If you asked me to sum up my university experience in one word, I'd say: existential crisis. Okay, so that's two words. But let's just say that entering graduation year has catapulted every single existential question I have ever asked myself to the forefront of my thoughts.
What do I want to do with my life? What’s the best way to utilise my energy and resources in my work to contribute to something I believe in? What do I believe in?! What does life even mean?!?
Pretty simple questions, right? Nope. And it certainly doesn’t help that as I’m navigating my way through these watery questions of life – head just above water – so too are all my friends, peers and colleagues. And as we look to each other to for some guidance, we are only met with similar nods of empathy.
It’s moments like these that having perspective becomes even more important. Of course, it’s not always easy to maintain perspective… but sometimes a few stats can help keep us grounded.
Now, let’s throw this number into a context: after primary school, high school and university… we pretty much have the entirety of our lives to work.
That is, we have the rest of our lives to dabble around various jobs, career paths and opportunities to figure out what it is exactly that makes us tick, where our skills are best placed and to deep-dive and explore our interests. We have a lot of time to figure out what it is that we enjoy and find fulfilling within our work life.
It took me a while to truly accept and recognise this, but as I did, not knowing where I want to go in life exactly became less and less nerve-wrecking. So what if the first job I get out of university ends up being something that’s not for me? At least I’ll be able to cross that off the list. The opportunity in and of itself will at least be a formative learning experience, and I’ve got the rest of my life to learn, upskill and apply what I know in different jobs and career paths.
We set the rules. And the sooner we recognise this and use it to our advantage, the less nerve-wracking it can all seem.
Stat: On average it takes young people 4.7 years from leaving full-time education to entering full-time work. This is compared to the crazy one year it took three decades ago, in 1986.
You’ve graduated, congratulations! And now you’re ready to take on the world and have your voice heard. But first, getting an actual job.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world, and a lot of the times the post-qualification job hunt can be brutal and personally taxing. But, more than ever maintaining perspective is crucial. Because, even though it might not always seem like it… at the end of the day, a lot of us, we’re all in the same boat.
While it’s not the most positive statistic in the world, it is a necessary reminder to us all that we are not the only ones in this position, and the struggle to find a job after study is not necessarily a reflection of our personal capabilities and achievements. Sometimes it helps to be reminded that this part of our lives is part of a wider systemic issue that goes beyond just one person to try and fix.
While I was attending a conference on youth research hosted by Junkee Media, it was revealed that 80% of young Australians agreed with the statement “at this moment, life for me is about finding my passion and purpose”.
In the context of life after post-structured education and job hunting, this existential crisis — it’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, on one hand, maybe it’s actually a positive symptom.
We now exist in a much more complex labour market than our parents’ generation, but, of course, you didn’t need me to tell you that. We’re a different generation facing very complex challenges — in fact, we stand to become the first generation worse off than our parents.
But it’s not all bad news.
There are some things coming out of our generation entering the labour market that makes me feel positive about what the future may hold. These days, when job hunting, young Australians are also concerned with the ‘why’ factor of their job and understanding how their work contributes to the wider visions of the organisation and society. And, perhaps this is because so many young Australians are fortunate enough to receive educational and co-curricular opportunities that foster a desire to do more with their life than just bare minimum or whatever the status quo says. Of course, our desire to pursue work that aligns with our values doesn’t necessarily contribute to the structural challenges faced by young people in transitioning to employment, nor should it be. Rather, the rapidly changing world of work is reflective of some big global forces.
Life after structured education is a daunting shift into an unstructured world that can lead us down a lot of different paths, many we don’t even know exist yet. And while these existential questions of whats and whys can be personally challenging, perhaps we should all take a moment to recognise and appreciate that some of us are fortunate to be afforded the choice and opportunity to interrogate these questions.
So, graduation year (so far) at university hasn’t been the celebratory see-y’all-later-suckers experience I had thought and hoped it would be. It’s been infiltrated by one too many existential crises and one too many evenings spent madly typing away at graduate applications.
But a lot of us are all in the same boat, just trying to navigate the same unchartered waters. I’ve come to realise that a little bit of perspective goes a long way. If you are someone like me who is lucky enough to have the option to — maybe we can persevere and place our values and beliefs at the forefront of decisions and not take for granted the world of choices we are fortunate enough to have. And then maybe this existential crisis, and graduation year, won’t seem so ominous.
One thing’s for sure though, I’ll definitely be dropping moves like this kid at my graduation: