What the Pandemic Taught Me About My Future
2020 was the year the world stood still, so it’s not surprising that a great deal of change has taken place over the last twelve months. For some people, this was the perfect time to start a small business from home. For others, it meant working overtime and tirelessly working to make sure the country could access food and healthcare. For me, this meant a significant amount of time was spent stressing about uni assignments and trying to figure out a concrete plan for my future.
I started university in September of 2019, and have always been open about the fact that I only enrolled because all my friends had either secured jobs or were also going to university. I considered (for all of about 14 seconds) a gap year to travel, before realising that I wasn’t brave enough to go abroad by myself, and I definitely hadn’t saved enough money from my part-time job to be able to afford 12 months off. I went to university because I didn’t want to be the only person that didn’t know what I wanted to do, and the time I spent in lockdown this year provided me with some time off to really think about what career I want and how I’m going to get it.
I started with a mindmap, as I do for all things I need to think about. Shooting out of the little cloud in the centre (helpfully labelled ‘what do I want to do with my life???’) were topics like teaching, journalism, publishing, and being an author. At first, I thought that these were extremely different and I was never going to get it narrowed down to one answer. I linked them all together with attributes like ‘writing’ and ‘pretty independent’, and then came to the most terrifying conclusion of them all: I’d been right all along, and I couldn’t get it narrowed down to just one answer. Another hour and a pros and cons list for each career of interest later, I messaged a group chat that had some of my uni friends in it, and asked them how they figured out what they wanted to do, desperately hoping that the answer would be as simple as a Buzzfeed quiz. Their answers surprised me.
Blinded by the confusion and panic I’ve felt for the past 3 years of not knowing every single step I’ll take in the future, I’d never noticed that actually, most of my friends don’t know what they want to do either. Sure, I have a friend that wants to be a lawyer, and one that wants to be a university lecturer, but everyone else in that group chat sent responses like “wtf?? when did i say i knew this??? i have no idea what i’m doing lmao”. What I really did learn from lockdown was that in my own panic for the future, I’d been misinterpreting people talking about their areas of interest as a concrete plan that was organised to within an inch of its life, and then criticising myself for not being the same way. The beauty of being a young person is that we have time to figure this out, and even if we get our first ‘proper job’ and it’s not everything we’ve dreamed of, we have the time to come up with a workaround.
Fate and luck and networking and hard work and good old-fashioned job applications all come into play in life. Anyone who says exactly what steps they're going to take, where they're going to end up and how happy they'll be is a liar. We can plan for things, sure, but even the most meticulous plan can’t account for a change of heart or a change of circumstance. Personally, I’d much rather make it up as I go along and do what feels right in the moment, rather than feel beholden to a plan I might not be able to keep up with.
So, I’m sorry to say that I still don’t know what I want to do, but what the time off really let me think about was the fact that hardly anybody does. And this is okay—we have time.
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Photo by Athena Merry. You can find more of Athena's work on Instagram. Edited with text bubble by editorial team.