I received a stark social media reminder that it was a year since I had graduated. Although Time Hop has always managed to greet me at the most inconvenient of times - no, I don't want to know who I was drinking in a park with three years ago during my Monday morning debrief - it really took the biscuit this morning. As I made a heady decision to move back up North and leave the bright lights of London behind, I found myself staring at a picture of myself in my graduation gown, surrounded by some of my best friends. As I looked down at my desk, monitoring my pea soup and my needy hangover, I found myself thinking, 'It's been year. What the hell have you done?'.
In a world where Justin Bieber reigns triumphant and the X-Factor is staple Saturday night viewing, I'm not surprised that I feel this way. Tween novelists, aspiring-14-year-old boyband singers and footballers plague my peripheral vision. Although we can argue that the need to be famous can be juvenile in itself, there are so many inspirational figures that render us wanting. We have the magnificent Mahari Black smashing most parliamentary speeches out of the park in just under ten weeks, and Malala Yousafzai taking the world by storm at the age of eighteen. These achievements just cannot be made by everyone, yet the pressure to achieve a quotient of life goals as quickly as possible creates a feeling of dissatisfaction that is hard to shift.
As we are littered with social policing: when is the best age to get married, when we should have kids, we are also conditioned to celebrate the joys of careerism and work as hard as possible for as long as possible. In a time where zero hours contracts are rife, employment in the arts scene is on the decline and endless internships flirt with unaffordable housing, it is a hardy uphill struggle. Breaks in employment are sinful, and any other gambles on a work routine outside the realm of a 9-5 are considered naïve and dangerous. In the minefield of it all, I wonder: when exactly are we supposed to enjoy the lives we have worked so hard to create?
At the age of 23, I don't want to be working in something because I am 'expected' to do it. Once the dust settles and I look around at the faces struggling to reconcile their working life, I cannot help but think 'is this it? Am I expected to do this for the rest of my life now?'. Personal development shouldn't stop at university. Sometimes, this means that working up the career ladder isn't the next best step. A graduate deserves to find enjoyment in not only their working life, but their personal interests, creative output, and the friendships that made them. Consequently, this could also mean that you don't know what you want to do today. When I think of all of those young achievers, I know that not only did they work hard, but they took risks. Risks, perhaps, that meant they wouldn't be signing their lives away in a tireless grasp for security that is destined to be achieved years down the line.
To look so sternly towards the future is to sacrifice the enjoyment of the now. Don't worry if you haven't got it right yet. I haven't. I'd be daring enough to say most of us haven't. So many of us have worked hard to pursue our highest aspirations, and these shouldn't be contained in a ticking time-bomb that demands that we scramble to the top without embracing the steps of the ride. Next time I receive a reminder of my time larking about in a fancy gown, I hope I can reconcile the pangs of misguided failure with a feeling that right now, the success is all mine.