I wish I could begin this post by humbly saying that I was incredibly lucky to have secured a good first graduate job before the summer rolled around, but I have never believed that secure jobs and decent wages are the result of luck. However, the purpose of this post is not to go on about how hard work and determination will bring success (though those things are fundamentally important), it’s to discuss the importance of finding the graduate job that’s right for you.
As my second year of Uni came to a close, it became apparent that I needed a job that was more related to what I wanted to do in the long run than working at the wedding venue where I’d spent the three previous summers. My one-track mind was very much on exams throughout the entirety of the spring and it wasn’t until I had nothing to do that I realised I was heading straight into the summer with no forward plans. A few days later, an email from one of the lecturers in my department landed in my inbox, and I applied for the job. The following week, I travelled from the sleepy town of Egham to London, sussed out the Circle and District lines (I’m a country bumpkin and this was a genuine challenge), and landed the job at interview. Over the summer I found the work challenging but rewarding, encouraging children with their reading, spelling and comprehension, using very specific and frankly miracle-working techniques. It was hard work and I was tired from the long commute, but there was nothing better than seeing an older child read from a book for the very first time.
At Christmas, I returned to the centre for a week or so to earn some money to buy presents. It was on day three that I was scheduled to meet with my boss, and I was offered a promotion upon graduation. I was elated, and even more so when I was told the salary. It was a figure graduates dream of, and I knew I was good at the job. This was the opportunity that every article about “successful graduates” spoke of. I completed my training by going in to work one day a week from January to April, had a break for exams and then began the full time role a week later.
I was NOT prepared. Despite the training I’d received and my can-do attitude, it was very much an “in at the deep end” process and all of a sudden I was responsible for the (very expensive) education of several high profile clients. I still enjoyed working with the children and determining the levels they should be reading at, and I even miss the steep learning curve of those first couple of weeks, meeting parents to discuss progress and mentoring other tutors. It was everything else that I couldn’t handle.
Like I said, I’m a country bumpkin and no matter how many times I navigated those tubes across central London, I failed to understand why I was spending over three hours of my day with my face smashed up against someone else’s sweaty armpit. I began driving to work to give myself some thinking time. Ironically, it actually worked out cheaper to sit in traffic on the M4 and park in a gated car park in Notting Hill than it was to get the train, and it definitely helped ease some of the stress of getting to and from work. However, the pressure at work was building and with an increasing number of students joining, my schedule became jam-packed and I felt like I was falling behind. My colleagues were very supportive and encouraged me, but even by arriving at work before 8am and leaving after 8pm I began to dread going in, fighting the crowds and feeling like I was failing the children.
As much as this probably implies that I was terrible at my job and never should have been offered it, I swear I wasn’t – I just felt that way. It’s fairly obvious that someone who feels this way about their work isn’t going to perform at their best, and I knew that. It was at this point, combined with the prospect of moving out of Egham and into London, that my self-doubt became entirely overwhelming. I had never wanted to move into the capital and my excitement over being offered such a good job had put all my feelings about the place to the back of my mind. I began looking on Spare Room for places to live, and as lovely as some of them were, the idea of not having a garden, and no escape from the claustrophobia of the built up area was too much for me.
My options were clear: continue living out of London, spending precious time and money commuting to a stressful job that would have benefitted from some free time, or move in to London, where I didn’t want to live and didn’t know anyone. Neither option was very appealing to a girl from Norfolk who wouldn’t be making friends in bars.
The stress of moving plus the high-pressure job saw me on the phone in tears almost every day. My commute became something of a death trap, frequently hyperventilating in traffic and needing to pull over. The anxiety was crippling and it didn’t take long for my mum to tell me to come home. Once I was back, it was obvious that if the job I was in was elsewhere, the challenges would be manageable, my eating habits would return to normal, and I’d perform at the level I expected of myself. I simply wished there was a centre in another UK city- despite there being talks about opening one in Oxford, there was no guarantee this would happen and it definitely wouldn’t happen soon.
It was then that I realised I had my priorities wrong when I was offered the job. Yes, the job satisfaction was high, and I need something reasonably challenging to get me motivated, but what is the point of sacrificing my health, both physical and mental, to have some money in the bank?
I handed in my notice. I implore you to do the same if you feel the way I did. I don’t mean you feel that your job is a bit rubbish because it’s boring or it’s a little stressful and you’d rather have an easy time of it. I mean that if you are struggling to find a reason why you should continue to be there, if you never manage to eat a single meal on time, and haven’t seen your friends in weeks, consider whether you are in the best place for you. High flying graduate jobs are an amazing opportunity, but sometimes it’s a good idea to take some time to work out exactly what you value in life, and what you need to be happy.
Up until graduation, we’ve spent almost our entire lives being told what to do next by someone else. This is the first chance to make a big decision for yourself, such as where you’re living and who you’ll work for. It’s OK to mess it up! Moreover, it’s OK to admit that you did; it’s all part of navigating adult life. You will find another job. You will find something better for you. The average person makes five career changes in their lifetime – you’re just starting early. It doesn’t matter if your friends don’t understand or everyone else looks more “successful” on Instagram. Right now, the long run is more important than a quick pay packet.
I took a significant pay cut to take the job I’ve had for the last year, but it has given me the opportunity to work out what I really want to do, who I want to be, and where I am at my best. I get to spend significantly more time with my boyfriend, friends and family, and I’ve made some new friends as a bonus. That’s something that has no financial value.