Several months ago at my previous job I spent my lunch break watching an Al-Jazeera Special documenting China’s property bubble. The documentary follows the life of a young female entrepreneur from boom to burst and documents the emotional toll of seeing all her hard work come to naught mainly because an economic bubble burst. There was one harrowing scene when she was on the phone with her dad, explaining how her business is failing and how she can no longer repay her loans, after the call she broke down but once she regained her composure, thinking out loud, she blurted out questions that I have asked myself many times ever since I got a piece of paper telling me that I deserve a secure job in a scarce skills sector.
“Who said I must buy a car?”
“Who said I must rent this expensive apartment?”
“Who said I must do all these things, who!?!”
This year marks the sixth consecutive year of my precarious employment situation. In March 2010 when I graduated I never could have foreseen that I would spend the rest of my life doing a series of jobs that I didn’t like, Jobs that had little to do with what I had studied. I spent the rest of that time thinking that, me not getting a job related to my qualification was the source or a contributor to my general lack of satisfaction. Lately I have been entertaining the thought that maybe I was wrong in thinking so.
There’s an undue pressure society places on young people after high school, by the time you’re eighteen or nineteen you are put in a position where you have to make a decision that will affect you life forever. You’re supposed to pick a career and if you pick wrong, hard luck!
I was nineteen when I made that decision. Having spent a year after high school doing nothing, time came for me to pick a thing to study. So I picked one. I picked what I thought would guarantee job security (The job security never came and the irony is not lost on me). I guess I should have done something when, around my second semester, I realised that this isn’t what I want to study. This isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life but I was young and I was poor and I was afraid changing would disqualify me from getting a student loan, so ignored my gut feelings and kept going.
It went well, I did everything right. Almost everything right. I am far from being a good student but my marks were decent enough and having internalised the lie that if you work hard enough, you’ll make it, I had an existential crisis when I didn’t “make it” after putting in the requisite hard work. It still baffles me how, or why not getting a job related to my qualification would irk me so much. I didn’t even like what I studied. I low-key hated it. Through a series of luck I managed to get employed in a job that pays decently. It afforded me a chance to do things that adults should do. I managed to pay off my student loans and although I still felt like a failure, I managed to get myself out of debt in a stagnating economy and yet I still felt like a failure. I couldn’t stop and acknowledge the things that went well in my life because I had this distorted view of what “success” should look/feel like. Everything good was negated by the fact that I felt entitled to a job that matched my qualifications.
In 2016, I’m going to turn thirty. Everything everybody said about turning thirty is true. All the things you said you would do “when you grow up” haunt you. All the unmet goals you’ve set for yourself, all the dreams that never came to fruition, follow you around the whole day, taunting you. Thirty also means realising that all along you were just being hard on yourself.
When I was nineteen I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Ten years later, I still don’t know and I think it’s okay. I have more years to figure it out and I am fortunate enough that any future fails and disappointments will affect me and only me (via not having mouths to feed and hoping that there’ll be no mouths to feed in the next ten years). I also know that I don’t want to do what I am currently doing and doing what I am currently doing will lead to another breakdown. The signs are already there. There’s also the cold fact that I might never find my way to a secure job in the Engineering sector, I’m basically competing for the same jobs with these young, ambitious graduates who haven’t become disillusioned by the mostly anti-black corporate and my being “employed” for more than three years already disqualifies me from half the graduate development programmes (Something I only learned recently). There has to be a time when I finally give up my ill-advised “dream” as a Mechanical Engineering Technologist and this might be the year.
My dreams are very modest or very ambitious depending on how you look at things. My dream is to live a happy, meaningful and fulfilling life. That’s it. I’ll be spending most of my time figuring out how to achieve that and once I know how to, I’ll be spending my time trying to get that and if I fail I’ll still be okay, I already have ten years of failure under my belt.