Next Steps: Maintaining the Muse

In reflecting on all things post-graduation in order to write this column, I have to admit that much of said reflection has involved a lethal cocktail of panic and anxiety, with an unnecessary garnish of despair. Although the post-university experience represents endless opportunity and a final liberation from the clutches of a highly structured education system, it is difficult sometimes not to become dispirited after filling out tens of subsequently unsuccessful applications, or hearing about friends struggling to land employment in the Real World.

One particular trend I have noticed amongst some final year students is a degree of apprehension surrounding particular passions that they hold dear; most notably creative pursuits such as art, music and writing. Things students can devote time and energy to around their timetable that may not realistically constitute such a large fixture of their subsequent daily existence, particularly if working a standard 9-5 job. Tragically, becoming a working adult appears to sometimes be synonymous with becoming utterly and unapologetically boring.

It is definitely possible to maintain the pursuit of such creative activities around a full time job; it might just take a slightly more zen-like level of time management to achieve it when you don’t only have eight contact hours at uni every week to liberally plan your life around. But what if, God forbid, one might want to actually pursue said passion as a legitimate paying job?

For a period of time I decided that I might want to consider a career in writing (laugh as you might having read this column: but please, humour me here). This was a genuinely terrifying experience. When people asked what my future aspirations were, and I dared to mention writing, I immediately began perspiring and feeling horrified that I didn’t have an entire portfolio of adequate past work to produce as proof that I might not in fact be totally batshit insane in this choice. Not that people were judging in the slightest; it was just a latent paranoia that reared its ugly head at the prospect of people actually reading my work. Fundamentally, I came to the conclusion that I’m too much of a nerd for my degree to want to focus solely on writing alone, although it is definitely something I’d like to maintain on the side. However, for the brief period I truly considered really going for it, it was a wholly daunting and frightening concept: more so than any other graduate job I’d thought about up until that point.

Chronic self-doubt sadly appears to be a natural facet of our human existence, particularly in the context of building a career that may become a central part of long term daily life. I would argue, however, that creative endeavours potentially conjure this feeling on a more deeply rooted level. Artistic pursuits are highly personal and there is something unquestionably paralysing about putting your own work into the ether for the world and all its cruelty to judge without mercy; particularly if you’re hoping to make a living in doing so.  

Arguably, this may also be intertwined with the financial aspect of things. Deciding on a creative career in many cases means, at least initially, sacrificing a stable and particularly substantial income. This in itself is enough to fuel the fire of doubt, as it adds a very real and tangible pressure to your work. It may require moving back in with your parents to save on rent, or working twice as hard to try and make your aspirations come true whilst juggling a decidedly rubbish or uninspiring day job.

The current job market frequently seems to be one riddled with doom, gloom and a multitude of different obstacles to overcome. Increasingly, it appears, there are often more reasons to try and play it safe with future decisions instead of pushing your limits and taking a true risk; particularly as it becomes ever more difficult for debt-saddled youth to do things like gain a solid stake in the property market. However, these reasons should really only serve as resolve to follow your desires of what you truly want to do.

At the end of the day, regret is one of the hardest pills to swallow. If you have a creative passion that you wish to turn into a job, pursue it, and do everything in your power to make it work. Even if that means making certain sacrifices, or giving yourself a timeframe within which to try it out. Being young and flexible is the perfect time to try, and at least you’ll be content in knowing you did exactly that.

[Annie Milburn]

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