Can you really be anything you want to be?

October 31, 2011 § 3 Comments

We all remember that childhood conversation with our parents. The one where you’re told that you can be anything you want to be, just as long as you put your mind to it. I’ve always believed this to be true. After all, as children we are blank canvases, able to collect and create a multitude of experiences and opinions that make us ideal for our own futures. But thinking back to our childhood dreams, you have to wonder how plausible this idea is. Surely, it must be very few people that end up doing what they dreamed they would when asked the pivotal question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

I always wanted to be a marine biologist, convinced that this meant playing with dolphins all day rather than the reality of boats, labs and seawater. But if someone offered me the chance to be a marine biologist today, I’d have to turn them down. My sister on the other hand, answered that classic childhood question with similarly classic childish honesty. When she grew up, she wanted to be able “to drink Bacardi Breezers”.

Ask a class of kids today what they want to do when they grow up and you’ll get a lot of the same answers; the lures of pop-stardom and space exploration make for seemingly brilliant career choices. As adults we know the truth. With fame comes hard work, pressure and a near-constant hounding from the press; with space exploration comes isolation, intense physical conditions and an indelible helping of life-threatening danger. Not the best 9-to-5 career choices.

There comes a point in our lives, however, when our ability to do anything and to be anyone comes to pass. It’s difficult to say when that point is, and obviously with every door that we close on possible future careers, we open hundreds more with our commitment to a set route. When I chose to take no science subjects at A-level, I firmly closed the doors on medicine (and my misinformed dreams of marine biology), but opened up a world of opportunities to careers in the arts.

But at the age of 21, just four months after graduating, I already feel like my choices are incredibly narrowed. I’m a creative person and have a passion for advertising, for branding and for communications in general. In my ideal job I’d get to write and be a little bit creative every day. I have varied experience in all sorts of jobs; from writing yoghurt campaigns to tracking down financial criminals, as well as the more standard office and admin work along the way.

You’d think that this wide range of experience would make me an ideal candidate for any of the entry level marketing/design jobs I’ve applied for so far, and yet after several interviews I always hear that I’m a lovely girl, but just too creative for the job. Apparently creativity doesn’t work when you’re supposed to be doing admin day-to-day; I guess nobody wants a spreadsheet with panache. But do companies really need to employ the same old person to file, copy, print, repeat? Maybe employers are under-estimating the passion and commitment that today’s graduates have to break into their desired field, and can bring to any level of a business. We are well aware that we’ll have to start at the bottom, but are committed to making the most out of our opportunities to ultimately get to where we want to be.

All this raises an interesting issue. As a recent graduate, I’ve tried to make myself as employable as possible and am looking for an entry-level position to get into a company and progress. Yes, I have experience as a creative but that’s not all I’ve done, it’s not all I do, and I’m not even sure it’s all I want to do. I still feel very young, know that I have a lot to learn, and just want an opportunity to develop all my skills. What if I want to work as a project manager? A magazine journalist? A book critic? I have an excellent English degree and experience that makes me suitable for all these jobs – does my passion for advertising and my creativity mean I am any less capable of doing them?

So – can you really be anything? The job market today seems to think that you can’t. I’m determined to prove them wrong. Marine biology, here I come.

Just kidding. But arts, media, design, advertising, branding, marketing, PR, magazine and literary world – look out!

As seen on The Guardian Careers website:


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