Monday, 24 February 2014

Die Qual der Wahl

Die Qual der Wahl: that’s the German way of saying ‘spoilt for choice’. It’s different to our maxim, though – ‘Qual’ means ‘agony’, ‘torture’, as if having too much choice can actually be a source of torment for some. And it’s that aspect of the phrase which reflects the situation I currently find myself in, as someone who has the benefit of so many possibilities and opportunities that it sometimes feels dizzying, overwhelming – indeed, tormenting.

I have been lucky enough to grow up with a wide range of potential professions and prospects within my grasp. Beyond the prescribed subjects at school I could choose from several other topics and activities to expand my knowledge and skills. When it came to choosing what to study at university I could take my pick from a dazzling array of courses, all of which promised superb prospects for employment in diverse fields. And now, as I approach my final year of study, so many career paths are within reach – be it teaching, journalism, consultancy, law, politics… The world really is my oyster.

It wasn’t always this way. When my parents were my age, they studied with a view to working in a closely-related field – economics was for those aspiring to work in the City, a law degree was a prerequisite to be considered in the legal profession, and so on. Now, however, with the possibilities of conversion courses, of joint degrees, of training programmes and grad schemes, almost anything is possible. We are a blessed bunch.

But sometimes so much choice can be too much. If you know that your options are flexible and there are so many possibilities to hand, there’s no need to worry all that much about making definite plans for the future, right? And anyway, university should be a place for experiencing as much as possible, both academically and socially. Surely one of those experiences will point us in the right direction, will captivate us and leave us eager to pursue it as a career?

I’ve tried my hand at leisure pursuits as wide-ranging as wakeboarding and lindy-hopping. As well as making interesting choices within my course, I’ve undertaken internships in journalism, banking and arts management. I’ve listened to a fascinating variety of speakers in lectures and at my Union, each of whom has shown me a different way of thinking or approaching life’s big questions. All of these experiences have taught me a huge amount, have helped me develop a range of skills and in the most part have given me a great deal of satisfaction. But not a single one of them has really brought me any closer to deciding what I actually want to do with my life.

In my opinion, it’s no failing of the education system, nor the many services provided to help us make these decisions. I’ve had numerous talks with careers advisors, been put in touch with extensive alumni networks, attended countless careers fairs. After each meeting, each email exchange, each discussion, I momentarily feel more resolved to pursue a certain path, until I stumble across something else that sparks my interest. And then it’s back to those feelings of uncertainty once again. A part of me envies people who have a clear idea what they want to become, as well as those who are quite happy to enjoy student life with no real idea of what will follow (I have friends who fall into both categories).

I’m young, I’m fickle, I know that. I should probably stop worrying and join my plucky student pals in their NekNominations and put off thinking about the grown-up stuff until later. But part of me feels deeply indebted to a society that has provided me with so many opportunities, and wants to give the best possible service in my professional life in return.

Suggestions as to how that might be achieved on a postcard please…