As a second-year undergraduate approaching her third and final year of study, I remember having the realisation that my undergraduate degree wouldn’t last forever when topics of dissertations, internships, and applications for postgraduate study slowly began to float into conversations. I found myself paralysed by the idea of my future, a concept that had faded from having any sort of tangible meaning, especially given that I was forever buried in my books and writing what seemed like an endless reel of essays. I didn’t have the time, but even if I had, my love for the dreaming spires of Oxford meant that I couldn’t – or rather dared not to – look above or beyond them.
One day, with a cup of tea in hand, I took a deep breath and booked an appointment with my university’s careers service. I splurged out all of my worries about the future with one of their lovely careers advisors. After I had rambled on for what seemed like an eternity, she gave me a wonderful piece of advice that I have carried with me ever since. She said:
“The next time that you’re scrolling through a long list of opportunities, make a note of what initially interests you, but then ask yourself: What is it about each opportunity that truly resonates with me?”
From this point onwards, I would ask myself this question whenever I needed the courage to explore my passions and nurture my interests, without the inhibitions or insecurities that had crippled me before.
I began reflecting on what I wanted to dedicate my time and energy to, what it was that brought me joy. Through this, I started only applying to internships that I thought I would actually enjoy doing, rather than applying to the ones I had been told were the most sought-after or the most highly regarded. I started networking and openly talking about the career paths I was interested in, rather than saying nothing at all in fear of being dismissed or rejected. I started considering postgraduate courses that may not necessarily be the most prestigious, but for me, were the most interesting and insightful. Ultimately, I began to take leaps of faith rather than tentative steps.
It might seem strange to you that I have used phrases like ‘resonates’, ‘leaps of faith’, and what ‘brings you joy’ throughout this article, especially given that I’m talking about making decisions that often can’t be made on the spur of the moment, like your career. But, I think reframing our attitudes towards planning life after graduation is needed. Making these decisions may be life-changing, but they are not life-defining. As you go through life, you will grow and evolve; what once served you may no longer serve you in the future, and that’s okay. Of course, I’m not saying that the more conservative, practical side of things should be ignored; I would be hypocritical if I said that I didn’t want to eventually have a stable career that was well-paid and was well-respected. But there should be a happy medium between the head and the heart, especially when you are about to go into one of the most delicate stages of your life, the final year of your degree. Be kind to yourself, trust the process, and embrace the fear and uncertainty. You will be fine, I am sure of it.
Annabelle is a second-year BA (Hons) English Language and Literature student at Mansfield College, The University of Oxford. As both a passionate feminist and medievalist, she has fallen in love with gender studies, specifically within the framework of Old and Middle English literature. In her free time, she enjoys visiting museums and art galleries, engaging in student activism, and spending quality time with her friends.