Taking Wing After University
The end of your first degree is a tricky time. You’ve just finished the toughest round of exams of your life, after years of study, and once the euphoria of graduation has subsided, a new chapter in your life beckons. For some students, their career path after university is clear – for others, it is wreathed in uncertainty. The prospect of choosing a career from amongst the vast array available, applying for jobs, and moving to a new city for work can be extremely intimidating. How are you meant to decide what to do next?
A metaphor often used to capture the sense of anticipation attached to this time is of young birds fledging the nest. Only having instinct and the example of their parents to go on, fledglings have to take a leap into the unknown and do something they personally have never done before – fly. Every graduate will feel a sense of kinship to this experience; leaving full-time education for the first time definitely represents a profound change, leaving the familiarity and routine of childhood and adolescence behind for good.
There are all sorts of tools and resources available – including articles on this very site – that can help you sort through your options, and work out which one is right for you. And these tools can all be extremely helpful. But though it’s vital to make the right choices, it’s just as important not to get stuck in the process of deliberation. As long as your career path remains an object of abstract contemplation, rather than a practical activity, it will be much harder to make an informed choice about what you want it to become. And hesitation can itself become a habit, limiting your potential and preventing you from moving forward with life after university.
When you look at little birds preparing the fledge, it’s easy to read this trepidation into their behaviour. Fledglings will line up on branches, or on the edge of the nest, seemingly unsure about what to do next. Sometimes, their parents will encourage them with food, or even physically jostle them, in order to get them to take that final leap. Sometimes, when they do take wing, they don’t fly very far, or very well. But the reason why their parents do so much to encourage their offspring to take that first, cautious leap is that, on a basic level, it doesn’t matter in the first instance what direction the young birds fly in, or for how long – only that they start to fly.
The same is true for entering the job market. Although making a sensible first choice is important, we also need to be prepared to take risks, be open to new opportunities, including ones you might not have thought of at first. Jobs that sound fascinating on paper could end up not suiting your personality or goals; while positions that seem unfulfilling from a distance could be rewarding, or open up opportunities you’d never have considered otherwise. Even if you’re not completely sure about the direction your career should take, or have a range of different opportunities you’re trying to decide between, it doesn’t matter if you choose the wrong one at first – the main thing is to actually make a choice. There’s always the potential to change direction later on; whether that’s identifying a more suitable job in the same industry, moving into a different sector, or even returning to further study. And the methods available for working out your next step will be that bit more effective once you have gained a bit more experience.
The important thing, after university, is not to hang around expecting the clouds to part and to have a sudden flash of inspiration about your future career – the best way to figure out what you’re meant to do in your career, is to start it.