Finishing university was a surreal experience. For several years I've had books sitting by my computer, paper with notes scribbled on all over the place, thoughts whizzing round my brain about the current assignment, or the next one, or the next module. And then...it all stopped. I clicked "Save Post" on the on-line forum I was to use for my final assignment, my post was duly saved, and then....nothing. No fanfare, no celebrations, no round of applause. I sat at my computer and, to be honest, struggled a bit to take it all in.
One month later and I'm the "proud" owner of a 2:2 in English and Creative & Professional Writing. I'll take it, but I know I could have done better. I have nobody else to blame for not doing as well as I possibly could have done, though, so I learn from the experience(s) and I move on with life. No complaints from me about anything. Of course, "moving on" entails that it's time to enter a new period of my life - to get out of the comfort zone I've been in and ramp it up a notch.
I know I have a lot of catching up to do. I remember watching an interview with the darts player Phil Taylor once, after he had lost a match. The man has won absolutely everything in the game (several times over) and he's a multi-millionaire, but after his defeat he was berating himself. I'm paraphrasing, but his attitude was "That wasn't good enough. I've got too comfortable, and these guys are coming back at me now, and it inspires me. I'm not scared, or worried - I'm inspired, to work even harder, practice even longer, and stay at the top". At the time I thought he was bonkers - just like I do when I see the multi-millionaire Michael Schumacher still risking his life every fortnight in a racing car - but over the past few weeks I've begun to see exactly what he meant. I see a friend of mine, with his nice car, new flat and decent job, and rather than feel bitter or jealous or anything negative, I feel like it's a kick up the backside, a shot in the arm. As I told a(nother) friend the other night - "I'm trying to be excited about my future, not scared of it. I've spent too long being anxious about things."
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, however. For all my excitement and positivity, four years of uni and no part-time job has seen the bank balance dry up quite spectacularly. I would say "God knows what I've spent it on" but deep down we all know where it's gone - on books that I'll never get round to reading/can't read but make me look cultured when put on my bookcase. My reasoning behind this tactic is to one day have this conversation:
Fit girl: "Wow, look at your collection! Madame Bovary!"
Me: "What a cad Flaubert was eh?" *laughs falsely*
Fit girl: "Pride and Prejudice! Wuthering Heights! You're SO cultured! I'm really turned on - can we have sex right now?"
Me: "Sounds reasonable. Let me just move Lee Sharpe's autobiography off the bed first."
With my funds standing at precisely £0 and being unemployed I knew I had no choice but to go down to the Job Centre and sign up for JSA. I didn't want to - still don't, to be honest - but when you tell your brother that he can't have a book from his school's book fair because they're too expensive and you wonder how exactly you're going to pay for your mum's birthday present/Father's Day gifts/the tooth filling at the dentist/meal and drinks out with mates etc you realise that you don't have a great deal of choice.
I signed on. It makes me feel awful doing so, but my friend tells me "that's what it's there for" and my parents agree with me doing it so it's got to be done. As I am 25+, I get £71 a week, paid fortnightly, so I won't be buying an iPhone5 any time soon but for things I'll need - envelopes and stamps, printer cartridges, clothes for interviews - it is a help. As part of receiving JSA I have to trundle down to the Job Centre every fortnight, and once a month I have to meet with my personal advisor, who I met for the very first time today.
What an appalling woman, quite frankly. One minute after I sat down she told me that my degree was "useless", because employers don't care, they want work experience instead, and as I haven't worked since starting uni I wasn't likely to get any interviews anywhere either. She then pointed out that I'm allowed to look for the jobs I want to go for for about 13 weeks, at which point I will have to start applying to be a cleaner/work at McDonalds/retail instead - anything I can get, basically. My previous office experience - where I worked really hard over two years for minimum wage in a shitty, boring job I didn't really care for - wasn't much use either, because I didn't use SAGE, I didn't get an AAT qualification. In short, I'm fucked.
My favourite exchange between us was this little beauty:
Her: "On my screen here it says you'd be interested in being a librarian or working in a library."
Me: "Yes, that's correct - like I said, I'm not fussy, because I know the job market is tough and I can't afford to be picky, but when I chatted with your colleague last time it was something we put down on the screen because it is certainly something I'd like to do, I'd jump at the chance to do it to be honest."
Her: "Yeah, well, we have a bloke who first came here eight years ago wanting to be a librarian - he's still here. You won't get a job in a library."
Followed by this one:
Me: "I was wondering, for graduate jobs - are there any specific websites that you guys use, or recommend to me? I've looked on your website but those jobs aren't perhaps too suitable for my qualifications, and I've been warned about using the commercial sites such as Reed, Monster etc"
Her: "It's not difficult to type in 'graduate jobs' into Google - have you not done that? Look, I'll do it now." *turns screen round*
Me: "Sorry, yes, I meant any specific sites that the Job Centre can recomm...
Her: "See, look here - Google, there's 10 pages of results come up when I type 'graduate jobs' in."
Me: *loses the will to live*
All that positivity that I was talking about earlier - all of it that I was trying to build up disappeared in roughly three minutes. I'll tell you now - being told that the degree you've worked for over several years isn't worth the paper it's printed on isn't much fun. Still, at least I didn't accumulate over £20k worth of debt for it, eh?
Don't get me wrong - I'm not thinking for one moment that a guy with a 2:2 from Wolverhampton University is going to jump into a job worth £50k a year within a matter of days. But to do things properly - work hard, get A Levels, work hard, get work experience, work hard, finish a degree - and just be sneered at....it isn't easy. I've never called myself a "good guy" but I don't think I'm a bad dude. I'm not a benefit cheat. I haven't faked a back injury or fathered six children to get more benefits that way. Yes, I am at home and get to wake up when I want, but let me tell you a little secret - it ain't much fun. Sure I can spend my days reading and masturbating but I like to think there's more to me than that.
The other day my Gran told me how lucky I was - 25, newly graduated, life ahead of me. Today a portly woman from the Job Centre told me that I'm a bit useless, I should be ashamed that I've spent a few years in higher education and not the workplace, my degree counts for shit and I'll be lucky to get an interview anywhere any time soon.
It's difficult to know who to believe, or where to turn, but I know one thing - I'm going to try my damnedest to prove one of those women wrong, and it ain't the mad Irish one now living in Greater Manchester. The challenge has been very much accepted.