It was a great feeling, graduating. Putting on the robes, wearing your mortarboard, pictures being taken of you left, right & centre; you see your friends embracing their parents, each other, you; you feel the love, excitement & relief present inside every single person there – graduands & guests alike. All sense of anxiety about jobs and the future disappears.
Once the paracetamol and cup of tea the next morning starts to work and you’ve woken up, however, the familiar sense of quiet apprehension you had two days prior seems to have returned. This time it’s less quiet. There’s a megaphone on full in your face, blasting at you questions. “What are you going to do now?”, “Student Loan’s almost finished, how are you going to pay rent?”, “When do you have to start paying Council Tax?”. The volume dial is at 11 and the questions keep coming with a merciless amount of feedback from the headache that is still there.
And it is at this point you, once again, ask yourself the question, “what do I want to be when I’m older?” (except I am older!). You have spent the last year of your life frantically studying, writing, working that you have not been able to reflect on what you have been studying or how this can be used. Though over the next few days the noisy feedback fades, the volume is still cranked up to 11.
This is not the question we should be asking ourselves, and I never want to answer this question and I don’t think anyone should answer this question. The question, as I alluded to last time, is about jobs, professions, careers, it is about what you want to do. It is intrinsically linked to how much money you will/would like to earn, and to what “status” in society you will gain. We all want to be the person who has an interesting, exciting, honourable, proud answer when we’re at a dinner party and you’re introduced to someone and they ask the most iconic question of the 20 Century, “So, what do you do?” Why else would we trouble ourselves so much to pursue a lifestyle where we overwork our bodies, drink copious amounts to deal with the loneliness we are facing, smoke to get rid of the stress and take drugs to keep us awake? Now I am obviously referring to certain types of jobs here and massively stereotyping – ones that I’ve never wanted to do, but that are nonetheless the ‘ideal’ job in many peoples’ eye.
The question that comes alongside all these thoughts is one that may have been bothering you for a few years. A question that is a bit more close to home. A bit more personal. It goes a bit like, “Who am I?” (on a side note: watch an amazing TEDx talk by Kalina Silverman here about how her university life raised this question and how she started the Big Talk project)
“Who am I?” It’s a hard question to answer. Ignoring the fascinating, yet bemusing philosophical debates surrounding this question, trying to figure out who we feel we are is something many of us may struggle with. And how do you define it? The dogma of society is indeed to define yourself by the job you have, evident by the famous dinner party question mentioned above. Many people define themselves by where they are “from” (a question Taiye Selasi argues should be replaced by, “where are you a local?”). Religion may be an area that helps you define yourself, or maybe it is your sexuality. With myriad ways to define yourself, this question can be a loaded one. A question to explore, but not necessarily the ultimate question to answer.
Linked closely to this question, is a topic that Sir Ken Robinson discusses. His book, The Element, describes how one must find one’s passion. This is the way to figure out who you are. The book is a collection of stories of people who have found their element (passion) and were able to figure out ways in which to keep doing that thing. In Robinson’s final chapter, he strikes a chord with me:
“… too many graduate or leave early, unsure of the real talents and not knowing what direction to take next. Too many feel that what they’re good at isn’t valued by schools.
“Too many think they’re not good at anything.” (2010, p.225)
I certainly left school not knowing what to do, I definitely graduated university with no direction to follow, and though achieving a First Class degree I felt like I was still not good at anything. The decision that followed in the few weeks after graduating is why I am now writing this. Beginning my last year of university, I was in a phase of depression, I eventually was able to get counselling, but my solace had been in reading books, many of these are classified as ’self-help’ (a controversial style of book that arguably doesn’t really help anyone, but that’s for another time). They allowed me to spend time to think about why I felt the way I did, how to maybe take control of what I was doing to improve my overall esteem (though we’re told by Dr. Tim O’Brien that self-esteem does not exist in his fascinating book Inner Story, pages 38 onwards). This final year of university, that many do not spend for self-reflection, was a year of looking inwards. My moment of, to borrow Robinson’s term, ‘epiphany’, was when I realised that I loved studying and learning. I had spent that past year researching self-reflection, meditation, motivation & organisation. The link that Robinson had placed between the education system and finding your ‘element’ completely absorbed me and I decided to really try to analyse how we grow up and the role of education systems, in order to discover how generations that follow could benefit from the wisdom we have now. So here we are, this is the future.
I feel that explaining how I came to be where I am was necessary to contextualise the rest of this blog. This blog is going to be used as a platform for me to think about my studies and write short essays about thoughts and theories, concept notes and other commentary on what I study. I invite comments under my posts and if you would like to get involved or contribute to the blog do not hesitate to email me.
Thank you again for reading, I hope you enjoy what’s to come.
Robinson, K. (2010) The Element. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
O’Brien, T. (2015) Inner Story. Self-published: Ideational
Photo Credits: Kasia, Flickr