Making a decision about careers – a job in itself!

When I started this blog, I said I would write about my experiences as a graduate – when you hear graduate, you immediately think of the dire unemployment statistics (at least in the UK, anyway). The latest unemployment figures show that graduate employment is at a record high, with a quarter of the most-recent graduates still not employed in any kind of work after graduating nine months ago (which is on par with those who didn’t attend college or university). Although I would say I am lucky in that finding paid work hasn’t necessarily been a struggle for me so far (more on that later) I, myself, have spent a fair bit of time stood in the dole queue whilst waiting for my job to start, quite possibly the most depressing place on earth. The people there range from those that have been made redundant in the recession (as some of my family were) who are trying to raise children and desperately put food on the table, to university leavers like myself, to those who blatantly have no intention of finding any sort of paid work, and are more than happy to live off the state while slobbing around on the sofa, beer in hand, watching, or even appearing on, Jeremy Kyle (I’m not knocking this, I love a bit of Jezza). If you think I’m generalising, I don’t mean to, this is my direct experience, and I found that the latter actually received preferential treatment from the jobcentre – I think the poor staff just wanted them to stop shouting at them and make them go away as quickly as possible.

The past few years have quite possibly been the worst time ever to attend university. Course fees are getting higher and higher (thanks, Nick Clegg, for conning students into voting for you, then reward them by being too weak-willed to oppose the fee rises) whilst employment prospects are getting lower and lower. Yet, as part of the baby boom generation, we were brought up to believe that we could achieve whatever we wanted to, and thanks to the feminist push for equality, this included women also. Do the statistics now mean we should turn our back on our dreams and aspirations and settle for second best?

I still don’t think so. Although I am the first to admit I am afraid of things falling apart, the fear of failing isn’t as awful as the fear of getting to your deathbed, and regretting all the things you haven’t done – the fear of ‘what if’ is terrifying. I’ve found, if you work hard enough, someone, somewhere, will notice you. After graduating, I sent out hundreds of application letters to all sorts of different jobs – at that point, after a psychology degree, I felt I should pursue a career relating to this, but I wasn’t choosy about what I went for. I applied for everything from care assistant jobs to assistant psychologist posts (incredibly optimistic)…however, despite the current economic climate, I was choosy about what job I actually took. After spending half a day at one care home witnessing the horrific way the residents were treated, I walked out and never returned.

I was finally offered an interview at a psychiatric hospital (the very one where the word ‘bedlam’ originated from…I would soon find out why after I took up the post!) and was one of the lucky 8 who were offered a job out of 30 after a day of group tasks, improvisation, answering questions we hadn’t prepared for, and individual interviews. I later found out that over 300 people had applied for job.

I’m making this point because I am no more special that anyone else, I just spent a lot of time and effort on my applications, worked hard at the interview and had a genuine desire to get the job. I believe it was a case of being in the right place at the right time – the other hundreds of employers clearly looked at my CV and application and threw it straight in the bin, while this one thought I might be good enough for the job. I strongly believe that, particularly in today’s market, persistence is the most important quality to have.

As it turned out, the job didn’t work out. It was literally bedlam. I’m now working as a special needs teaching assistant which, don’t get me wrong, is extremely challenging, but I adore all of the children, and love seeing them each day.

Now, despite how confident I may seem about going for your dream, I have another side of me which craves the security of a stable job and good money, as it’s one less thing to worry about and, yes, although money isn’t everything, being able to afford a nice house, car and lifestyle certainly helps! I strongly want to be able to stand on my own two feet. So I have found myself at a crossroads about what I want to do next year. I feel that it’s time to move on from this job, and have been offered a place on a teacher training course which, although it is a great opportunity, I am now having doubts about. From this, I’d hope to go on to train as an educational psychologist in the future. On the other hand, I have always wanted to be a journalist. I suppose you would describe it as my dream. Both are equally as competitive, and yet somehow, becoming a journalist feels like the more risky option. Possibly because I want it more, it means the fear of failing is even greater? Or perhaps it’s the feeling of not being good enough? Either way, it is a genuine dilemma, and I have no idea what to do. Maybe I should settle for the safe option – after all, there is no dispute that these are difficult times with no sign of light on the horizon. Or, maybe I should join my friends, the majority of whom are feeling despondent after facing rejections on a daily basis, and are living hand-to-mouth, but are staying true to themselves and chasing after what they really want to do. After all, there’s always the lottery to fall back on. Perhaps I need to put myself in the slippers of my future grey-haired, wrinkly self, lying on that bed, wishing she could give a naive 22 year-old the kick up the arse she needs to chase after what she really wants…

Advertisements

Get stuffed! (for beginners): Stuffed chicken wrapped in parma ham with cheesy potatoes and veg

So this is the first time I have cooked a proper homemade, keep-an-eye-on-the timings, no-microwave-involved (well, maybe a little) meal for a family. Ever. And the fact it is my family that will be on the receiving end of my culinary blood, sweat and tears makes this even more nerve-racking.

