Next Steps?

An adventure in embracing reality and leaving (being brutally kicked out of) the university nest.

Summer 2016. Glasgow has actually delivered more than three days of good, solid vitamin D exposure this year; I can now replace worrying about getting rickets this winter semester with anxiety about transitioning into my fourth and final year of university. Looming in the future mists of 2017 is this dark, forbidding entity that people refer to as ‘the real world’. It lurks beyond the walls of the cushy Glasgow University bubble, omnipresent and shapeless. Recently, it has also started haunting my dreams on a semi-regular basis.

“So, Annie, what are you going to do with yourself once you graduate?”

Lately, I feel as though I’ve become the target of some elaborate police investigation. People from every facet of my life perpetually greet me with variations of this question; some of them more creative than others, some more soul-destroyingly to-the-point and analytical of my ability to undertake vital life decisions. I’m sure that every student has, at multiple points in their existence, endured a barrage of amateur Sherlock Holmes wannabes relentlessly querying their intended life steps after university (if only they all bared resemblance to Robert Downey Jr. or Benedict Cumberbatch the process would be infinitely more tolerable… but I digress). Having spent the better part of my life jumping through the hoops of a highly structured education system, it feels like suspect trickery to even dare to think to myself “as of next year, you could do literally anything you wanted to.” And where to even begin?

When I was a kid, I always figured that there was some sort of magical epiphany that occurred to embrace one officially into adulthood. On my 18th birthday, ethereal golden light would shine from the heavens, whilst an angelic harmony sang in the background and a unicorn would appear to knight me into adulthood with its own sparkling horn. I’d suddenly acquire a wealth of mental knowledge: the art of filling out tax returns, a mastery of splitting household bills and the ability to hold an at least vaguely alluring conversation with a member of the opposite sex. Alas, this was not the case. With each subsequent birthday since then, I have come to the slow and horrifying realisation that this is it. Life is just one immense, existential learning curve.

I have completed three quarters of a Geography degree, and I still begin sweating profusely during pub quizzes when they announce a question round in my subject. How I wish that my instinctual reaction would be to lean back nonchalantly in my chair, cross my hands behind my head, and smugly say, “leave this one to me, guys”. Unfortunately, I can never remember the population of Burkina Faso or what the flag of Kosovo looks like off the top of my head. If I can’t even win a bottle of cheap wine and a free pub meal with my university acquired knowledge, who in their right mind is going to trust me enough to give me a graduate job full of real adult responsibility?

At this point I would like to stress that this column is not, in fact, going to read like the transcript of an agonizing therapy session. Much as I’m currently privy to waking up in an icy sweat at 4am, having dreamt once more that I’ve arrived at a formal job interview wearing my Pikachu bathrobe, it’s actually pretty exciting being this close to graduating, too. I’ve enjoyed my university career immensely, having met a whole host of wonderful people along the way, taken some amazing classes and even had the opportunity to study abroad in California for a year. Journeying on from Glasgow merely marks a new chapter of unfamiliar experiences; I just need to figure out the title of said chapter.

Thus, over the next year I shall embark on an intrepid adventure of attempting to answer life’s most pressing questions for a final year undergraduate. How does one walk the fine line of embellishment and flat out deception when writing a CV? Is it worth racking up even larger piles of debt in order to pursue postgraduate study? What is the rough daily dosage of caffeine that one requires to maintain their base level of sanity during dissertation period? And, most importantly, is it acceptable to wear Hogwarts robes to a University of Glasgow graduation ceremony?

I present to you: a comprehensive guide to panicking about life after university. This column will endeavour to provide some vaguely useful information for students in a similar state of existential crises to me. Though, if that fails, just know that you’re not alone in your crushing fear and that cake is always a valid coping mechanism for excess stress.

[Annie Milburn]

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