Much like finding yourself in a wrestling ring with Stone Cold Steve Austin, leaving university is a daunting prospect. “What if I can’t make the jump from student to professional?” is one plaguing question, “What if I find myself working in dead end job two years from now?” is another. Well, here’s the bad news. That can happen. But this doesn’t have to be the disaster it appears. You may have to spend some time stacking shelves, tearfully singing Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” to yourself and attracting strange looks from customers, but hell! This isn’t the end! Even Michelangelo did a stint in Sainsburys when it became clear those sculptures weren’t paying the bills (probably) and the important thing to remember in any situation is that you are definitely as talented as Michelangelo. In this vein, here follows some advice on how to deal with working life when it is not being as generous as it really should be.
Generally, a Terrible Job is Much Less Terrible Than The Dole.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a lurid Tory rubbing the words “DIGNITY OF WORK” drawn in spray cream into my hairy chest. There is no inherent dignity in paid work (don’t try to argue with me, I have secret ink sacks I can spray when threatened). Neither is this about being grateful for any job you happen to have. It’s a fact universally acknowledged that there is nothing worse than withering away your small slice of life generating wealth for some company that has about as much interest in your personal well being as an upturned tortoise in Oklahoma, only to find people think you should be grateful for it. But this is another matter. The truth is, signing on for an extended period of time is the most soul sucking thing in the universe. You might as well take out your brain, remove the part labelled “hopes and dreams” and hand them over to a passing bird of prey.
Unfortunately it’s also true that, unless you are as lucky as James Corden’s inexplicable career, signing on for a bit is a near inevitability, but holding out for the ‘Perfect Job’ will do you no favours. Serving booze to sweaty drunks or spending much of your time staring dead eyed out of an office window is a great motivator, and by sharp comparison creative work will be the thing you look forward to. You’ll remember those university days where you spent 8 hours thinking of ways not to do a project with slightly irritated disbelief. What a fool you were! On the other hand, being berated weekly by an officious, well drilled automaton in the uniquely depressing surroundings of the Jobcentre will make you want to bury yourself under the growing mass of shed skin and body hair that floats about your home.
Get Involved, and Do Everything.
And before you start, no, this isn’t the swingers’ manifesto. I am of course talking about getting a twitter account! After university, especially if you have to move back home, it can feel like the supportive atmosphere that comes with being surrounded by course-mates has dissipated. Social media is an excellent way to build up a circle of like-minded people, and with this comes opportunities. There’s more self published magazines and websites out there than odours in your underpants and they often need contributors. It may not be paid work, but there is a vast difference between a money making company asking you to work for free in order to gain “exposure” and doing something fun for a bunch of people who are also seeing no financial rewards. Setting up your own ‘zine is also an option, as is getting involved in the art scene around your area (every place has one, I live in the Arse End of Lost Hope and even here the art community is thriving). There’s hundreds of ways to keep your portfolio ticking over with new and relevant work, and hundreds of ways to be a creative success outside of making a shit-ton of money in the industry. Like any good Disney character, you just have to meet a magical benefactor and be impossibly good looking. Or is it believe in yourself? It’s one of those two, anyway.
Remember That You Are Fabulous.
Talking of believing in yourself, it’s important to be reminded every now and then that you are, in fact, a trained and competent artist/illustrator/designer/bear-baiter/whatever. You have SKILLS. The only downside of having all those drawing and designing twitter friends and ex-classmates is that you will see work of such an amazing standard it‘s like an all you can eat buffet for your already worryingly heavy-set green eyed monster. Of course it’s nice to see these things but a crisis of confidence is never far away if you don’t have the validation of a paid creative job, so you must remember that you are JUST AS GOOD. The best way to do this is to arrange for a male-voiced choir to sing it to you as you drift off each night, before the sleep deprivation sends you mad and you eat four of the tenors. Failing this, however, just keep working. Even if you don’t feel like you’re good enough, you are bound to get better, and you are definitely better than you think you are. Also it helps to show off work on Facebook because everyone tells you how brilliant it is in the form of Likes that you can horde like a human squirrel.
Don’t Get Comfortable.
This is very important. It’s startling easy to fall into the trap of just getting used to whatever you happen to be doing. You may be vaguely unsatisfied or even screamingly unhappy but paying all those bills, bills, bills Beyonce mentions in that song I forget the name of often becomes the main priority. Being something of a hobbyist alongside your main job can start to seem like the best you can hope for. But you must remember that you’ve done a degree! You’ve invested huge amounts of time and money in the idea of doing a certain type of work! In order to avoid the sort of mid life crisis in which you spend most of your 50s in a pair of Jeremy Clarkson’s jeans it’s best not to loose sight of this. So keep on keeping on, and even if you never make a lot of money from your main ambitions, at least you’ll have a lifetime’s worth of marvellous creativity that can be discovered and appreciated after you die.