We all heard it again and again growing up, ‘these are the best days of your life.’ Personally, I found this statement difficult to relate to whilst being knee deep in A Level textbooks, several mock exams as well as as desperately trying to fight the pressure of maintaining an adequate social status. Then comes the option of further education. However, if like me, you are from an immigrant Middle Eastern background where almost every single member of your family has not only been to university, but done exceptionally well there, university isn’t really an option.
Of course, when arriving at university, that dreadful sentence was haunting me again, ‘these will be the best days of your life.’ But his time instead of just being knee deep in books, I was drowning in them, frantically trying to gasp for air in the midst of the race I had created against myself. All to complete a degree that was torturing me and to make sure I did not let anybody down. To make sure that my family’s sacrifice of leaving their country for the hopes of a brighter future for their children would not be for nothing.
So here I am, at the age of 22, having made my parents proud by achieving those A Level grades, getting a degree in a field they expected me to, but feeling like I have achieved nothing. I’m still waiting for the best years of my life to magically appear. Soon after graduating I found myself accepting a job I did not enjoy, which didn’t pay well and involved an hour and a half long commute (on a good day) out of the mere fright that I would be unemployed. This would not only mean that I had let myself down, but most importantly it would mean that all those torturous hours spent in the library would all be for nothing.
The pressure put on young millennials is immense. In the UK, it is now harder than ever to get accepted into a graduate programme due to the high volume of applicants, as the number of people attending university has increased. The idea of owning your own home in London without any help seems to be just that; an idea. When attending interviews for competitive schemes you will find the interviewer will not find the fact that you managed a demanding degree alongside extra curricular activities, part time work as well as volunteering very impressive. They expect you to have done all those things, but also know their company values inside out, give them case examples of their work, know the CEO’s favourite colour, be able to juggle with your eyes closed and know how to ride a unicycle whilst balancing an elephant on your head…I exaggerate, but you get the gist. Nothing seems to be enough to make you ‘stand out’ as a candidate, especially if you are not entirely sure what you want to do with the rest of your life. After all, deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life at a mere age of 22 is daunting.
This pressure tends to send an increasing amount of graduates into a never-ending cycle of self doubt, panic and depression. Many jump into the first opportunity presented to them just to avoid being thrown in the pile of ‘unemployed graduates’ and not be the friend everyone in the group has sympathy for. But, settling for a job you’re not sure about, as I did, creates its own cycle of self doubt, panic and depression as you start questioning whether you can really do this for the rest of your life and if not, where on earth do you go from here? After all, career changes aren’t always easy. To me, this explains why the google search for anxiety and depression in young people has been increasing over the past year.
How to overcome this? Obviously I am no expert, but as someone who has been hit hard by the tornado of self doubt and the feeling of humiliation that comes with it, I found the only way to figure out a plan was to stop beating my self up about my situation. Everyday that I attended work, I found myself pondering about whether I can really do this type of work for the rest of my life whilst praying my bitter coffee would give me the strength to stay awake and complete the tedious work nobody else in the office wanted to do. I wondered if I really wanted it enough to keep working for such little money (most of which was spent on transport), to eventually get to the position I really wanted in six years time.
Driven to get myself out of this agonising cycle I decided to quit my job and live off whatever money I had saved up for myself. It was not an easy decision, but I knew I needed time to figure out what I really wanted from life. The idea of taking a break seems like a nightmare to so many graduates , but there is no shame in taking some time after years of consistently being tied up in educational institutions which tested your knowledge of modules by your ability to cram as much information as you can and spew it out articulately in a 2 hour exam.
My break taught me that a person’s value is not defined by the grades they have achieved, how many unpaid internships they’ve had or how many job offers they’ve received. To find your value and fight the pressure, maybe it is time to finally take time, allowing yourself to experience the best years of your life. Only then can you truly sit down and decide how it is you want to spend the hours of 9-5 Monday-Friday and not have it feel like torture.