Life after graduation: should I get a job or study more?

Graduations can be a scary thing, or at least that’s how the media wants us to think. We’ve all seen the pictures of a graduate holding that damn diploma and shaking his head, saying ‘I have no idea what to do with my life’. The final step of our education turns into a huge amount of stress. Should I look for a job? Should I keep studying? What if I have no idea what I want to do in my life?

These are all hard questions that started popping up in my head at the beginning of my final year of uni. I had the mental comfort that unlike some other degrees, engineering is known to have a good employment rate. I’m not saying it to sound cocky – I strongly dislike the fact that someone with a degree in nutrition may struggle to find a job after years of studies. But I’m just saying it so you know that I wasn’t panicking. I knew that if I wanted a job, I could get one. Still, the question remained: Did I want to work in engineering – the degree I had chosen for myself?

What scared me was the fact that I wanted to say ‘no’.

Having worked for a year and a half at an office job in engineering, I am speaking from experience. We, the millennials, are famous (or should I say notorious) for expecting instant gratification and job satisfaction. I wanted to make a change, I wanted to feel that my work mattered, and when it didn’t feel like it, I wanted to quit. It was so bad that I even wrote a post about how I questioned my degree choice. Somehow, after that, my studies became easier to bear, but my job didn’t.

While I was working part-time during the academic year, in the summer I transitioned into full-time. It was then and there that I knew I couldn’t keep on like this. I dreaded going to work every day. My motivation plummeted, but it was too late to look for something else, so I ground my teeth and stuck with it. I had the full intention to quit before the start of my fifth year, but then something happened: I got laid off. It wasn’t anything bad, on the contrary. My company grew, and they needed someone to go full time, which I couldn’t because of uni.

It was the answer to my prayers – ending my job without actually having to quit.

But at the same time, I felt ashamed that I got what I wanted. I felt stupid and that’s why I’ve never really talked about it publicly. Because being laid off sucks, even if it’s not your fault, and it’s ultimately what you wanted. Knowing that you’re no longer needed can be painful, and for a month or two I felt worthless. It’s somehow ironic how much I relied on that job to define me, and without it I was lost.

In the end, it was a blessing in disguise. Besides having much more time to write my dissertation (which I didn’t fully use, okay), I managed to start my own little business. I created an eBay shop, selling clothes – initially, it was to make any money from my overflowing closet. But later, I got into reselling, and money started to roll. It wasn’t much, but it depended on how much effort I put. There were weeks when I worked for 30 hours, and earned £300. Then there were weeks I chose to work for 5, and I made much less. Still, for a year I paid my rent myself, and I was proud that I’m able to be self-employed.

However, the best thing was the freedom.

The freedom to choose what to do and when. I could wake up feeling sick and I didn’t have to call anyone that I won’t be showing up to work today. I was the master of my own schedule, my own time, and ultimately – my income. It was liberating, and just a little bit scary. I knew there was no one to pay me my paycheck on 28th of every month. I was alone, but it felt good. Independence is something no money can buy, and for now I’m not willing to trade my freedom for a salary.

I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

There’s a trend for more and more people to become self-employed. Yes, we are millennials, and when a job can’t give us what we want, we can create our own work. It’s not the easiest path, but it’s one that’s definitely worth it for me.

That’s why you may be surprised I’m starting a PhD. Even though I haven’t advertised it anywhere, I am continuing my education. If you’re wondering why, I get you. Being a PhD usually means you’re a slave to the university you’re in, putting thousands of hours and yes, getting paid. Monthly. While I may like my freedom and independence, I am also very practical. In order to get the same money I’d be getting as a PhD, I would need to work about 30-40 hours every week in my side business on eBay. That feels like a normal job, doesn’t it? It’s not freedom anymore, it’s just a different job. And when you don’t enjoy it that much, it’s also a chore.

So I made a decision. I could get paid to do something I like (research and teaching students), or I could do something that I like moderately, just from home. I chose the PhD because it’s the logical choice. But it’s also the freedom choice for me. Because even though I’m expected to work about 35 hours a week, I am still free to use my time as I please. It gives me the freedom to work on my blog, while still having the security of a paycheck.

It doesn’t mean I won’t put effort in my research.

I want to become a lecturer one day, and a PhD is necessary for that. I want to be educated, smart and inspire other women to look and feel good. But at the same time, I also know that there’s another way of reaching people that may not live or study at the same place I do. That’s why having the freedom to be online and produce content that hopefully inspires at least 1 person is crucial to me.

I’ve made a choice. It may seem strange, and I totally get it. It feels a little hypocritical to hate on normal office jobs, but settle for another job, just a university one. So I’ll understand if you feel like I’m quitting on myself, my dreams or my values. Because sometimes I feel like I’ve ‘sold out’ to having a constant stream of money. Yet, if you ask any successful blogger, they’ll tell you to stick to your full-time job until you make your side business profitable. Since it’s not the case for me yet, I’m sticking to being a PhD. And if I can get educated in the process and make a difference, why the hell not?