Friday, 29 August 2014

I Can Be Succinct, Too

A short one today. No funny pictures or anything.

I know, right?

But, look: the most important thing to do with a plan is to stick to it. It can be hard sometimes, when you feel like you're stalling out, to keep pushing forwards – but that's what you have to do. That's the key to moving forwards.

You do it one step at a time.

Before you know it, you'll be looking back on how much you've accomplished and wondering what the hell you were worrying about way back when.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Wait, Ring of Fire Isn't an Extracurricular Activity?

If you've been doing your homework, you have a life plan. You have a goal, and you've worked out some tasks you'll need to tick off along the way. How exactly do you go about doing that, though?

It's important to know your destination, but that's only part of the equation. What path are you going to take to get there? There's plenty to choose from – perhaps more than you realise – with different pros and cons. Let's take a hypothetical – let's say you've just left education, and you want to move into employment.

Ok, so it's less of a hypothetical, and more my actual life.

Still waiting on the paychecks, though.

But, anyway, let's run with that. Now, what I've found is that a degree, in and of itself, does not necessarily open as many doors as it may have in the past. Don't despair, though; a degree may not be quite the skeleton key it once was, but it's not as worthless as some naysayers would have you believe, either.

An aside: whatever your circumstances, if you're looking for new employment, it's important to remember that you are quite literally selling yourself to potential employers.

To do that, you need to bring as much to the table as possible.

You're trying to convince employers to pick you over any number of other candidates, and to do that, you need to stand out; you need to offer as many perks and advantages as possible; you need, in short, to make it an easy decision.

Not that easy, mind.

Now, obviously, if you're already in employment you'll have things like extensive practical experience on your side – but that is not the demographic of this blog. Let's say, instead, that you're one of those lucky bastards  students still in education.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that it's enough simply to attend all your lectures and hand in your coursework on time.

Hard as it might be to believe considering the extended trial that is third year, this is the bare minimum your course requires of you. You can take it as a given that you'll be competing with a hell of a lot of other graduates, all of whom will have also achieved that bare minimum – and if everyone has done it, it's no longer special.

You're gonna need a bit more than that.

The specific opportunities available to you will vary from one university to another, but they are there. Let's see if I can dip into my dark and murky past and drudge up an example, eh?

So, I read English at University, with an emphasis on writing creatively. As it happened, the university produced its own creative writing magazine which, besides providing a venue for my writing, also gave me the chance to try my hand at proofreading and some basic editing.

That's exactly the sort of extracurricular opportunity you have to seize – and quickly, too.

There are plenty of other ways your university can support you, too. Most – if not all – will have some sort of employment office, which can hook you up with work experience over the holidays or interviews after graduation. It's also worth taking the time to talk to your lecturers – they're likely to have connections in and first-hand knowledge of the industries you're still learning about. Your university library should stock a range of industry publications too, which are a great way of learning about graduate schemes, industry movers and shakers, and the sort of bleeding-edge developments that your course just won't cover.

Increasingly, we live in a world where a degree is simply not enough. However, there is a lot of extra value you can squeeze out of higher education, if you know what to look out for and have the drive to go after it.

Of course, you can say that about a lot of things – and next week I'll talk about how you can apply the same sort of approach outside of education, too.

Don't forget to check out the latest Charity-Shop Book Review – Annie Proulx's Close Range – over at Yuppee Magazine, and make sure to follow @DaneCurel as well, to keep up with the latest news.

Friday, 15 August 2014

You Need A Plan - Or At Least 12% Of One

So, you find yourselves at a crossroads. Except it's not so much a crossroads, as it is the heart of a labyrinth, and not only do you not have a map, you have to be out by nightfall. You know where you are, and you know where you want to be, but you don't know which path to take, and time is ticking away.

I may have overextended the metaphor.

That's essentially how I felt after leaving University. I had a solid idea of the sort of jobs I wanted, but no real idea how to translate the skills and experience I'd been accumulating for the past three years into gainful employment. Perhaps, like me, you've just left – or are about to leave – University. Maybe you've spent the last few years working instead, and now you've a good idea of the sort of roles and industries you enjoy, you want to switch from paying the bills to pursuing a career. You may even be going in the opposite direction! After spending a few years in employment you may feel like you're just treading water, and now you're wondering if a degree will prepare you to re-enter the workforce, reinvigorated and ready to break through to the next level.

