At what age do you stop considering yourself a graduate? When I finished university three years ago, I assumed you'd consider yourself a graduate until you started working the job relevant to your degree. By that logic, I'm still a graduate.
After university, I moved back home with a plan. I would continue working for the same company, transferring to a store in the town I was moving to, and I'd work there until I found myself a job relevant to my degree: psychology and counselling. I had every intention of becoming a therapist, or working in the mental health sector and I knew where I needed to start. Experience.
But the problem with experience is that you often need it to gain more experience. Handy isn't it? My only form of experience that I had in the mental health sector was 100 hours of volunteering at a day centre for Mind, a mental health charity, which I completed as part of a module during my first year. This was something I wanted to keep up with after the first year was over, but timetabling screwed me over with my classes for second year, and with the limited hours that the centre was actually open, it meant I could no longer carry it on.
I hear you thinking why didn't I bother looking for a different placement? By this point, I had gotten myself a job. Throughout our first year, my fiancé (now my husband) and I struggled a lot with money - rather than being smart and living in halls of residence and relying on our parents and public transport to get us to university, we got ourselves a flat together and took a car with us. Idiots. I don't regret it, because we may not have lasted had we done the opposite, but if I was mentoring my 18 year old self on what the best option is, I'd give her a slap around the face and tell her to be sensible, it's not smart to run a car at university, especially not with insurance prices being the way they are, and living in halls would have meant I would have made a few more friends (but that's another story for another time). Anyway, rambling. So I'd gotten myself a part time job as an optical assitant, and while it was only 16 hours per week (that was all I could fit in with my timetable), it meant that we could live a little more comfortably. But back to the volunteering side of things, it meant that I was much more restricted on time.
"But there's always your final year!" I hear you think. Well, yes. But no. I swear I was given the shitty end of the stick every year with timetabling - even to the point where I sorted out my new hours with work, only for timetabling to change it drastically at the last minute. While you have less classes in third year, you have a dissertation to write, among other things, and like an absolute idiot, you also agree to take on more hours at work when you stupidly hand them your new timetable rather than fudging it a little so that you get at least one day off.
On the bright side, had I not gotten my job at the opticians, I may not have gotten my current job so easily. My fiancé and I were desperately searching for houses back home but no one would take us without us both having a job (he got extremely lucky and got himself a graduate job straight from the get go), so I wrote letters to every branch in the area pleading for job opportunities. I ended up with one phonecall back, and I was offered the job the same day that I went for the interview.
Three years later, I'm still there. But, I've worked hard and I've completed a spectacle dispensing course, I'm now the store merchandiser and I regularly work in the contact lens department. And the best part is that I've made some amazing friends. For a while in the beginning I was looking for jobs in the mental health sector, but going back to what I said earlier, everything I found wanted experience. The fact I had a degree meant absolutely nothing.
Do I still want to be a therapist? I don't know. The bad thing about retail is that you tend to see the worst in people and it gets to the point sometimes where it physically exhausts you to talk to another human being. I know as a therapist you wouldn't be having random people yell at you because one of the nosepads on their glasses isn't quite at the same angle as the other one, but three years of that sort of thing tends to make you long for a nice job where you're not working with the general public.
Bearing all this in mind, I guess I'm definitely not a graduate anymore. I no longer have a graduate bank account, or a student credit card, and I no longer feel like I should be on graduate job websites looking for opportunities because I feel like I'm taking away jobs from people who actually graduated in the last year. My goal for this year was to figure out what I want to do for a career and make it happen - but we're now on to July and I've realised that probably won't be happening anytime soon. But for now, I guess I'm comfortable. I wouldn't say happy, but I'm definitely comfortable. I like seeing my friends every day, I like how I don't have a long commute and I like the hours that I work. I'm hoping that sometime soon I'll have that epiphany and realise exactly what I want to do. But for now, if you need someone to fix your glasses or teach you how to insert a contact lens, you know where I am.
Published by Amy Jackson