To explain, my stepfather is the undisputed master of blunt, obscure criticism (‘are you going to get changed before we go out?’), usually cuttingly delivered as he lounges on the sofa, one eye on the tv, beer can in hand, completely oblivious to the effect his unwitting remarks have. I have observed many a fiery argument between him and his daughter with this issue as the root cause. At least, being her only child, I can rely on my mother to say nice things regardless of how foul tasting, or burnt my well-intentioned meal turns out to be. Hopefully.

 

Ingredients (for 4 people)

200g low-fat cream cheese

Spinich

Chives, chopped finely

Cherry tomatoes

4 chicken breasts

4 medium jacket potatoes

8 slices of parma ham

Cheese (the amount depends on how cheesy you like your potatoes!)

Vegetables of your choice (I used broccoli, carrots and asparagus)

I largely made this recipe up from a few different ones I found courtesy of a google search and adapted it as I went along, so if you do attempt this, you may find you need to do the same! I’ll post the recipe then post details of how I found each step underneath.

1. Put jacket potatoes in oven (200˚c) for 50 minutes

(I found the potatoes still weren’t cooked after this amount of time, so I slung them in the microwave – shh… – for another couple of minutes afterwards, which did the trick)

2. Split chicken breasts down the middle, making a pocket, and spoon 120g of the cream cheese, mixed with chives, into it.

(This was bloody difficult. Far harder than I expected, especially actually cutting the chicken breasts. It was like cutting into rubber! Use a good, sharp knife, try not the puncture through the bottom, or opposite side of the chicken – like I did – and ‘spoon’ the cream cheese in with a knife…not a spoon. Thankfully, if you do go wrong, you can still be saved by the next step. I also thought putting some cherry tomatoes in the chicken would be good, but I couldn’t find any room to stuff mine in!)

3. Wrap each chicken breast in a slice of parma ham

(Now this is what the recipe officially recommends…but, especially if you’re a beginner, use 2 slices. This means you can trap the cream cheese more easily if it’s oozing everywhere! Also, be aware that parma ham is ridiculously thin, and mine broke apart continuously. In fact, it was at this point I exclaimed to my despairing mother ‘who the hell would find cooking relaxing?! I’m never doing it again!’)

4. Put chicken breasts in the oven for 35-40 minutes (make sure juices run clear)

(Relief. Now I just needed to make sure I didn’t poison the family)

5. Prepare the vegetables

(By this point I realised I had tons of vegetables and had to think of creative ways to include them on the plate. I ended up boiling the carrots and broccoli for around 8 minutes, and the asparagus for 4. Do this step just before you get the chicken out so the vegetables don’t get cold)

6. Take out chicken breasts and jacket potatoes

(Make sure everything’s cooked – my chicken was possibly a little dry because I’d been overcautious to ensure any risk of salmonella had been zapped – and my potatoes were quite undercooked. Hello microwave!)

7. Take out pulp of potato and mix with butter, cream cheese, chives, spinich and finely chopped cherry tomatoes. Grate some cheese on top, and return to oven for 5-10 minutes

(Literally, at this point, everything went wrong. The vegetables were cooking at different rates, some potatoes were still in the microwave, and I was desperately attempting to get everything mixed into the potato pulp whilst scorching my fingers and cursing under my breath. Eventually, and I hate to admit this, I had to call for assistance from my on-standby mother. However, this is the woman who purchases ready-made mashed potato from the supermarket so, even with the combined force of the two of us, I wasn’t expecting miracles)

8. Serve

(Thank God! It was over! I wanted to serve the chicken in a slightly more fancy way, so I placed the chicken on a bed of spinach, and arranged some cherry tomatoes around this. Then plonked the potatoes and vegetables on as fast as I could as I was starving).

So the final verdict – I’d say not a bad attempt, but certainly not a resounding success (I had to call in my mum for a start – shameful!) I found some of the filling had escaped from the chicken when in the oven (due to idiotic wrapping with the parma ham) so the chicken was slightly dry. I loved the potato concoction, this was my favourite part, although again it could have done with a bit more moisture, so possibly add some milk to the pulp when mixing (adding milk seems increasingly to be common guesswork in my recipes!) Overall, it was a nice meal, though I should point out the portion size was HUGE (not a problem in our family, we are human dustbins). But the biggest success – not one word of criticism from the notoriously critical stepfather. Not one! Unfortunately this didn’t last and, later that night my new haircut got a rather severe, classically oblivious bashing as we ate our pudding….

Gambling – why is it so, well, addictive?

Who hasn’t played the lottery before? We all do it, we all say we don’t expect to win, yet if we truly believed it, why do we spend our hard-earned money on it? Because somewhere, deep down, we do think we’re going to win. We watch the tv on a Saturday night (or check the numbers the next day for those lucky enough to have a life on a Saturday night!) and still get the slightly elevated heart-rate, tingling in your fingers whilst gripping on to your ticket, waiting for your numbers to flash up…and then experience the gut-wrenching disappointment when they inevitably never do. Or, very occasionally, the overwhelming excitement of winning £10, quickly followed by the comedown when you realise it’s still not the £1,000,000 you secretly hoped it would be. So why do we do it?

