I’m 30 next year. A millennial who’s lived through the period of life where you’re supposed to lay the foundations for future success.
Am I where I thought I would be when I was younger? Nope. Am I regretful? Not at all. There’s plenty I’ve had to reteach myself post-education, but over a decade after leaving school, I’m confident I’m on the right track, and I’m proud of the path I'm taking.
It’s all mapped out isn’t it? School. College. University. Career. Is that realistic for millennials and Gen-Z however? No, not always.
Here’s the thing, when you’re taught by generations who lived through a very different society, political environment and who had different opportunities, they can sometimes expect the same formula to work every time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Except it is, a little broken.
When I was in high school, IT was an optional subject. Just imagine that - being the first generation to have unbridled access to the internet, but you have next to no education on the topic.
Schools face a lot of bureaucracy. It can take years for a new subject or prospectus to be brought into play, and that’s if they even identify its importance before it’s too late. You face the problem of always being slightly behind the curve, because it takes time.
Time to design a course. Time to teach the teachers. Time to hire and train. As a student, you need a tremendous skill for telling the future to be able to prepare yourself for what industries might emerge ten to twenty years after you first start your education.
So here’s the thing, when I was in sixth form, I studied subjects that were available to me. I wanted to go into Fashion, but my school didn’t offer lessons in CAD, textiles or marketing. Subsequently, I took Art, Business and English Language.
It was a disappointment to my teachers.
How could a straight A student, who was specially selected to be in a class for overachievers in maths, not want to take STEM subjects at A-level? They told us in no uncertain terms, it was expected of us.
But here’s the thing, maths didn’t make me happy, and I couldn’t see a career for myself in it. To me, a lack of passion was almost as fatal as a lack of skill.
So onward, I endeavoured in my creative subjects.
I come from a family who grew up in a poorer area. It was my exam results that afforded me the opportunity to study at a prestigious school. I had no idea how to even begin the process of researching universities, how to book visits or prepare a portfolio.
I wasn’t the first in my family to go to university (I was the 2nd), but I was the first to go straight from college and into higher education.
Not only that, it was just last year that I discovered I have Inattentive ADHD. With hindsight, I’m able to look back and realise what a blur those pre-university years were. To sum it up plainly, I had no clue what I was doing.
Heavily relying on teachers to guide the way, I took their advice to a tee and applied for 3 universities, in order to study Fashion Design.
Now, with well over the number of UCAS points that many of my peers had (trust me, it’s not a marker of anything, I’m just good at writing essays under pressure!), you’d expect acceptance letters left right and centre - surely?
Not so. I bombed two of my interviews. I had no confidence, I didn’t know what the admissions officers were looking for in Fashion. I got one acceptance.
Looking back, I barely remember thinking about university all summer. It could have been my neurological issues with ADHD, it could have been my lack of preparations, or it could’ve been denial. Either way, I wasn’t excited, I was just following the path laid out for me.
I lasted less than a single term before I dropped out. It was a combination of factors. I missed my friends, I was too far from home and I had no passion for the course. I hadn’t met or researched my tutors, and it was immediately apparent they weren’t interested in letting me pursue the areas of fashion I loved.
The thing for 18 year olds is that this mistake can have consequences we’ve never experienced before. We’re practically still children at this point, but we’re left to make huge decisions and commitments that will not only impact our career, but our finances too.
Schools don’t teach you this. They push you towards goals that are sometimes influenced by their own ambitions.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly marvellous schools and teachers out there who will do anything they can to ensure you’re following the right balance between your heart and your head.
If you’re reading this article, right before you’re set to make decisions about higher education - don’t let it put you off. That’s not my intention. Occasionally I believe if I had been better informed, I would have found the right university for me.
My school pushed me to choose only the best of the best. It was embarrassing if you applied for a lower ranking university. This elitism stood between me and my happiness. I have no way of knowing if I went to a local university to study, if I would have a degree now, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Here’s what I actually want you to take away from this story - It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake. You’re young. You’ll still be young when you hit 30 like me. Yes, really.
When I dropped out of uni, I spent a year working in a grimy bar. It was wonderful. I learned how to manage money, and I bought my first car. I had independence and I gained life experience.
After that, I enrolled on to an apprenticeship in digital marketing, and here I am ten years later as a Digital Marketing Executive. I rediscovered my passion for writing, and I realised an intense motivation I had for growing businesses.
I still love fashion. I sew as a hobby and I’ve run a few different small businesses. It’s incredible the opportunities these days that anyone has to start a small business online.
It wasn’t a straight path. I’ve worked at companies I hated. I’ve taken breaks from marketing to pursue other options. Honestly, I still don’t really know what I’m doing and where I’ll be ten years from now. But that’s ok.
School doesn’t teach you that the most important thing when you become an adult is to find happiness. You can be a former straight A student who loves the simplicity of working in retail or a warehouse - you don’t have to think about it when you leave at the end of the day. You can be someone who didn’t do so well in school, and go on to be an investment banker or CEO. The truth is, as long as you’re happy, it doesn’t matter.
School can sometimes put your entire worth as a human being in conquering the heights of your career. Sometimes it will tell you that you won’t get there without going to university.
If you want a takeaway from this article, spend the next hour or so reading up on apprenticeships, gap years and even going straight into work.
When I was 18, I was told apprenticeships were for 16 year olds who want to become mechanics. Now I know you can get a degree level qualification from an apprenticeship, you can study them at any age, and there are nearly 600 different specialisations you can study.
So take the path less travelled and shake off the expectations of others. Take some time to work out where you’re happy. Experiment. Drop out. Change career. Go self-employed. Gain the experience you need to make decisions.
Welcome to the adult world. It’s not quite what you expected and you’ll never truly feel like an adult. But continuous learning is human. They don’t teach you that at school.