shells of people, these poor souls who have had to prostitute themselves to Goldman Sachs, Slaughter & May, or any one of Britain’s titanic and faceless corporations, I don’t look at someone I want to be. (Or, to be honest, someone I’m particularly impressed by.)
They are, almost without exception, incredibly tiresome and boring individuals, to whom concepts such as “original” and “interesting” are completely alien. And, in a way, I suppose they have to be: how else would they fit into the dull bureaucracies that they’re throwing themselves into? It’s very much not my cup of tea. I think I’d be itching for the shotgun after a few weeks working in the city.
But even if you’re strange enough to actually want this sort of career (or, to put it another way, you really, really, really like money) you have to think about what you’re losing by choosing this path. Friends, family, fun: these are the three Fs that must be sacrificed upon the altar of success for a lot of these fields, and these aren’t trivial offerings that the nation’s CEOs are asking you to give up. I’d rather not wake up one day and realise that that I have no true friends, that my children have grown up without me, or that the last bit of “fun” I had was at the office Christmas party with Bill from accounting. Again, this is certainly, definitely, absolutely not my cup of tea.
My scepticism has been vindicated by talking to old school friends. They’ve all walked the well-trodden path of top school, top university, top career, and they’re not exactly on cloud nine. They desperately regret their ascetic, drone-like undergraduate days, and aren’t particularly enjoying their jobs, however prestigious they are.
But, what’s the alternative? It’s not like I’m stubborn enough to voluntarily consign myself to penury just to prove a point, and I’m certainly not trendy enough to embrace metropolitan bohemian-ism. But, of course, I would also quite like a job; I’m pretty sure I’d be bored, otherwise. You can only complete Guitar Hero so many times, after all.
So, to avoid this absolutely hellish fate, I’ve decided that the best way to prepare for life beyond the bubble is to, erm, not. If you honestly have no idea what you want to do with life after university ends, don’t stress yourself into an early grave by obsessing over it. Not knowing what you want to do with your life just yet is definitely not a handicap, so don’t treat it like one. It’s always struck me, for example, that you don’t have to have studied law as an undergraduate to be a lawyer, or have read finance at university to become a heartless, ruthless financier. Why bother prostituting yourself for these careers now, when we still have our whole lives ahead of us?
I am very much of the opinion that university isn’t merely a convenient springboard into some nondescript, upper-management role in consultancy. (Or, you know, something equally bland.) It’s an incredible opportunity to learn, grow, and mature, so I wouldn’t waste it. Besides, I was always told that the modern worker will change careers half a dozen times throughout their life anyway, so I don’t really see much point in dedicating myself to one now. I’d much rather enjoy my time at university, and become a somewhat interesting person that employers will look kindly upon. (Maybe even someone they’d like to have around the office, hint hint.) At least I wouldn’t be a mindless, boresome drone, whose only interest was getting the job in the first place.
So, I am distinctly not worried about life beyond the bubble. Worrying about your future just seems a bit pointless and unproductive at the moment and, let’s be honest, a degree from St Andrews won’t exactly close any doors. Instead, I think the best course of action is to enjoy yourself, explore what you may or may not be interested in, not limit yourself to anything, and to not waste the undergraduate experience by whoring yourself to any sort of minor career enhancement that may come your way. Que sera, sera, as they (probably) say.