In response to the BBC’s: Young people ‘feel they have nothing to live for’

My heart sank as soon as I saw this headline.

Three months ago everyone was assuring me I’d get exactly the amazing opportunity I’ve been given now. “Hang in there,” they’d joke. “Just keep at it,” “something will come up,” and “you wait, when you least expect it, you’ll get snapped up to the city.”

At the time, nothing could have felt further from the truth.

I’d just graduated with a first class degree and as much real-world and extra-curricular experience my schedule could take, until a string of mostly non-replies ebbed away at my confidence and drive leaving me feeling pretty hopeless, unvalued and full of self-doubt:

They see nothing in me. My experience isn’t enough. I’m not enough. Why didn’t I do more? Why do I think I have what it takes? I shouldn’t be in this field if I can’t even get an interview.

It reached the point where I was pleased to receive a rejection note; at least somebody knew I existed.

Every day was a challenge in motivation.

You have to train your brain to just keep going, count your other blessings regularly, and cling to the diminishing spark which brought you to your industry in the first place.

Depressing, isn’t it? Today’s job hunters will spend hours completing extensive applications, often before they’ve heard any mention of pay or opportunity to progress within the company. They’ll research each role, come up with original ideas, identify their biggest strengths and put heart and soul into selling themselves. Only after all of this would they be lucky to see so much as a ‘better luck next time.’

Hours turn into days and weeks spent largely alone with a computer screen, completely self-absorbed whilst motivation becomes increasingly scarce. This is when new technology is not your friend. Step away from the screen.

When I was studying, I realised that structure and taking regular breaks increased productivity. For some inexplicable reason, when I actually achieved a degree, I clearly forgot this. Don’t.

I made the decision early on to only apply for roles I wanted. Some would call that risky, but I felt strongly the terms had to be fair. I can’t support unpaid graduate internships, for example, because they demonstrate a total lack of investment. I was desperate to give my best, and that quickly becomes a demeaning endeavour in an environment where you are – in the literal, economical sense – considered worthless.

Just as I was about to resign myself to applying for the jobs I feared would crush my spirit altogether, I happened across a fantastic vacancy. During a fleeting spark of defiance, I applied unfazed by the fact it would be highly competitive. And, to my delight, I got the call back.

At this stage, you then have to walk into an interview with your head held high as if dozens of others haven’t turned you down. You have to choose not to believe what the overwhelming evidence is suggesting.

Of course, thinking you are unemployable because you haven’t been hired yet is like thinking you’re unlovable because you’re single. But you try telling someone in the depths of heartbreak that it’s not them that’s the problem.

I’d wager that unemployment arguably has the same impact across your self-worth, outlook and ability to connect with people. You also experience the same overwhelming need to talk it over with someone 24/7, hinged on both the guilt and disappointment of knowing there’s nothing they can actually say which will give you back the one thing you need.

I had an incredible network of support around me; emotionally and, crucially, financially. It wasn’t that helpful when people said “something will come up”; I needed to be reminded that I was lucky to be in a position to apply for jobs I wanted. I wasn’t going to be out on the streets if I couldn’t get a wage in.

I worry for the young people for which that feels like a reality. If I struggled, with a university education, I worry how limited those without qualifications might feel – when, in truth, it is no such reflection on their capabilities in an awful lot of workplaces.

I wish I had a solution to the job crisis.

I suspect the causes may include over-subscribed universities and courses – like my own, brilliant as it is and was for me – which have formalised traineeships within industries where, for decades, people were successfully learning on the job. I don’t know, however, how much credence I give everyone’s favourite criticism of Generation Y; their entitlement complex and expectations of instant success.

If I could make suggestions, I’d start with these:

1. Challenge exclusivity to benefit non-degree holders. If you can prove you are capable of the job, you’re eligible to be considered.

2. Every application gets a reply. I could set up an automated response to all unsuccessful applicants in the time it takes one Exec to skim-read a CV. It’s closure and, frankly, it’s the least they can do.

3. Gaining experience should cost a volunteer nothing. Expenses to be covered as a minimum. On a graduate note, eradicate calls for ‘experienced interns’. These employers are creating a cycle of early career-stagnation.

To other young people, I just desperately want to say: don’t give up.

It may be as useful as someone saying to me “It’ll all work out”, but hold on to the day when you’ll look back to right now from a much better place.

Talk to people, take your mind off of it, don’t lose hope or perspective. Regain some structure to your days and re-focus. When your head is in the right place to start again, get stubborn, stay driven, relish any experience you can get, and just keep going. Bet on yourself but, above all, think of anyone who has ever put a smile on your or anybody else’s face – remember that they, like you, are made of so much more than a CV.


Notes: The opening statistic to the BBC’s article is scaled up from the direct results of the Prince’s Trust report. 9% of 2,161 young people interviewed ‘agreed with the statement’ “I have nothing to live for”. This figure is then extrapolated with reference to all young people.
For unemployed young people of the 2,161 who were interviewed, the result for the same statement rose to 21%, whilst experience of mental illness scored 40% and 72% recorded that they had nobody to confide in.

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