Laid out in front of you is a linear path: get your GCSEs, then some A Levels, a degree, a master’s if you’re good enough, maybe even a PhD, then start a career, and progress up a directionless ladder motivated by incremental salary increases, inflating responsibility and minimising personal time.
You must strive for these opportunities which are dressed up as successes. You must overstretch yourself to reach that next level, and the one after that and the one after that, wondering when will all this overachieving end? To be content in your place is to be seen as a failure. When are you going to take the next step? When are you going to focus on your career?
It’s not even clear what that word means – career. It seems more like a contrived way to keep everyone pigeonholed in their teeny tiny boxes. A career is a linear path confined like no other. A trajectory only within your industry. You must go up and up this specific ladder even though it may become more perilous, even though that one beside you has rungs closer together. You mustn’t hop sideways or god-forbid go downwards. You must keep earning more and more! Take on more and more responsibility! Do what you enjoy less and less! Grind the gears of capitalist monotony! And when you’re 70 you can rest, you can enjoy your hobbies then with your dwindling pension, and health issues caused by a life of over-exhaustion
– if you make it.
All those things you enjoyed at school; art, dance, and reading become frivolous activities. They’re permitted on self-care Sunday if you have time. They don’t contribute towards your career; therefore, they are self-indulgent. They’re packed up in something called wellness which has been manufactured to try and counterweigh the longer working hours, dwindling pay increases and lack of job satisfaction. Suddenly picking up a paintbrush feels foreign, like trying to sign your name with your non-dominant hand. Dance can only be accommodated if it takes the form of a sweat inducing exercise session which sees the circles on your smart watch swivel round to completion. Reading is permittable at the end of the day if all other tasks are completed and only if you don’t fall asleep bleary eyed from a too-much-screen-time induced headache.
To say no to it, to the opportunities, is to be ungrateful. To say no is to not overachieve, and the only acceptable performance is the over, is the exceeding. Now you’re failing, not living up to your promise, a promise that is quantified through salary, the brand of your car and how many bedrooms your house has. It doesn’t consider your happiness, the impact you have on the world, the number of smiles that you put on the faces of those around you. To be linear is to continue striving to the point of exhaustion. Why not be non-sequential? Learn one thing, move onto another, try something different, find what you loathe, what you love, what makes your heart soar, what makes your pulse rise with anticipation, what makes your breath clam up in your throat, your palms sweat. Find what makes your muscles ache, your mind stall. Find what fills you up with happiness at the end of the day and sends you off into contented sleep. Find what gets you up in the morning with a smile.
One meagre measly ladder up to success can’t do this. You can find elements of a career that fulfil you but ultimately, it’s a means to an end. There’s more to life than contributing to a system that chews you up and spits you out when you become too old to bring benefit to it any longer. Learn, give back, mentor, enjoy, there’s more to life than striving to an ideal of a perfect career which does not exist.