Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Coping with career anxiety throughout university

Change is the only constant in this universe, but it doesn’t mean that as humans we are good at dealing with it. One of the most basic interview questions is ‘where do you see yourself in five-or-ten-years time?’. Even in UCAS personal statements, you’re encouraged to discuss how you plan to use your degree in the future, as though studying the subject for passion’s sake is not sufficient.

Career anxiety is common. It is intrinsically tied to anxiety about the future. Understanding it doesn’t make it go away, but it does put things into perspective.

I joined Warwick on a fateful sunny day in October 2016. I came with hope, ambitions, and a career plan in my head. There were things I wanted to achieve for passion’s sake, others for ego’s sake, and a few for survival’s sake.

A career is not a one-off goal but a work in progress

Looking back on my time as a Warwick graduate, as well as a current student, I have never failed so badly in my life, but perhaps never succeeded so well either. I faced rejections left, right and centre, but there were times when I heard a yes or received an email beginning with congratulations.

Struggle builds character and resilience is polished with age. We live in a society which from a young age teaches you that your performance in the first 20 to 25 years of your life will determine the quality of the rest of your life.

My grandmother, someone without a university education, always encourages me to study and tells me how education never really ends. We learn all our lives, and may it remain as such. Likewise, a career is not a one-off goal but a work in progress.

I like to grab opportunities as they arrive

Even if you want to work at a particular company or within a certain industry, current events are showing us the fragility of our civilisation. The job you will do might not even be in the market yet, and the job you want to do might be offered to a robot by the time it’s your turn to apply.

Career stress and anxiety, among other things, comes from a sense of not being in control, when we worry we will not be able to have things our way. If you take a step back from everything, you will realise that we are never really in control. This lack of control can be frustrating, especially if you’re a keen planner, but I think a change of mindset can help to improve this. Unpredictability is one of the most beautiful and adventurous things in life and, most importantly, it makes us feel grateful for the things and the people that we have.

I’m a very spontaneous person and some of the last-minute decisions that I have made have also turned out to be some of the best. I like to grab opportunities as they arrive, but I don’t have any plans for the next ten years of my life, and honestly, it feels very liberating. Besides, as Taylor Swift said in one of her interviews, it is almost ungrateful to plan the next ten years of one’s life.

Rejection can be the beginning of something new

Dealing with rejection is another thorny issue. Just remember that all the dating advice provided by single people on Twitter is also valid for careers. Rejection can be the beginning of something new. During the second year of my BSc, I applied for industrial placements to countless companies only to be unsuccessful. Looking back on it, chances are if I had gotten a placement, I wouldn’t have been able to meet the lovely people I met and get involved in all the amazing things I did in my third year.

It is hard to imagine that what works for me will work for everyone, but you have to remember that whatever happens in your life is out of your control whereas how you react to those occurrences is a matter of choice.

You have the choice to go back to the companies, ask for feedback, implement it, seek help from the careers and skills services, practice more, re-evaluate your priorities and try again. Don’t let the rejections dishearten you, and definitely seek support if you feel like it is messing with your mental health.

Your goals should be about development and improving as a person

The most useful thing that I have found in my life is looking back on my achievements and choosing to believe that it will all work out like it has been doing so far. I am an immigrant and the first one in my family to have attended university.

A degree is hard work and the celebration of its attainment should never be allowed to be eclipsed by the concerns of a future that we can’t determine. I am not discouraging you from setting goals for yourself, but your goals should be about development and improving as a person and learning new skills. Ultimately, as Beyoncé says, the ideal aspiration in life is to be happy.


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