Motivated, educated but working in a shop? Wendy Clarke knows just how you're feeling

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There's a brand new depression about but you won't get it if you're decisive, already "successful" and a man. I've got no scientific evidence to support this new feeling, just lots of conversations. "Oooh," big sigh, "I don't know," said a friend of mine one day at the shop where we work. "There are too many choices now, which is great. I mean, everybody wants a good job. But I don't know what's going to make me really happy. What if it isn't what I studied for? I certainly don't want to be a sales assistant for the rest of my life."

Like me, my confidante is well-educated and ambitious. Both of us have good degrees, yet somehow after university it had all become hazy. Okay, so we were paying off our debts, saving up for extra courses and making contacts. But just paddling in this vacuum was leading to all kinds of personal re-assessment. "It's not that I don't want choices, but what are the right ones? How come not so long ago it was considered all right to be just a housewife? Not that that's not difficult."

So, what happens if I don't make it, and what if it doesn't make me happy? If I don't have a "posh job", have I failed? I began to realise that most of my friends would die rather than admit that having a menial part-time job and kids (in the country, of course) might lead to happiness. As the proud possessor of a fashion degree, I can see that this feeling is as "fashiony" as fashion itself. "Darling! Let's do the opposite of romantics next season, I can't cope with any more frills," could easily translate into, "You know, this image of all young women having a high-powered job is out. Let's do confusion next season as a reaction. I can see it now."

Tell someone that you've done everything you can think of to get that top job and have no idea what to do next and they'll smile sympathetically and say, "It will come." As likely as not they'll also presume that you're unmotivated, despite your string of qualifications and work experience. It shouldn't really be a taboo subject. After all, some of the most "successful" people around have drifted into their chosen field by accident. In fact, at one point I decided to do teacher training so that I would have a profession from which to drift (think of Michael Palin and Sting). But the reversed roles just made me want to be the pupil coming up with the new ideas.

Doing something that you're heart isn't in is enough of a reminder to make you fight ferociously for your dreams, however out of reach they may feel. To swim through this confusion of harsh reality after your degree and make it to the other side is another achievement. As my friend says, "It isn't just about being successful, because successful could mean being happy. It's about actually being famous or having an interesting job title - the aims are much more 'look at me'-orientated."

When I left university, hardly anyone kept in touch with each other. Grapevines wither after nearly three years and I wonder what rumours, if any, are circling about me. We still assume that if a person has diverged from their original plans it means things didn't quite work out, never that they might be happy doing something else. But before you can know something wasn't worth it, or just not for you, you have to have the chance to try it.

One friend who is 28, but still hasn't managed to break into her chosen field of design despite a BA, an MA and work experience, admits, "By the time I do it I don't think I'll have the motivation anymore. I've had too much time to worry about what will actually make me happy, and perhaps - though I hate to admit it, because it's not very cool - I'd be happier doing something more soul-rewarding. Maybe I've changed, but I don't feel I can put it into practice because I haven't been given the chance to do what I was trained for. It's still hanging over me. I just feel that as a woman today I can't allow myself to accept any old job."

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