Sophie Johnson writes:

On a recent train ride into London, I happened to overhear a woman talking about the daughter of one of her friends. The gist of what she said was this:

“She studied for a double degree in History and Italian. She did a four-year course, one year of which she spent in Italy. Now she’s working in a bar in Leeds. What a waste!”

This tendency to write off a young person because they don’t immediately step into their dream career the second they graduate really angers me. For a start, has this woman not noticed that there aren’t exactly dream jobs growing on trees these days?

Great opportunities to start out on your ideal profession are hard won, not to mention her misguided scorn that was directed towards bar work. As an undergraduate I admit I was somewhat naïve, imagining myself waltzing straight from my degree ceremony into a highly paid job in London. Ha.

Perhaps this does indeed happen for some, but they are certainly in the minority. And to prepare for your career whilst still a student not only takes a huge amount of time, foresight and maturity (and lucky breaks), but also eats into the amount of dedication you put into actually studying and, yes, partying hard and making lifelong friends, too.

Like many others, I was surprised to find myself back in the place I’d grown up after graduating, confronting a mountain of debts and a dearth of jobs. Reader, I too got a job in a bar. It lasted about a year. Sometimes I felt lost and depressed and a failure. No, I lie: I often felt lost and depressed and a failure, but during that time I worked long hours, earned my keep and acquired a lot of confidence, as well as learning a lot about customer service.

A few jobs came up locally, which on paper were better suited for my qualifications and I went for them and got them. They turned out to be not at all as they’d been described: one which was sold to me as a PR job had me counting stock in a warehouse(?!) and another, as a ‘publishing assistant’, merely required data inputting day after day. The boredom nearly killed me. Suffice to say, neither of these jobs lasted more than a couple of weeks.

After a year, I embarked on an MA, to increase my chances of finding my dream career. However, it was just after starting this new course that I did actually see my ideal job advertised. Three interviews later I secured my first job as a junior copywriter and have never looked back.

What a shame that this opinionated woman on the train has written someone off for getting a great degree but not immediately doing what said woman thinks she should be doing.

There isn’t a specific age at which you must find your vocation and get started (unless you want to be an Olympic gymnast, perhaps). Don’t let anyone tell you you’ve left it too late or that you’ve failed in life.

Steve Jobs said a lot of good things in his short, yet epically successful, life. But the one thing that always stays with me is the ‘Join the dots later’ quote.

Like I say, working in a bar taught me a lot about how to deal with (often difficult) people. And how to be part of a hard-working team. It was sociable, and at times a huge amount of fun. But it wasn’t forever.

Had I fallen out of my undergraduate years straight into a highly paid career, I would have taken it for granted. I wouldn’t have been grateful for it. I wouldn’t have known I was born.

And, as a final note about finding my dream job: I persisted. I wasn’t the only candidate who applied for that job by any means. But I kept in touch. On an impulse, I sent an unsolicited piece of creative writing to the head of copy that clinched it for me in the end. On my first day at the agency, the chairman came by to greet me and looked me in the eye and said ‘Persistence paid off.’ Another quote that has always stayed with me.


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