In my first year at Durham University I met Mark, Matthew, and Alice. Mark gave up his Converse and Feeder t-shirts to work tirelessly at a Law degree - when I first met him, we swapped clothes in a terrible club in Newcastle. I met Matthew when someone had thrown up outside his window, and blamed it on his nice friend Chris (it was me). He was a bit of an aesthete who kept pot plants but also totally nailed Economics. Alice and I bonded at Mark's birthday and a lot of people at Durham thought we were romantically attached. She did English and Philosophy and is one of the happiest, most optimistic people I’ve ever met (oh, and once wrote an essay at 4am under the influence of wine).
It's nearly seven years since we met and now we’re all grown-ups living in London with different jobs and not enough time to hang out regularly (although Mark is, to be fair, currently in Dubai). I gave them a call to see where they are now - and if everything went the way they’d expected.
Personally, I always wanted to write so went straight on to City University in London to do an MA in Magazine Journalism. This was closely followed by eighteen months of waitressing, writing for free, living on a kitchen floor, interning and crying about how expensive London is/the state of the job market. Last year, however, I got some good freelancing jobs. Then I got a real job (on this site) and, as of late, an actual flat.
I'm so glad we're all still friends (Alice has had to endure a fair few WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE phonecalls, so a big shout out to her especially) although we're rarely together as the four of us. It worked out pretty much how I thought it would; I figured Alice would go into teaching (her sister's a teacher too and bloody good at it), knew Mark would be a lawyer and thought Matthew would probably do some form of job in auditing that I don't quite understand due to being generally rather dense...
Unlike Mark, Stevie and Matthew I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after uni- I was quite overwhelmed, actually! When I graduated I thought about going into the policeforce but changed my mind. I also applied to be an air steward but didn't get the job, so started as a Christmas temp at Waterstone’s because I liked books and knew something would come along eventually.
Yeah, it got a bit boring, but I quite liked working in a book shop! I constructed an entire shelf of books with 'Alice' in the title and created a really difficult shelving system so nobody would be able to do it other than me, just for the power- you find ways to entertain yourself. I lived with Mark at that point and it was loads of fun- we had a brilliant Christmas party one year and Stevie fell asleep in a Santa hat.
After January I didn't have anything to do so got a job helping at a school near my house (you can help out at a school if you have a degree - you just can't take lessons by yourself). It really made me want to be a teacher but, annoyingly, I only realised this after the deadline for application so had to wait until September before I could start training. I moved back in with my parents to save money and that was pretty hard - I sort of lost all my independence and went back to Waterstone's for eight months (hang on I need to shout at some children. PUT YOUR COAT ON NOW. WHAT DID WE SAY BEFORE? IT'S VERY COLD) as well as spending the summer working in a pub.
When I started the course, I really didn’t enjoy it - the people were all like how you'd imagine primary school teachers to be (i.e. boring) but I used to love doing the placements.
I did one in Orpington and got the job after I'd finished the course which was great. Since Durham, it's worked out as I'd thought it would in the sense that I'd be really surprised if I was, say, a neuroscientist... I knew something would come along.
I also try to keep up with everyone as much as I can. (Sorry, hang on, are you OK? Alright then, off you go. Good boy) Probably a couple of times a month. In terms of my career, I’ll probably keep on doing this until I get bored then… y’know… do something else. As long as I’m happy I’ll be fine!
I've always liked law, as I was a big fan of Rumpole of the Bailey in my teens and put a good few hours into my degree, weirdly never really questioning it. I did leave Durham feeling a little bit like a prospector who had turned up in Yukon territory just a bit late for the gold rush. Jobs were few and far between.
However, I spent a summer applying to various London firms and secured a training contract with a good law firm starting in 2011. That gave me two years to kill, one of which I had to spend at law school. Before that, I worked in a little tailoring shop in Derby for about 8 months which was an interesting experience, the staff were a bit like the cast of "Are You Being Served" but more racist. I then went travelling in the Balkans and Iberia before starting my LPC in London.
The LPC year was fantastic and I lived with Alice which was great fun. When I passed (after some seriously horrific exams) and started in the real world of work, my first six months were in Guildford which was a massive schlep and super boring. The next six months I worked in the shipping department which I absolutely loved (lots of crusty old ancient mariners and dubious Greeks stealing oil from Nigerians) and I am now about to finish six months in Dubai working in the construction department, which has been an absolutely mental experience.
There are downsides. The hours can be pretty bad at times, though I have been reasonably lucky in that respect. As a lawyer you have to log every second of your time spent on a client matter which is very disheartening, it is like the watching the three fates spinning the thread of life in the bottom corner of your computer screen.... But overall very little to complain about.
As we get older it's going to be harder and harder because our lives are all going down such different paths. However, it's not really the frequency that counts, I still enjoy spending time with Matthew, Stevie and Alice as much as I ever have, and I think the fact that we are doing such different things makes it so much more interesting, I certainly don't like spending all of my time talking to lawyers!
It sounds a bit clichéd, but I always wanted to study History at university. However, my overbearing Victorian, pipe-smoking father (alright – he’s not Victorian or pipe-smoking, or particularly overbearing, but still) insisted Economics had more practical use as far as post-university employment was concerned. It pains me to say it, but I think he may have been right. I can always read or study History in my spare time – it’s not going to run away or anything.
I went on holiday to Vietnam and Cambodia after graduating, and then worked on a sheep farm in Yorkshire. A few months later I began to work in auditing, and after two rather unexciting years moved into the business advisory section, where I am currently and which I enjoy rather more.
Not everything has worked out as I expected. I had to sit lots of professional exams, with the downside that I could have been fired had I failed any. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might ever need to sit and study for exams ever again after Durham, but most of my friends in the City – regardless of what roles they went into – have had to do exams in one form or another. It comes with the territory I suppose; after a point, telling your interviewer that you once captained a rowing crew at a regatta is irrelevant.
I am enjoying it, however. If nothing else, passing professional exams makes you feel – which is probably the point – more professional. The job itself can also be stressful and the hours sometimes unforgiving, but – and I know it sounds pompous and rather obvious – I’d far sooner be in a stressful job than unemployed/under-employed.
Being a Real Grown-up Person is scary and I do find myself exhausted a lot. Everything gets crammed into the weekends so they’re often not very relaxing at all, and after a few months it’s easy to feel completely drained. In the future I reckon I’ll be cryogenically frozen in some kind of lab, waiting for mankind to invent the cure for old age and death.
In fifty years from now, when I will be 74, I would hope to be married with children and grandchildren, in a big comfortable house in the countryside, sitting in a leather chair surrounded by mischievous pets, dusty books and exotic plants. On the walls will be photos of me in younger days, at my desk busily plotting how to make enough money to buy a big comfortable house in the countryside and a leather chair and etc. etc.
Obviously we don’t see each other enough now that we don’t live on the same corridor. And Mark is in Dubai. London is fantastic and I absolutely love it here, but it’s dangerously addictive. Three years have flown by incredibly fast and I’ve lost sight of so many friends. Other friends, like Stevie, I still see but only rarely – which reflects terribly on me.
Financial security and so on is important, but I do sometimes worry that in fifty years I might look back and wish I’d visited the Canary Islands, or gambled more…