As though leaving the cosy confines of university and heading into the job market wasn’t in itself a stressful and unnerving experience, for the current generation of graduates it is even more so. Far from being buoyed up on the American Dream – ‘even a pauper can become president’ – or 1980s feminism – ‘you can have it all’, we are instead drowning in the gloomy news that we are likely to end up worse off than our parents and, before even considering changes to pension schemes, unlikely to even get a job in the first place.
So in short there is a block in the way of us. Which reminds me of something a friend in South Africa said to me recently, ‘When I see a block in front of me, I bash it with my head. That’s what heads are for, right?!’
‘Right’ indeed and much more reassuringly stoic than self-help literature or Hell-for-introverts, networking classes. It is also exactly the kind of attitude you are going to need to internalise for the foreseeable future.
In the seminal movie of my life, Clueless, Cher Horowitz delivers the immortal line ‘As somebody older than you, let me give you some advice…’ and as someone who graduated way back in the wilderness of 2009, I can – after closing my eyes and wishing for a mechanised wardrobe first – offer almost no concrete advice apart from that above. Bad tempered British Blitz Spirit.
Most days I feel like I am stuck in a Greek myth pushing a boulder up Park St which, when I get to the top, hits a pinball machine spring and pings back down to College Green, ready for me to push all the way up tomorrow. There was, of course, a time when this behaviour was normal. Our Grandparents walked everywhere uphill into a howling wind 365 days a year. Usually carrying coal. 30 years later and the streets were alive – whilst the fields were dead and full of (what we consider weak) pot smoke – with the sound of politicised youths hell bent on revolution.
Which leaves us. What are we? According to those many years older, we are apathetic, disinterested in politics, lazy and unwilling to work. We have no sense of the long term because we are too busy facebooking and ruining language turning nouns into verbs. Whilst life is fleeting, we are too busy tweeting.
The economic mud which those in the generations before us have created is so thick that we have no chance of getting out of it, which somehow reflects badly on us rather than those who thickened the shit in the first place.
Consider this: all the ‘established’ voices are at least a generation older and it is them who have created this idea of the apathetic, mollycoddled forever-teenagers. It is them that have told us that we will never succeed, that we will never be ‘better off’ than them. When I am angry after pushing the Park St boulder I want to shout ‘Well thank you very much for fucking my future’, but other days I think ‘Oh good, now I will no longer have to pretend I want a mortgage and a car and a childhood sweetheart.’
The job market has indeed changed beyond recognition. You are unlikely to now find comfortable employment near to where you grew up which will allow you to start a mortgage or raise a family. You will certainly not be able to support a family on one wage (sorry, girls).
Can I summarise? You will no longer be able to do any of the monotonous, cornflake box C/conservative family life events. And isn’t that just what all arts graduates dreamed of? Didn’t we all just want to settle down and grow big bellies?
In the past if I had said I wanted to be a writer, I would either have had to become a celibate Brontëan recluse or, more likely, been told to behave and go get a sensible job like everyone else. Now that less and less people are able to get sensible jobs where does that leave the first whim? Perhaps all career plans have become just as ridiculous as aspiring to be a writer or an artist once was and therefore we should seize the opportunity. This is the Age of the Starving Artist. Our time has come.
Hunter S. Thompson had a favourite Chinese phrase ‘May you live in interesting times’. That is all I wish to all of you graduating this year.
(Another version of this article is also appearing in Epigram)