Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
To our elders, us millennials must seem like the most spoilt, arrogant and self-entitled generation to ever grace the Earth. We look at their values derived from post-War society, spit on them, kick them to death with our airy-fairy liberal Caterpillar boots and hipster beards and then look back down at our iPads so we can share and like photos of each other’s quinoa-based salad boxes (which we only got because we borrowed our mate’s Tastecard anyway). Send ‘em all to military school I say, that’ll teach them a thing or two about having it tough, ho ho ho.
In reality, our generation does have it tough. My parents grew up with ration cards and the wireless, but alongside the light-speed advances in technology and industry we’ve seen society have its makeup changed irrevocably. Everyone is connected, from the ex-Oxbridge Masters alumnus to the Mechanic Apprentice to the twenty-something on the dole, and everyone is in direct competition with one another. In our parents’ generation, the done thing was to go to university, graduate with honours, and then stroll into a management consultancy or law firm. My father, in a manner not entirely unlike his son some 40 years later, enjoyed a prolific education in alcohol at Exeter University, got a 2:2 in History, and then walked into a leading Chartered Accountancy firm to start his career in business. Now, most leading companies won’t even consider candidates with less than a 2:1. The number of university undergraduates has increased from around 50,000 in 1970 to 350,000 in 2010 and the playing field has become more level for those lucky enough to be able to pursue higher education. The pressure is on from the outset to stand out from your peers, of which there are more than ever – to have the best CV, to get that all-important internship, to have the right experiences and interests that fit with the ethos of whichever law firm it is you’ll be getting a training contract with – competition is fierce and the dream job you come into after university is perceived by many to be the endgame of your many years of education up to the hungover daze of Graduation Day.
I’ll be honest with you, my plan at University was not particularly well thought-out. “Scrape by, Matt,” I’d say to myself from the bottom of the pint glass, “And you’ll probably just do a Dad and stumble into Deloitte or Accenture and be fine.” One shoddy dissertation and a year as Social Chair of a rugby club later and I found a very sore hole in my foot and a smoking gun in my hand – the dreaded Desmond Two-Two. I was gutted, obviously, but couldn’t really argue that it wasn’t deserved. I won’t lie – it made the following three years tough, considering I am certainly not a management consultant, nor a banker, nor a lawyer etc. However, I think that getting a 2:2 may actually have been my saving grace. Allow me to explain.
As someone who considers themselves to be reasonably creative, I have a natural predilection for doing things my way and in my own sweet time – unfortunately for me, this meant I was always going to be at loggerheads with pretty much every aspect of a young graduate’s professional life in London. What with the 2:2 and with very little in the way of direction, I ended up working for a recruitment agency in Oxford Circus – initially, this was pretty enjoyable as the bright lights of the city and commuting in a suit seemed awfully grown-up. However, 8am-6pm working hours with no lunch break and a salary that allowed me around £200 spending money a month (after rent and travel, but before food) started to grind away at me, as did the process of routinely lying to people on the phone and playing with people’s lives for your personal gain. Additionally, I was just an out-and-out bad luck charm – five of my seven candidates left their positions within rebate period and my first placement got hit by a bus (she was fine… in the end). I put on shedloads of weight, drank lots, smoked more, and eventually grew so frustrated that I handed in my notice and just upped and left. One brief stint working at Harrods later (where a Middle-Eastern man in a velvet jogging suit led me around by the cheek choosing suit jackets, thoroughly putting me off retail for life), I ended up working for a media agency, working in different facets of digital advertising distribution. While I initially thought that this would be perfect for letting my creative juices flow, in reality the job itself was largely Excel spreadsheets and numbers. I’m reasonably ok with numbers, but still found myself putting off my day-to-day tasks to do more creative ones (e.g. spending all day building a budget checker in Excel – possibly about the most depressing way for someone to quench their creative thirst imaginable). I was trundling along, but wasn’t really thinking about alternatives – I had a job, which was the important thing.
Being honest, were it not for what happened last November I’d almost certainly still be there, dragging myself through it because it was easy, I was half-decent at it and it was what the majority of my peers were doing – the 9-5 grind, living for the weekend and paying extortionate rent for a glorified student house. However, my Dad passed away suddenly from a very aggressive form of cancer and my life was completely thrown upside-down. I was given a month’s compassionate leave, at the end of which I returned to the company and threw myself into a new team and a slightly different task-list. However, as I tried to gather my thoughts and piece myself back together emotionally I started thinking long and hard about what it was that actually made me happy – I had been keeping a sporadic blog as creative writing was always something that had been a means of letting the juices flow and I had had an idea for a book for years, but had never had the time or inclination to pursue it. During one of my sessions with my bereavement counsellor, I finally came to the realisation that I simply wasn’t happy with my life, even before Dad passed away – it came to me as a vision of myself in around 5 or 6 years as an Account Director at a media agency, having a panic attack on the tube whilst surrounded by other miserable-looking people, realising I had 10 years of life to try and catch up on and throwing away my job to buy some skinny jeans and form a rock/funk-fusion band. I may still one day create the rock/funk-fusion band (and I may or may not call it “Go Funk Yo’ Self”), but the main thing was I knew that the lifestyle that all of my friends were living wasn’t right for me. I decided to write the book. I handed in my notice, moved out of London and back in with my mother in Ascot and removed myself from the London bubble. A month in, I have no regrets, have thrown myself into writing and feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I also now am able to live in constant proximity to a dog, which makes me exponentially happier.
There are obvious caveats to my story – I am extremely lucky to have lived a very privileged life, allowing me to move back home to create a book and not earn a salary; I was lucky enough to have a private education, which the vast majority of young people in the UK can only dream of; I was lucky to have countless people around me after Dad’s death who all helped me through it and gave me the support I needed. Despite having had a pretty horrific year, my circumstances are still far better than those of millions of people my age. However, my point is that had things not happened the way they did, my epiphany probably wouldn’t have happened until it was too late – if I had got a 2:1, I would likely be in some corporate environment somewhere grinding away at something I didn’t even want to do, and if it hadn’t been for Dad’s passing making me re-evaluate my life much earlier than most would think necessary, I’d be back at my job in media, creating spreadsheets and ignoring the gnawing feeling at the back of my head that it wasn’t right for me.
So my point is (thankfully) the same as that of the 20 Mile Club – the corporate world is out there and for many it is the perfect environment, which is undeniably a good thing. However, if you find yourself in it and feel disillusioned with it, if you wanted to be in it but find yourself locked out of it for whatever reason, if you have no idea where you want to go but know that it’s not that world, then you are not alone. No matter what the majority do, your world is not their world, just as theirs isn’t yours. Your life is your opportunity to go and do what you want to do, to break the mould, to carve your own path. It took the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through to help me realise this before it was too late and I write this piece to try to inspire this realisation in others – please, please, don’t let your dreams pass you by.
But if your dream is to start a rock/funk-fusion band, please don’t call it Go Funk Yo’ Self.