Well, I actually know (or, should I say, knew) someone who has won the lottery in the past few months. In fact, it was one of the biggest wins ever in Britain at £46,000,000. And I used to be in the same class as him at school. And possibly, even worse than that, I had recently been asked out by his best friend, who has just received a best-friend bonus gift of over £1,000,000. Sucks to be me! (Is it too late to get in contact do you think…?)

With another lucky winner having a large lottery influx just before my schoolmate in the same city, my hometown started being toted in the press as being ‘lucky’, and I began to wonder if some of this so-called ‘luck’ might have rubbed off on me. Which has led me, for the first time in around 5 years, to play the lottery tonight.

I decided I’d buy my tickets online (as it’s clearly too much effort to get up and actually go out mid-day on a lazy Saturday while watching old ER episodes back-to-back), but there was only one problem – you have to deposit a minimum of £5 and tickets are £1 each. I assessed my laziness, and decided to go ahead with this – I spent £2 on two tickets, and decided to spend my remaining £3 on the instant win online games…a rocky road, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, I was amazed (or, deep down, was I half expecting/hoping for it?) to find that I began winning – very small sums, a £1 here, £2 there…until the big one. £5! Now, I had a dilemma – at £6 left in my online lottery funds, do I pay the money back into my account, or keep playing? Thankfully I did the sensible thing (bearing in mind, I am a graduate on a less-than-graduate salary) – I drew my £5 back out (effectively getting tonight’s tickets for free) and would play with the last remaining £1. I was sure to win, wasn’t I? I’d been on such a winning streak so far…

I didn’t win. And then I felt it – the mild disappointment, the small hole of emptiness of knowing that my chances of winning the big money had vanished and, more scarily, the desire to transfer more money in my attempt to win. At that point, I closed the site down, and hid my purse from myself until the sensations subsided, vowing to giving the gambling a break for a while.

Until tonight, of course, where I still have my two lottery tickets. And, failing to find myself a life this Saturday night, I’ll be there, in front of the tv, waiting and secretly half-expecting to see my numbers flash across the screen. Will I win? I doubt it. But there’s still that hidden part of me, deep down, that isn’t quite so sure…

The life of an Amateur Graduate: Learning to survive in the real world and other essential life skills

Life of an amateur graduate – bit of a strange name for a blog isn’t it?

Like most new bloggers I suspect, I have just sat in front of my laptop for a good, ooh, half an hour or so trying desperately to come up with an interesting, witty name that might capture even just one person’s attention and make them take a precious few minutes out of their day to linger on this page. After failing to do so, I then thought I’d choose a title that simply reflects me. That took probably another 15 minutes on top of that. Have you noticed how difficult it is to sum yourself up in just a few words? Maybe it’s us Brits that struggle more with this! For me personally, job interviews that ask you to ‘describe yourself in 3 words’, or ‘tell us what qualities your friends say you have’ make my palms go clammy and my heart sink, and I’ll spout out something generic such as ‘fun, friendly, polite’ very unconvincingly (despite liking to think I do actually possess these qualities!) That question is usually the kiss of death for me.

So, back on point, I think the title of ‘amateur graduate’ sums me up fairly well. I graduated back in 2010 and, I have to say, although being a student was undoubtedly the best time of my life, it in no way prepares you for the real world. Yes, you work hard (usually), yes, the social aspect is great (I was unbearably shy before starting university and was slowly but surely brought out of my shell); but unless your future career path involves pulling all nighters with copious amounts of energy drink before a 9 a.m. exam, becoming addicted to Jeremy Kyle (despite your best efforts) or learning the rules to the ‘take me out’ drinking game, graduating from the student lifestyle can be a real eye opener! After growing up thinking that a shiny degree can take you any place you like, leaving university and entering the ‘real world’ in a recession is pretty daunting for most.

Saying this, I have to explain, despite being a hard worker and quite focused, I have been described on occasion as ‘ditzy’, and many of my friends have compared me to Bridget Jones (maybe I should tell my next interviewer that if the dreaded quesion arises!) so certain toils for me tend to be more pronounced! (A perfect example occurred just before writing this post as, while attempting to activate my ‘wordpress’ account, I inexplicably forgot my email password I have used every day for the past 3 years).

Therefore, this blog will document my experiences of cooking (I plan to cook one new recipe a week and, coming from someone who ruined a pot noodle, this is no mean feat), career struggles I’m sure myself and many other graduates are experiencing, and the hellish prospect (sorry mum) of moving home after university. I also will write more specific posts on my experience with taking roaccutane (anyone unlucky enough to suffer with bad skin will be familiar with this), reviews on health/beauty products, and generally write ideas as they come to me in the hope that some of you out there will find them interesting or helpful.

For anyone still reading – I admire your dedication! I’ll post again soon, so I hope you’ll check back in with me then 🙂