Being young is hard. So hard, in fact, I am happy to be considered elderly to those under 25, and keenly welcome the onset of middle adulthood.
To mark International Women’s Day this year, I’m sharing some words of hard-won wisdom so that younger people of all gender identities can make the same mistakes I did, though hopefully with less anxiety and a better salary.
It’s a big ask to expect teenagers to make a choice about a degree subject when their entire life has been eat/sleep/exams/repeat, so consider taking some time off after school finishes to make things, see the world, or just reset for a bit. Remember to say yes to everything that sounds vaguely enjoyable because, I’m sorry to tell you, there’s even more hard work ahead.
The decision to go to university is a tricky one for Manx students who can’t live at home. It’s an all-in way of life, made harder more recently by the high cost of living, soaring tuition fees and lectures conducted online to keep costs down. I felt and looked like an actual child when I left sixth form in 2008, so I opted for a year out to experience office life before leaving for uni the following year. A ‘real job’ definitely made the lectures about Bach chorales a fraction more interesting.
The pressure to do things at the same pace as your friends is pretty intense, and even opting for a gap year takes a lot of mental negotiation. Trust me when I say the good friends stick around no matter how infrequently you see them. Don’t feel bad for choosing a different route altogether, or delaying uni for a few years while you make up your mind.
It’s really important to go into the workforce remembering that in most cases, the company you work for has a singular goal, which is to make a profit. At school, if you work hard, you eventually see results. One thing school won’t prepare you for is how this mindset doesn’t really help when you’re in the workplace, because so many external factors contribute to your responsibilities and progression.
Having said this, it’s important to approach every job opportunity with a positive attitude: look out for your peers and those more junior, make some Friday pub friends, but remember that you set the bar as to how much of your personal time you’re willing to give over to your employer. Ask your own questions in job interviews, and even if it’s a little way off or doesn’t apply to you, ask about the company’s maternity and paternity policies. A business that doesn’t have both of these is probably not one you want to work for.
Your boss is not your friend. Even if they invite you out for drinks sometimes or tell you about their chaotic personal life, they’re ultimately the one who decides if you have a job from one day to the next. It’s really hard to say no to someone who is in charge of you, but it’s a great habit to get into. Know your value and don’t let anyone take too much of you. I’ve found that companies rarely reward dedication and loyalty in the form of promotions and raises. To get on, it’s often best to get out. You’ll know when it’s time.
Looking into the future for a moment (assuming we’re all still here in fifty years), start a pension fund as soon as you can afford to. Invest in renewables, alternative energies, things you want to see in the future. My eyes still glaze over when my financial advisor starts talking in abbreviations and percentages, but something about the way compound interest works makes me think I was right to start a portfolio at 26. Who knows if I’ll ever see it, but the consequences of not planning for “retirement” – whatever that’ll mean for me in 2060 – are worse.
Don’t worry about not being able to get a mortgage. Literally just stop thinking about it, it’s not important right now. Get involved in local politics, register to vote – and actually turn up on polling day. Hold your elected representatives accountable, send follow-up emails, and tell them what you need, because they’ll likely just mutter ‘more nightclubs’ and wave their hand vaguely in the direction of Douglas town centre.
I’m optimistic about the future because young people are showing the rest of us how to behave. They are kinder, more considerate of others, more informed, more accepting, more intuitive, more passionate and more inquisitive about the wider world than older generations. I’m looking forward to the society that’ll exist when today’s 21-year olds are in charge. I have every faith they can engineer the world us millennials would’ve loved to have created, if only we had the energy. I promise when the time comes to overthrow the billionaires, we’ll help as best we can.