Thought Catalog

What It’s Like To Be 23 With A Useless Degree

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 Twenty20 / @natalie4160
Twenty20 / @natalie4160

Every day I wake up in a panic, but this feeling isn’t the dread of going to work. After five years of university and several degree twitches, I am qualified with a degree I enjoyed studying that has little to no translation to a career path.

Growing up, it was drilled into my brain that, ‘you don’t work hard, you work smart.’ My corporate mother would belittle retail workers, waitresses and any person who generally didn’t wear a suit. There was no other option than to be successful to find fulfillment.

At eighteen I was pushed into studying, which is a privilege within its right, but I naively chose a degree based on its entrance difficulty. I believed that if I was accepted into a lucrative competitive degree, I would find my perfect nook in the workforce. I was accepted into a diagnostic radiography degree. Basically, after three years I was qualified to take an x-ray.

During my university hospital placement, I realised how mundane the job was. I pushed a button and a computer did the rest. The artistry and skill of developing x-ray films had been replaced by computer and other advances in diagnostic imaging. The days were slow and I had no passion for the job. There was also the huge problem of uncapped university places, meaning that there was an oversupply of graduates. The rural hospital I had was working at had received 166 resumes for a single graduate position for the following year. Specialised degrees whilst qualifying you for a specific role, also meant that you are limited to a specific job description.

I knew my family would be very upset that I was switching degrees so I felt it would be sensible and appeasing to move to a more prestigious degree. I decided to move into a double degree of law and arts, given the range of applications this qualification could potentially bring.

So, I had signed up myself up for a five-year degree studying a double degree of law and arts. This gave me plenty of time not to worry about my future career. I loved my arts degree, but my law degree I can only describe as a horrible lonely experience. I felt out of place, dumb and anxious during class and at home. The harder I tried, the worst my marks got.

My lowest point was a legal contracts exam. I neglected my other subjects to spend two weeks studying contracts. I had no excuses, I studied hard, I was focused and I thought I understood the content. On the day of the exam I wasn’t tired and I felt confident. My result was 40%. The pain and anxiety of failure has stayed with me for a long time and my confidence was shattered.

During this time, I had several jobs working in cafes, department stores and boutiques and I would scoff at others and think, ‘this isn’t forever, you are meant for bigger things. Who is still work here at thirty.’ This is the dogma that had been instilled within me from an early age and was shared by many girls my age at university like myself.

After five years, I had completed my arts degree, leaving me with two years of law to study. I even secured myself a paralegal job with an amazing opportunity to make partner if I continued with the firm for a very long time. However, after several weeks at the law firm I began understand the stress, ruthlessness, and grit that it takes to be a solicitor. Whilst I admired my boss he was short-tempered, angry and insensitive. I also found it difficult to hear about cases and clients talk about rape, accidental deaths, and abuse. I couldn’t handle it and I left. I don’t consider this actions in any way admirable, but I couldn’t be there a day longer without jumping out the window.

After five years of studying and no interest in furthering my studies, I was left with…nothing. I had a bachelor of arts and a few years of customer service experience and close to forty rejection emails from job applications. The experience was humbling, to say the least. I reflected on the decisions I had made and why I had chosen them.

I walked around a shopping centre and saw people working in clothing stores and going about their day. I was filled with shame for labeling these people as sad or stuck in dead end jobs. I thought about my mother and how I would have to tell her my failures. I thought about my prospects and about how a retail job might be the best option I could hope for. I was filled with despair for my future and I thought about my choices and arrogance.

I am twenty-three years old and I am afraid of what my future will bring. I wish I could say I found an amazing career or became self-made prodigy or social media star but I haven’t. I wish I could say that I found a passion or something I am working towards, but that isn’t the case either. I have a few in between jobs but in the meantime but I spend my days worrying. I comb through career sites daily hoping to find the perfect job. Well, not even a ‘perfect’ job, just a job that isn’t a pyramid scheme or dodgy ‘college’ institution. Until then, I hope others can read my experience and reflect on their own path. TC mark

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