Friday, 17 April 2009

Careers Advice

When I was five I went through my 'Watership Down' phase and wanted to be a rabbit when I grew up. Specifically, Hazel. Hazel was my hero: courageous, resourceful (maybe I had a tiny crush on him, I don't know). To her credit, my mother did nothing to disourage me, despite the difference in gender.

When I was sixteen I wanted to be a writer. I was good at English and liked writing poetry (some of it not so awful, even reading it back at this cringingly long distance.) I was going to do A-Level English and then go on to read English at university. This seemed to me the obvious route to being a writer: study lots of books and then write your own. Simples.

I was fuzzily aware in the back of my mind that there wasn't one of those nice management-training-course set-ups for wanting to be a writer; no-one took you on after university to write a book for them. So how did people become writers? There were journalists, screen writers, novel writers, magazine editors... There were a lot of words floating around but I wasn't sure how to get at them. I worked on the school magazine but I did the creative writing side and wasn't sure about factual writing. I was a bit scared of it.
So I made the terrible mistake of going to see the school careers advisor.


I think the clue was in the title. 'Careers'.
I spent some time in the tiny careers library looking at glossy leaflet options.
1) Let the army sponsor you through university? Great! Money to study... and then three years of killing people dead at 5am. I hate early mornings.
2) Management consultancy. Lots of money! Training following a 2:1 in any degree! Don't even understand what it is! (Although now I have lots of friends who work in management consultancy even they don't know what it is, so that needn't have put me off)
3) Accountancy! Training following a 2:1 in any degree, even English! Numbers! Lots and lots and lots of numbers! And being organised! And tidy!

It didn't occur to me that these glossy brouchures were created by companies who could afford to produce such things. Not one of those leaflets was 'how to be Roald Dahl', '10 steps to becoming Stephen Fry' or 'Margaret Atwood 1,2,3'.

So the meeting with the careers advisor began. I have to mention (you might have guessed from the fact we even had such a thing as a careers library) that my school was a bit academic and was very good at getting clever girls into Oxbridge. All well and good.

"So, what is it that you're interested in?"
"Well, I'm good at English and I'm planning on studying it at university."
"And how can I help you?"
"Well, I'm wondering about, well, jobs after it [I didn't have a word for the thing that writers did. 'Job' didn't really seem right]."
"Of course, a degree in any subject [even English, it was implied] can lead on to all sorts of things. Had you got anything in mind?"
"I like writing."
His shiny little cherry-blossom face lit up.
"Ahh! Wait one moment."
He rustled around on the shelves and came back with an assortment of glossy brochures.
"Have you considered a career in advertising?"

Now, I know some perfectly nice people who work in advertising. It is a very good career and pays well. But advertising is the devil and accounts for about 90% of misery in the western world by promoting lifestyles and aspirations that people can't afford and don't need.

After discussing the routes into advertising and the possibility of one day, if I worked hard, maybe even writing snappy captions for shampoos, I went away clutching a pile of glossy brochures with such titles as 'Marketing for Graduates' and 'Advertising 1,2,3'.
I felt oddly let down, although I couldn't say why.

I just felt further than ever from Stephen Fry.


LL said...

Genius for crafting art is never a career. The best writers are obsessed and haunted such that the need to write is endemic. In that way, artists never really work for anyone except themselves.

It's not a particularly great thing to be, but if you are, you don't have much choice because you are.

A lot of artists have a "day job" to pay bills. Consider J. K. Rowling's history. She never had a career and never will. She's an artist. She's also one of if not the richest people in the UK. But even if she only made pennies, she would have written. She would have been an artist.

And some dullard who has the brochures and career path guides to flog to the "great unwashed" will never understand that.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to be Hazel, too - great pic - yours too. Hearing 'Bright Eyes' still makes me cry.