I’m having a crisis. Again. It happens probably between 2-5 times a year when I have a mini meltdown that goes along the lines of ‘What am I doing? Where am I going?’ Anyone that knows me tends to brush over it, everyone has their own stuff to deal with. I totally get that, I’m not looking for counsel. But it would be great if someone could just tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I was 100% supposed to be doing X for a living. Perhaps some all-knowing universal power, or the sorting hat from Harry Potter. An unequivocal recognition of an individual’s likes, dislikes, skills and talents (if any) and then send me on my merry way in pursuit of whatever it was that I was meant to do/be.
It will come as no surprise that I’ve dabbled in a number of different career paths, spreading across numerous industries and various positions. From theatre companies to media advertising, charities to investment banks – I’ve tried them all. It’s not as though I’m expecting an epiphany of ‘Halleluiah! This is it!’ but perhaps a period of time extending beyond 2-3 weeks of thinking ‘This is definitely not for me.’ University was the only place that I attended, for 4 years no less (I’ve not been anywhere else, school, work or otherwise for longer) where I wasn’t continuously looking for an exit. This probably explains why I have repeatedly find myself with student status. And to be honest, the NUS card does come in pretty handy for various discounts. Namely the gym, bikram yoga and train fares. I’ve definitely grown up since the days of spending my student loan in Top Shop and justifying it because I got 10% off.
My PhD thesis is on memory and identity and I’m realising it’s by no coincidence. As much as I need to somehow pull it all together into something that at least my tutor won’t be insulted to have to read, a lot of it is pretty relevant. When people invariably ask what it actually is that I’m doing, in a way that people with real jobs only can (pretending to be interested but secretly presuming I spend my days hungover on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle), I tend to get the same reaction:
‘Oh, right…’ (loosely translated to ‘I don’t care)
The fact remains that people presume that everyone at university are all the same. Drunk, promiscuous, poor and lazy. But once you’ve gone back (as a mature student no less) – there are no more nights holding up the bar at the Student’s Union after too many sambucas and I don’t have pizza for breakfast anymore either.
Undeniably, as a postgraduate who has been working in the real world, there is a bit of an identity crisis. Some friends think it’s all a bit of a joke, ‘haha, the eternal student etc…’ At 19, it’s fine to be studying, it’s expected. 10 years on, a lot of people look at you as if to say ‘What the **** have you been doing all this time!?’ Don’t get me wrong, I do value the opportunity and I take university a lot more seriously these days than I did the first time round. I don’t, however, want to be counting coppers to top up the gas and electric card, nor do I live in squalor searching for clean crockery amongst traffic cones and beer bottles. Basically, everything I loved about being a student the first time around, is everything that I can’t bring myself to be now. I’m still best friends with all my uni mates and we still spend our time drinking cheap wine (although we’ve upgraded slightly) and talking about boys. Only now, instead of traumatic stories of drunken escapades and trips to the GUM clinic (I’m not mentioning any names…) it’s wedding venues and interior design.
So basically, I need to calm down. Even I know that. It doesn’t matter if I’m a student, with a job that’s trying to write a play and a dissertation. It doesn’t really bother me (too much) that most people see it all as a bit of a joke. If I can’t do all three without having a nervous breakdown – there will always be sambuca shots and pizza for breakfast.