Words by Joanita, 24 NSW
I always thought I knew what I wanted – but the longer I spend searching the job market, the more I understand how options can be both liberating and confining.
I used to have no patience for ambivalent people. I tapped my foot when a person at the front of the line took too long to decide what to order. I scoffed when my high school friends wondered out loud about what they wanted to do after graduation.
I always believed that deep down, people knew what they wanted – they just didn’t have the courage to face their desires.
Then came uni. I enrolled in a Media and Communications degree as planned. The course offered training in many different aspects of the industry: newswriting, public relations, video production, and academic research among others. We dabbled in a bit of everything, and I thought we would come out of this well-rounded, skilled and employable.
Then reality hit.
The Australian job market does not reward all-rounders.
Companies in the media, publishing and advertising industry look for candidates who ought to have been preparing their whole lives to make it in that very specific field. Even fresh graduates are expected to have accumulated some form of relevant experience.
I took on almost every opportunity that came my way – even those not strictly related. I reported for a community radio, became a student ambassador for a local council, and joined a multicultural youth advocacy group. I learnt a lot of things and met a lot of amazing people from various walks of life, but mostly, I felt like I was actively working towards my objective: to build the foundation for a stellar, thriving career.
Then I received my bachelor’s degree, and all those achievements seemed to turn minuscule. I had always heard businesses do not care as much about who you are as to what you can bring to the table – but knowing is not the same as believing.
I realised, diverse experiences come second to your ability to be a cog in the machine. The small size of my chosen industry makes it an employers’ market. Job ads are tailored to a tee – requirements often include expertise in niche digital tools or singularly specialised tasks. This means passion projects and community leadership roles often touted as soft skill boosters are barely given a glance.
What I saw as all-encompassing skills and experience, another saw as all over the place.
Who cares about your national championships and fundraisers when all that truly matters is your one year of SEO and Google Ads experience?
Why would they account for the possibility of learning by doing, developing new skillsets as you go, when they can find someone who already fits the bill exactly?
Despite my limited career opportunities, I do not regret using my time at uni to explore a variety of things rather than honing in on a certain area. Because of this, I have tackled challenges I otherwise wouldn’t have encountered. Looking back, I wouldn’t give it up and I still can’t see myself locking in a decision.
If there is anything the pandemic can show us, it’s that going all-in does not guarantee success or stability. Life can throw any of us a curveball, no matter how prepared we think we are or how ‘wisely’ we make our decisions.
Perhaps those people I used to dismiss for being indecisive, ironically had it figured out. They’d known that the world is vast, and the ground is constantly shifting. They’d understood that the unknowns await exploration, that they might change their mind, they might desire something else – come a new day.
I admire the dedicated individuals out there who have gone all in and committed their lives to a single passion, to mastering a particular set of skills. I still look with wonder at the journalists and content creators whose focused bodies of work, break ground and drive change. But I also feel gratitude for the realisation that may not be my raison d’être, nor should it be.
There are waters to test, after all.