If you're anything like me, it's one hell of an overwhelming place to be in your life.

Not, like, Kristen Stewart overwhelmed. Like, real overwhelmed.

It's so difficult to know where to start, and so easy to make a misstep. Personally, the fear of making a wrong decision often prevents me from making any decision at all. What if I hate this job? What if I love it, but I don't get the experience I wanted? All the time invested in that job would be wasted. I could try a vocational course, but what if I decide I don't enjoy it? What if it doesn't actually help me find a job? Time and money down the drain.

What helped me to tackle this – and what could help you too – is a plan. A map for the labyrinth of life, if you like. So, sit down with a pen and paper, and think: This is where I want to be in a year – how do I get from here to there? Lay it all out, in the simplest of terms. By the time I turn 25, I want to be ready to make the move to London. So, I'll need money to support myself, which means I need to start saving. However, once I'm in London, I'll need to earn money, too. I'll need to find a job, and to be reasonably certain of managing that I'll need experience.

Fortunately, I can be accumulating both of those at the same time.

I need to find a job, then. What sort of job? I don't want to move to London just to clean toilets – so what do I want to do? I've known for a long time that I want to get into the writing industry – either as a writer myself, or on the publishing side of things.

Now we're getting somewhere! I know I need a job, and I know what sort of job I want. I'm still a ways off employment, though. What sort of experience do I need to get, then? Well, administrative experience – or anything office-based, really – would be useful. Now I've worked that out, those “is this really the right job...?” doubts don't nag too much; after all, it doesn't matter too much if it's not the ideal job, because it's only a stepping stone towards bigger and better things.

Hold up, though! I said I wanted to work in the writing industry, and experience of working in an office environment might be necessary, but it ain't sufficient to get me through the door. Actual writing experience could do it, though. How do I go about building a portfolio, and developing as a writer?

Hey – one of those 'blog' things might be a start...

It might seem like a comparatively minor thing, but a plan like that, laid out in plain black and white, can be a surprisingly powerful tool. It can keep you grounded when you're feeling overwhelmed; it can give you something to feel positive about when you feel like you're treading water; it can give you a clear list of tasks and objectives when you're feeling lost at sea.

A plan isn't the be-all and end-all but it is a step in the right direction, and lays out the path for future progress.

Oh, and in other news, I now write a book review for Yuppee Magazine. The Charity-Shop Book Review aims to bring to your attention all those overlooked treasures that wash up on charity-shop bookshelves, and updates on the first Tuesday of every month (so the first review – Annie Proulx's Close Range – is already up). Make sure to follow @DaneCurel as well, to be sure you aren't missing out on any other forgotten favourites.  

Friday, 8 August 2014

So, I Have This Problem...

I don't know how it happened, but today I woke up and I was an adult.

I shouldn't have been too surprised – it happened the day before, and the day before that, and so on. It's been happening for a while, in fact, and yet it's still causing me issues. The thing is, I don't know what it actually means.

This kid seems to have it figured out, though.

I mean, what does an adult actually do? What's supposed to happen? Is there a membership card, perhaps, that got lost in the post? If there's an instruction booklet, I haven't received mine, and I'd like to make my displeasure known (see, an adult would know what sort of numbers to call and council employees to harangue about that).

Then, a few weeks ago, another strange thing happened.

Wait, no.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time in London, and within half an hour of stepping from the train I'd decided this was the place for me. I wanted to spend weekends in the Tate, evenings in pricey bohemian bars, to be obnoxious when tourists stood on the wrong side of the Tube escalators. I wanted to live in London, I wanted to do London things, to think London thoughts.

Which would be no small feat for someone who turned 18 and half expected to start sprouting in a Mogwai-like fashion every time he showered.

So, on the one hand I have these lofty aspirations and arguably more hope than sense; on the other, I may not have any idea about things like checking accounts and tax returns, but I do have a reason to learn.

What's more, every week I'll be taking you through that process. Every Friday I'll walk you through the steps I've taken towards a London-based life. Each week I'll explain - for example - the steps a person can take towards employment; I'll discuss my decisions and I'll talk about how they panned out. Hopefully you'll be able to take something away from my experiences – even if it's how not to go about things.

Why a blog, though? Besides needless self-aggrandisement, that is.

You'll just have to come back next Friday to find out.