Jan 2016: Starting Over / life

Working In Retail After Four Years Of Further Education

I finished my degree last September and faced the world with equal parts optimism and anxiety; am I really ready to join the professional working world? My autumn was filled with freelance contracts and slogging it in retail – hardly my dream career – but it kept me busy until Christmas. I kept thinking, “I’ll sort my life out after the festivities. I can’t just yet – I’m too tired/busy/unprepared. It’s the holidays, I can’t possibly work now.”

It’s now nearing the end of January, and small talk always seems to include the sickening phrase ‘New Year’s Resolutions.’ New Year means New Start, right? At the stroke of midnight we’re meant to forget all the events of the past 12 months, hand-pick our highlights, hang them up on the mantle-piece and pretend the rest never happened. It’s a fresh start! Who needs to be haunted by old ghosts?

Every year we convince ourselves that this time will be different; we’ve got things to look forward to and we don’t need 2015’s demons holding us back, thank you very much. We all know that it never actually works like that; here I am, still no closer to securing my professional career. 

I have around 20 jobs and internships bookmarked in my browser at any given time and I always seem to miss the deadlines. The same thought constantly plagues me: what if I’m not good enough? Or worse, what if they hire me and realise they’ve made a mistake?

There’s two dominant feelings when you finally finish higher education: relief and fear. Working around the clock to make your final deadlines has burned you out and your sole purpose has been accomplished. But what’s next? You’re still expected to know what you’re doing tomorrow, next week, next year, yet completing your final assignments left little time to plan ahead.

It’s a strange situation to be in. I’ve spent 12 months working on a Master’s degree in journalism and I’ve been working in events since I was 19. I’m qualified and experienced, yet I still manage to convince myself that it’s a fluke; I have no real skills to offer anybody and I’m doomed to stock shelves for the rest of my life.

In a moment of panic I accepted the first job that came my way: part-time work in a small shop. The work is easy, the people are nice, and the steady wage means I can avoid returning to my childhood home almost 100 miles away. I kept my independence but it isn’t what I’ve worked so hard for. This isn’t what I wanted.

One moment you’re an academic full of potential; the next you’re an unemployed graduate with a mountain of debt. (Swap your sense of purpose for council tax and that’s basically what the transition from student to graduate feels like.)

Just yesterday my co-worker told me that I was the most qualified person in the shop. “Oh, really?” I replied. “Yeah,” he said, “well, the rest of us are still at college or university.” Most of my colleagues are using their job to fund their studies and nights out with their mates. It seems normal to assume that they’re working towards something else, something better, when they’re not selling cigarettes and meal deals. They have ‘a plan.’

I also had a plan. Well, half a plan. I was going to graduate and find work with some festival, a magazine or that band. Instead, I ended up working the same job I had before my Master’s, before my Bachelor’s, even before my A-levels. It’s too easy to fall back into and assume that it’s the only thing I’m capable of.

I don’t have anything against working in retail. I’ve spent the best part of five years working in supermarkets, record stores, clothes shops and cafés. And I enjoyed it, too, because it gave me confidence to talk to people and understand a working environment. It helped me build the foundations for who I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I could stay in retail forever but I know that I’ll get bored; I’m always looking for adventure and I’m not going to find that behind a till. Now my education is officially over it’s time I found something new.

Last week I locked my anxieties in the wardrobe and finally applied for that ‘proper’ job: a freelance role at a local festival. As I filled in the application form I realised that my fears were unfounded; I was more than qualified and I had worked in similar roles before. Why was I so reluctant to apply? Even if I don’t hear back from this job prospect, I’ll know that I haven’t given up on my future. There’s more jobs out there, more adventures, and I’ve got my entire life to figure it out.

Until then, I’m lucky to have a job I’m good at. Would you like your receipt?


Penny Blakemore
Recently graduated from a Masters degree in Magazine Journalism. You’ll most likely find me at a gig. I talk about bands a lot.


2 thoughts on “Working In Retail After Four Years Of Further Education

  1. I worked the same retail job from when I was 17 to around half a year after I had left University. I completely agree with you about experiencing feelings of relief and fear. Part of me wanted to apply to everything that sounded interesting and was related to the field I studied in, whilst the other part just needed to tap out and retune for however long that took. I was worried I would be a failure if I left everything too long, and felt bad for trying to recuperate, but I found that the more I realised I have my whole life ahead of me and just took smaller opportunities as often as I could, slowly but surely everything started to come together! The best advice for me was: to do what you can, do your best and take your time 🙂 I hope you hear/heard back from the festival!


  2. I’m exactly like this! I’m a passionate writer and oh so opinionated…which will probably be my downfall. I graduated from studying journalism and media in 2014 and now I work in finance. I work from 7am to 4pm and all I work with and think about it money. My problem is that I’m too comfortable. My job is great and I do like it. I’m in a comfortable routine, I get to buy stuff, pay my bills, live with my boyfriend and it’s close to everything because I feel the need to rush through life. I’m in debt due to University and my friend’s screwed me over (let’s not even get into that disaster) and I feel that if I quit this job on a whim to go and work something I ‘may enjoy’ that’s related to my degree then I’m undoing years of hard work. Maybe I’m just too fussy? I don’t know. My long term plan is to become a writer but it scares the living shit out of me too. The more I think about it, the more I avoid it all together :/


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