Saturday, 5 September 2015

When I Grow Up I Want To Be...

Being asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the idea of employment, is forced upon us from a young age. When we’re just toddlers we’re already playing with tills and kitchens or dressing up as nurses and policemen. I still have a worksheet in my memory box from when I could only just write, which features the question this post opens with. My answer was “Funky Spice” - the concept of girl power/feminism obviously set in at a young age as I aspired to be the sixth Spice Girl. Once I grew out of that phase, I wanted to be a model but my interest in that wavered too. Since then, I guess I’ve been waiting for the time where I’d reached “grown up” status and with that, the knowledge of what I wanted to do with my life, would mysteriously become clear.

My Dad worked extremely hard in a stressful job with long hours so that my mum could be a housewife and look after my sister and I. We grew up not wanting for anything and I am incredibly fortunate and grateful that this was the case. I did however feel that I was expected to make this kind of life for myself too. I felt that I owed it to my parents to do something impressive and do it well.

On turning 16, my mum took me to my local Marks and Spencer on the promise of a bag of Percy Pigs. When I got there, “coincidentally”, they were having a recruitment day. I left the store with a job and no novelty sweets. I worked there alongside studying at college, and continued right up until I made the last minute decision to go to university, because I didn’t know what else to do. At this point in my life I was unfortunately stuck in the idiotic teenage rut of thinking it was “uncool” to like or be passionate anything. I studied broad and academic subjects that I enjoyed whilst at Bristol UWE – English Language and Law and crossed my fingers that at some point on my journey, I’d figure out a plan.

Admittedly, I gained an average at best degree grade, was no closer to establishing what career I wanted and left with a five figure sum of debt. HOWEVER university wasn’t all bad: I learnt a lot about myself, studied 2 modules that helped grow my knowledge of feminism and carried on with part time employment in waitressing and bar work.

Once I’d moved back home, I went straight into a job in retail and quickly progressed my way up, swapped brands and ended up working as a brand manager for my favourite shop within 2 years of graduating. A year later I took on a second job to help me save up money to go to South America travelling. You read books and see films about people “finding themselves” whilst abroad so I off I went, backpack on back relying heavily on this enlightenment which never actually came. I came back with a hunger to do more with my life, took on more hobbies and finally fully shook off my horrible, negative mind set and anyone who was still like it at the same time.

In terms of employment, I was sure customer facing roles weren’t for me and was looking into merchandising as I enjoyed analysing the weekly store reports and undergoing visits from that department from Head Office. I started as a MAA for a high street brand early in 2014 but had had enough of the 2 hour door to door commute to London by October so moved to a retailer based far closer to home. I knew it would be fast paced but nothing prepared me for the heavy workload, pressure and over time I’d be putting in. Although I was now a Trainee Merchandiser, the role was more similar to that of an Assistant Merchandiser at any other business. This is great for the graduates who have just finished studying Buying & Merchandising and even the more experienced individuals who picked up the job easily and are wanting to progress but I struggled getting to grips with the role and was drowning.

I was stuck – on one hand I wanted to learn and succeed at this job because I liked the people I worked with, the pay was great and I didn’t want to leave thinking I couldn’t do it and risk damaging my confidence in my own ability. On the other hand, I knew I was unhappy, I knew I was trying my best and I knew that I just wasn’t getting it. The thought of progressing in that field now had zero appeal to me any more so why stick around?

The former of the arguments won for 4 months, all the while, my anxiety was picking up momentum and during this time I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). With therapy, things often get worse before they get better and that definitely rung true for me. A chunk of this type of treatment is problem solving methods and eventually, after two or three attempts at addressing the aspects of the job that were making me unhappy, I realised that staying on at this job that I hated, and sucked at, wasn’t the honourable thing to do anymore. Good salary or not, it just wasn’t worth how it was making me feel and I did something about it.

I’m about to start my third week at my new job. For a day or two, I felt guilty because it wasn’t using my degree, which my Dad so generously helped finance, I’d spent three years working towards and got myself into so much debt for. Then I worried that I’d wasted the time spent attempting merchandising when I could have been pursuing another career and be established in it by now. I upset myself by thinking that I was stupid because I couldn’t do this job that so many other people could and that by taking on a simpler role, I was being lazy and selling myself short. In my eyes, everyone else my age knows what they’re doing and where they’re going and I’m 25 and starting again. Then my CBT thought train kickstarted and I reminded myself that actually some people I know are in the right career for them, but probably about half are in the same situation as me. I really wanted to move out to my own place and I’ve achieved that when the majority of people I know my age haven't. I thought about how if I hadn’t got my degree, I wouldn’t have got into merchandising and if I hadn’t worked in merchandising, I wouldn’t have learnt Excel skills which are a requirement for my new role - it's all relevant.

I may keep learning about lots of things I don’t want to do – analysis with lots of data, customer facing roles, working weekends, working lots of over time. But with that I can rule out career choices that aren’t for me and home in on what I do like and am good at. I’ve learnt that having spare time to do the things I enjoy and spending time with the people I love is a priority to me over working longer hours and having more money, for the time being – and that’s OK!

Yes, I have taken a 20% pay cut and a less demanding role but since that day, I haven’t regretted it once. I get up at 8am, instead of 5:50am on a Monday and I get home at 5:45pm, rather 7:30pm. The impact this has had is phenomenal. I’ve been discharged from CBT, have a social life during the week, have tonnes more motivation to get household chores and lunch prepared. You may have noticed I am also posting here and on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest more regularly and in my opinion, there’s been a vast improvement in my writing.

As for what I’m going to do in the long term, in my current role there is the opportunity to progress and I’ve already expressed my interest in going into a certain field and if I carry on as I am, this is something completely achievable, which is really exciting. So, what’s my new answer to the all important question, now? That's easy: when I grow up, I want to be happy. Not just fleetingly, but a long-term and sustained sense of contentment and fulfilment. I want to work to live rather than live to work.

GCSE, A Level and university results recently came out and I want anyone who felt like I did on any of those days to know that the outcome doesn't concrete the rest of your future. I want to assure you that you are not alone in not knowing where to turn next. If you're sure of your career path - amazing! Perhaps you're excited to work your ass off 6 days a week - fantastic! But if you don't, don't worry. We're so young, we have time and it's OK.
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