What Straight A’s Mean Thirteen years later: Not Much

Nero was the last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty; the Boston Matrix analyses a business’ product portfolio; the wife of Bath was married at the age of 12; and it was on the road to Damascus that Saint Paul underwent his spiritual conversion. A list of useless facts, yes, but also the few remnants of knowledge left from my A-Level studies in Ancient history, Business studies, English Literature and Religious Education respectively. This knowledge, hardly set to influence my future but rather my ability at that time to recall, apply and analyse such knowledge, would be pivotal to my future… Or would it?

Often seen as the defining point of our education, our A-Levels mark that we’ve finally reached adulthood and are now capable of making life-altering decisions: Will you continue your academic journey into university? Will you bow out for some time to travel the world? Will you opt for immediate employment and save yourself a lifetime of debt? While many at this time, on results day, will focus on what to do if you don’t get the grades you had hoped for, I wish to proffer some advice to those who do. This seems counterintuitive – like giving money to the rich. Their futures seem bright. They’ve been given the opportunity to put their best foot forward. It’s the less fortunate, the disappointed and broken-hearted who need words of encouragement. In some way though, this too ought to comfort. The bottom line is you can achieve the best grades possible and get nowhere near where you had hoped you might be. The opposite is equally true.

Thirteen years ago, after receiving my A-Level results, I made the decision to pursue a degree in Law. I had neither the interest nor the intent of pursuing a career in this field but given its perception as a “sensible choice” and its potential for broad application, it seemed like the right thing to do. My heart yearned for English literature, as it still does now, but alas the head triumphed. My head, of all the heads, rife with confusion and indecision.

As a result of this decision and many more to come, I now stand in a job which I can proudly say is important. It matters and I would like to think that, on some small level, I make a difference to the lives of the people I work with. But the selfish part of me, which I admit dominates any selflessness I might possess, longs for that “dream job”, should such a thing exist. A career that not only utilises your greatest skills but also fills that void; that void that says “you were born to do this” and gives that sense of purpose we all crave in life.

Before this sounds like a tale of woe, much like the poor old wife of Bath, I am in no way disillusioned. The decisions I have made, whether wrongly or rightly, have led me to a place which I not only can appreciate but where I can continue to better myself. It’s just not my place. My place exists somewhere beyond the here and now and I’m certain I’ll arrive there when the time is right.

So, what I would say to you on this seemingly fateful day, just as Roxette once tried to tell herself, is “listen to your heart” (unless of course your heart leads you to degrees like The Art of Walking or Puppetry). Ignore the voices that lead to the purely “sensible choice”. A sensible choice can soon become foolish if the outcome in no way reflects you or your goals. Your dream might not yet be clear but at least if you follow your heart, and ultimately what interests you, you’re bound to be at least one step closer than me.

And to those who feel like their dreams have been shattered by today, consider me – 31 and still dreaming. Those results are no more a reflection of your ability or future than my law degree is a reflection of me. Time is still on your side.

…Or we could just pack it in altogether and go to Australia. It’s what all the cool kids are doing anyway.

A Mother’s Covering Letter

mum's covering letter

I have recently began reflecting on my “career”, or what might better be characterised as a distinct lack thereof.  I am now a mother – a career that is interminable, underpaid, and largely overlooked. In today’s age, being a mother is simply not enough. While I might feel fulfilled in this role, unfortunately being a ‘stay at home mum’ is not a feasible option, at least not for me.  With this realisation comes the dreaded self-reevaluation: What experience do I have? Where do my skills lie? Having been immersed in only motherhood for the past six months, it is difficult to ascertain who I am outside of this remit.

When updating the almighty CV or creating that elusive covering letter, it seems unbelievable that my current role shouldn’t be specified as “Mother”. Surely, most of us would argue that we have experienced and developed more through parenting than any other stage of our lives.  Yes, I have a minimum of 5 GCSEs and experience using Microsoft packages, but how does this come even marginally close to the skills I’ve developed as a new mother?

On that note, I have included the following proposal.

