Claire Bagnall considers the pressures and the expectations that loom quickly after graduation.
The reality is an arts degree just isn’t worth anything. Or so the photographer I have been working with tells me. It’s just another piece of paper, just another tick. Degree, tick. ‘At least you also speak another language’ the photographer continues. Tick. He offers this as some sort of consolation. Five years of ‘experience’, little sleep, hour upon hour spent in the library, tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt and a first class honours degree from one of the UK’s leading universities. Tick.
The sad thing is that he is painfully accurate. The worst thing is that I still feel an overpowering need to attain as many standardised ticks as possible. Months after graduation and I am feeling decidedly tick-less. No high-flying, bound-to-make-me-lots-of-money graduate scheme for me; no fancy flat down in London; no imminent engagement. Instead I am rewinding my life back three years and going to work as a language assistant for the British Council in Spain, something I’ve already done as part of my degree. While I am thrilled at my Hemmingway-esque project, I can’t help but wonder if it is a little bit of a failure, a tiny escape from the pressures and reality of what day-to-day existence should consist of for a graduate. Avoiding the societal expectations, and worse, those of my family, who ask a little nervously, if I am going to actually get a real job sometime soon?
How long can you put off the inevitable? Of settling down, with a job and a place to live of your own? This is what is expected of you after all. Yet, I increasingly wonder, what happens if you don’t give in to the great whirling mechanisms of graduate schemes and internships? Can you ever “succeed”, in our common-place, capitalist terms? All I am really aware of is the fact that I am not at all sure what I am supposed to do. I feel embarrassingly overqualified and painfully under-experienced.
Realising the all-consuming fear of real life, with its fine line between “success” and “failure”. Tick.
Photo credit – M00by