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7 lifehacks for reclaiming the lost year


By Orla Smith


Orla shares her top tips for taking back "the lost year" - that year after graduating from full-time education, which for many of us can present the most helpless and anxiety-inducing period of life so far.

Like most students, I changed a lot across the course of my uni experience. I floated through my first couple of years in a care-free haze of vodka-red bulls, with post-graduation life seeming no more than an abstract concept which was so far away it might never happen. Final year of university was my favourite of the three years of studying. I'd made a close group of friends, found out where the best bars were (no longer obliged to endure student nights at Oceana, thank God), and the end of exams and struggling through hungover lectures was in sight.


Disclaimer: The hungover lectures have now been replaced by hungover days in the office, and it’s true that a hangover gets worse by 10 per cent every year you age.


Despite this, final year also brought with it a lot of unforeseen pressure – in addition to final exams, there was talk of grad scheme applications, entry-level jobs, moving to London... It’s an overwhelming time and I didn’t feel ready to make such big decisions about my future.


One in four people experience depression and anxiety across the course of their university degree, and according to a recent City Mental Health Alliance study, 49 per cent of all students say their mental wellbeing declines during “the lost year” after leaving university.


Now, five years after graduation, I’m happy to say I’m in a job I enjoy, working for a cause I care deeply about. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but there are a few steps you can take during final year or after graduation to prepare yourself for the working world – or just to keep you motivated when you’re feeling a bit lost.


1)     Intern, volunteer or shadow – As you’ll be aware, there’s a plethora of internship opportunities out there, and they can be a great way to dip your toe into a career before diving in. Despite the fact I’m no longer in the industry, my PR internship was a great opportunity for me. I learnt loads, and it also brought me down to London. Don’t be afraid of asking any contacts that you have about doing informal shadowing as well; if anything they’ll be flattered that you think their career is interesting. But do beware of the internship scams out there. Make sure you're fully-informed about the true nature of every opportunity you apply for. A good way to do this is to reach out to current junior employees at the place you're applying to and ask what they think of their company's internship programme.

2)     Inspire yourself – Find people you admire, and read books or listen to podcasts and talks by them. Let them inspire you in the way you want to be inspired, whether that’s to become a leader, start a business, or just become more assertive in going after what you want in the workplace. I recommend Cosmopolitan editor Farrah Storr’s book ‘The Discomfort Zone: How to get what you want by living fearlessly’, ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth, the Ctrl Alt Delete podcast by Emma Gannon and Susan Colantuono’s Ted talk ‘The career advice that you probably didn’t get’.

3)     Go in search of a mentor – This can be a tricky one, as mentors aren’t always easy to come by, particularly good ones. In my case I was set up with my mentor by a mutual friend, so it happened quite organically. But don’t wait for your dream mentor to come and find you – ask around. If you have them, begin with older siblings, relatives or friends, and look at their friends or colleagues. That can be a great place to start.

4)     Take time to reflect and record – Write down what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and what your priorities are for a future career. It might all be bouncing around in your head, but writing it down will bring clarity, purpose and direction.

5)     Be realistic – To be honest, your first job is most likely not going to be your dream role. In fact, it will probably be pretty crap – being the most junior person in the office means that you’re lumbered with more ‘shadmin’ (shit admin) than you can shake a stick at. But you can still learn a lot from the people around you, and about what you want and don’t want in a job. And we all need to start from somewhere.

6)     Avoid comparison – Focus on yourself and your career, instead of comparing it to your friend’s graduate scheme at KPMG/Deloitte/EY/etc. The realities of people’s ‘dream jobs’ are often different from what you’d imagine.

7)     And finally, be kind to yourself and confident in your potential – It’s ok to not know what you want to do, or to start off working in a job you don’t love. Plenty of brilliant people started their careers in rubbish jobs, or took paths that weren’t right at the beginning of their careers. Professional development is not linear and your career is a long game; trust that with hard work and dedication things will come together in the end.

Image by unknown artist on Pinterest

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