Dear dubious employer,

In reference to ANY JOB

I have just had a baby. This has been the most difficult and extraordinary experience of my life. After months of discomfort and hours of even greater discomfort, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Since that wonderful moment, I have cared for my son relentlessly. Through physical pain and heightened levels of anxiety, I have managed to love, nurture, and meet the every need of that child. A full-time job, I have never for one second quit and continue to grow and thrive in this new role without the hope of any monetary gain.

For the past six and half months, my life has revolved entirely around my son. My every waking moment (and several sleeping) has been dedicated to his wellbeing and happiness. I have learned to be more selfless than ever, sacrificing my own pleasure and putting his needs firmly before mine.

I have mastered the art of efficiency and can perform numerous tasks simultaneously. I can now hold, without dropping, an upset (and rather heavy) child while preparing a bottle, cooking dinner, and eating lunch.

My time management skills have similarly flourished and I am proud to say that I can feed, medicate, bathe and change my baby in record time. I owe this to my organised self who has the foresight and preparedness to inventory and stock every essential item accordingly.

I am an expert communicator, fluent in “gaa-gaa” and able to communicate through facial expressions alone.

I am a proud supervisor, responsible for a team of two (my partner and baby) who, everyday, are supported to the best of my ability in their own individual roles. There may be no ‘I’ in team, but there is certainly a ‘me’.

I have found more meaning in the word *‘patience’ than ever, allowing myself to be taken to boiling point and back without so much as flinching.

My capacity for empathy has grown to new levels as I notice myself increasingly able to relate to a frustrated, teething baby. I am more than happy to go to uncomfortable lengths, including hair pulling and face biting, to alleviate a pain which I can only imagine.

I have learned to deal effectively with setbacks on a daily basis. From nap refusals to seemingly senseless outbursts, I’ve grown to be thick-skinned and learned how to realign my expectations.

Ultimately, as a result of this role, I am now stronger than ever. Resolved to never give up, and handle every situation with openness and determination, I will give no less than 100% because in motherhood, there is no room for any less.

I *patiently await your response.

Yours sincerely,

A hopeful mother

Unemployed and Unenthused

UnknownI have recently found myself unemployed. My life consists of early nights, naps and sleep ins. There is a prevalent theme here – sleeping.  This begs the question, what does one do when one has no job? It’s a frightening thought that spurs on many more frightening thoughts. Without a job, who are we? What is our purpose? Is our purpose in life inherently tied up in our professional pursuits? Does our personal life warrant so little attention that our identity is reduced to a 9 to 5 job? It sort of feels like it.

I’m 26. I have done everything by the book. I stayed at school until I was 18. I attained the highest possible grades. I went on to study the law because that was the sensible thing to do.  Giving the then precarious economy I completed a Masters. I did “the right thing” and worked with the homeless for a year.  Now, after all this, plus over two years in a “professional” work environment, I find myself unwanted, unneeded and frankly, a little alone.  In my mid twenties, I feel like a washed up has-been.

I am, of course, being slightly overdramatic. I have been officially out of a job for one month now – it just feels an awful lot longer. I’ve interviewed for four jobs – apparently just narrowly missing out to someone slightly more experienced than myself (I’m convinced that’s a just a lie to make me feel less terrible about myself). I’ve now reverted back to the proverbial drawing board, which has begged these larger philosophical questions. With days/weeks to stew over my “talents” and “skills”, I’ve come up with… well, not a lot.  Are these elements of our lives so overlooked that it requires an interview to scare us into remembering what it is that is good about ourselves? 

Surely our job – though entirely essential – should be secondary in our lives. Shouldn’t it follow success and happiness in our personal lives? Aren’t our family and friends, passions and beliefs paramount to anything that can be achieved on a professional level?  Perhaps we all need to take a little time out. Take stock of our lives. Appreciate our values and traits outside of the working environment. Maybe then, if we do find ourselves in this unpredictable position, we won’t be so afraid to answer the question “what are your skills?”

These are all just notions. Notions which have just slapped me in the face very recently. Maybe our jobs are that important. Maybe most people are generally quite balanced in their lives. Maybe I am, after all, quite alone.