I remember when I first thought about a career in the creative industries, and what shape that might take – and part of me thinks I should feel some modicum of embarrassment or shame in admitting this, but I can’t bring myself to feel either these days. Mind you, there’s no pride in it, either; it’s simply a fact, part of my history, and if I start rewriting that in order to present myself to people as the kind of person to whom I think they’ll respond, then there’s no point in, well… Anything. Starting with honesty, as accurate and complete as memory will allow, is really the only way to start this story.
Whenever I have to talk or write about what I wanted to be and do, I often open by saying that I grew up a gay cliché, spending my teenage years watching Sex and the City and wishing I could grow up to be (kind of) like Carrie, living the lifestyle of a mid-range New York celebrity socialite on the income from one weekly column in a newspaper – or something like it. The thing is, that’s not a joke, nor have I ever said it was. I saw that life on the small screen and I wanted it. I wanted it so badly it hurt on occasion, and when I was looking out my bedroom window through the grey skies at the grey concrete of my hometown, it felt as though I were in a prison from which I would never be released nor from which I would ever be able to escape.
This life, the life for which I was desperate, and convinced I deserved, was waiting for me on the other side of that prison’s walls in glorious Technicolor. And the thing is, I thought that if I wanted it badly enough, that it would simply happen – that life, uh, would find a way.
At the time, I guess I was a little embarrassed at a) what I wanted and b) how much I wanted it, and I’m pretty sure that it was this that kept me from seeking out some kind of formal guidance on how best to achieve my goals. I didn’t want anyone to judge me or my dream stupid or unworthy. I made choices at college, and then at university for my undergraduate degree, that reflected subjects about which I was – and remain, for some – passionate, rather than based on some kind of employability-related strategy. Sadly, the result of these choices is that my education has not served me particularly in the context of my recent decisions concerning my career trajectory.
I don’t regret those choices in the slightest because I got so much out of each experience, but I have started to think about what I might do if, somehow, I had my time again. I wonder how things would have worked out if I’d chosen exclusively media and journalism-related subjects instead of a mad rag-tag bag of subjects including photography, textiles, travel and tourism, modern foreign languages, linguistics, translation, interpreting, teaching English as a foreign language…
Many of those did contain media-related elements, or gave me transferable skills I could put to use in such a job – and I did go on to pursue a master’s degree in fashion journalism but, by that point, it was of no use. When I graduated from this in 2011, I found that my academic background was too diverse for employers – they wanted someone who’d followed the path, could demonstrate that they’d always known precisely what they wanted and had taken all the necessary steps to make it happen. Careers services didn’t know how to help me – they couldn’t find a way to tie my disparate academic disciplines into something ‘marketable’.
I was also a few years older than those with whom I went to university – my age working against me when it came to job applications afterwards. 26, I was, and being asked why I was going for entry-level positions when I should be at least knee-deep in my career by that point. Most assumed something had gone wrong and few readily accepted that I’d made the decision to go to university when I’d wanted to and felt ready for it, rather than simply going because everyone else was at 18. The 21, 22 and 23-year-old graduates were the ones deserving of first chances, for they would be set up for life, I was told. I should have taken my chance earlier.
There’s only so much rejection you can take before you stop striving and just, well, settle. So, that’s how I found myself behind a desk, the words ‘Administrative Assistant’ in the e-mail signature of my first ‘proper’ job after a total of seven and a half years in further and higher education, doing, for the most part, data entry and verification. Well, at least it paid the bills.