Life After Graduation

Today I was invited back to the University of Surrey, where I studied for my undergraduate in Dance and Culture, to speak to the final year students about life after graduation. It’s been near enough 2 years since I started working in the dance industry as an almost graduate/graduate, and before now I don’t think I have ever stopped to think about how far I’ve come since then.

Actually, it was probably just as beneficial for me as it was for the final years! I think I needed a bit of time to reflect on the path I’ve found myself following.

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The session with the final years was an informal chat really with 3 of us sharing our experiences, and an opportunity for the students to ask questions. I’d prepped some bits and pieces about good places to find jobs, and thoughts about organisations to look into, but in the end it turned into more of a discussion about life in general.

Most people in the room had either done a placement year or some kind of work experience and so we talked a bit about how working in the industry as a graduate is different. Being out on placement is a brilliant experience but it’s not until you’re on the other side that you realise how protected you were. When you’re on placement you’re not being paid and you’re there to learn. It’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes but that’s half of the point of it! Once you’re a paid graduate employee, if you make mistakes it’s on your own head. It’s not the end of the world, but feeling the weight of that responsibility can be really difficult at first. That feeling must have faded over time because it’s only now as I reflect back that I realise I’m ok with it, and actually I kind of thrive on it as I look for opportunities to take on more responsibility.

The other thing that we really talked about was doing what makes you happy. There is so much pressure on students to find a job as soon as they graduate, especially from a university like Surrey that has such a high graduate employment rate. And so between the 3 speakers we really tried to get across the idea that if you don’t know what job you want to do, that’s totally fine!

While I’m an ambitious person and fully intend to continue throwing myself into building a successful career, I’ve realise more and more recently that you’re job isn’t everything. Rather than being focused on and guided by what job will make you happy, be guided by what makes you happy in life.

For me, the two things that I really want out of life are a successful career and a family. (Apparently now women can do both! Shocker! But let’s not get into that debate right now.) To do this, and to make me happy, that meant that I felt I wanted to continue studying part-time to further my knowledge, have some sort of stability (i.e. a well-paid secure job), and to know that there’s scope for career progression. For some people that’s that exact opposite of what would make them happy in life, and again that’s totally ok!

I’m so glad that talking to the students made me reflect on decisions that I’ve made, and I think the key things or bits of advice that I hope we got through to both them and myself are:

  1. Don’t worry about sticking to a plan. Life happens and things change. You might get a bit lost on the way but actually that’s ok.
  2. Your career isn’t everything so make decisions that are guided by what makes you happy in life and not just in your job.
  3. Graduating is scary. You end up taking on new responsibilities you’ve not experienced before, you feel lonely because you’re not living in the same city, or even the same country as most of your friends. That feeling will fade over time as you continue to make decisions that make you happy and make you comfortable with the path you’re on.
  4. So take it one step at a time and just trust that the universe will have your back. One day you’ll wake up and something will happen that makes you realise that the journey you’ve been on, however turbulent, will have been totally worth it in the end.

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