“What about you?” said Wobbler. “What do you want to be?”
“Dunno,” said Johnny.
“Didn’t you go to the careers evening last week?”
Johnny nodded. It had been full of Great Futures. There was a Great Future in retail marketing. There was a Great Future in wholesale distribution. There was a Great Future in the armed forces, although probably not for Bigmac, who’d been allowed to hold a machine gun and dropped it on his foot. But Johnny couldn’t find a Great Future with any future in it.
“What I want to be,” he said, “is something they haven’t got a name for yet.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Wobbler. “Like, in two years’ time someone’s going to invent the Vurglesplat, and when they start looking around for Vurglesplat operators, you’re going to be first in the queue, right?”
Pratchett, T. (1997) Johnny and the Dead. London: Corgi.
I was thirteen-years old the first time I ventured inside a Careers Office. We’d been told to choose our GCSE options; I felt like I was expected to know exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Up until then I had never had a problem envisioning my future: I was going to be a best-selling author, it was all I had wanted since I was five-years old. Yet suddenly I was experiencing a wake-up call that maybe my life-long ambition wasn’t entirely realistic.
Ever since then, assessing future plans has always been depressing.
I remember desperately staring at the blank sheet of paper on which we’d been told to write the types of jobs we were considering. I was drowning in a sea of beauticians, soldiers, psychiatrists and nursery nurses – my friends seemed to have figured out their paths in life already. In desperation, I scrawled down ‘police officer’ (I liked the image of myself as a detective) and ‘marine biologist’ (sharks were my favourite animal); they sounded legitimate, mature. I considered journalists to be amoral parasites (I hadn’t yet discovered broadsheets), so that option was out. You couldn’t make money from writing, not really, not without a massive heap of luck thrown in, I explained to my younger self. It was time to let go of the dream. Keep writing, sure – but from now on it was relegated to a hobby/interest, something I had to hide away in private, a passion I could no longer defend as being my ultimate goal.
The Careers Office computer had a programme you could use to generate suitable career prospects; it asked lots of questions about the types of things you liked and disliked doing and then printed out a list of ideas for you to show the guy who worked there, so he could grunt and hand you a leaflet.
My print-out told me I should be a pest-exterminator.
There was nothing else; that was the complete list of my future prospects. It might as well have read ‘doomed to become a homicidal maniac’. Sometimes, late at night, I stare up at the darkened ceiling and wonder exactly WHICH questions and answers indicated that pest-exterminator was the life for me? I swear there was definitely nothing along the lines of ‘Do you like pulling the wings off flies?’ or ‘Does the sound of a mouse-trap fill your heart with joy?’
Anyway…history is repeating. Only I am a full-grown adult and really SHOULD know what I want to do with the rest of my life. Have I spent the past few years pretending (again) that writing is a viable option? Or is it genuinely possible, if I seize the right opportunities and manage to improve my craft? All I know is that I feel ill-prepared, worried and depressed…to summarise, I am thirteen again. There are vague industries and roles floating around my head, but the dream job is yet to leap out at me; I guess I was misguided about how university works. They’ll give you the kick up the arse to start thinking about this stuff; they’ll provide you with the tools you need, like CV tips and summer placements, to excavate your ideal future; but you still need to know what you want to do, in order for them to help you.
Yesterday, during a presentation, a careers advisor said there might not be a dream job for everybody. Some of us will have to make do, compromise. I understand and accept this, but it still sucks. I’ve already spent many years in jobs that neglected to utilise any of my skills. What’s the point in tailoring all these CVs and cover letters to highlight my ‘strengths’ if I’m going to end up in the same position (with the addition of approx. £40K student debt to pay off)?
Who knows, maybe my version of ‘Vurglesplat Operator’ will leap out at me during the Careers Fair tomorrow…
Until that happens, though, I will continue aspiring to deserve the label of ‘writer’.