My future career has been on my mind for a long time.

The 4 year old Laura aspired to be a farmer’s wife. She liked the idea of the outdoors, being surrounded by animals, but being a farmer was a man’s job. Aged 8, she dreamed of the stage, her name in lights, hoping for a career in acting. By 15, an aptitude for public speaking and a love of legal dramas persuaded her towards a career in law. At 21, nearing her final year of university, she just hopes for a work-life balance, productive training, some enjoyment, and decent salary.

We spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about and planning for our future careers. Our school life, our sixth form years, our university experience is all supposed to prepare us, for one day, pursuing a career – one which will ultimately influence where we live, our lifestyle, our families, our perspectives and our experiences. So why can’t we make such a lengthy process ‘slow’? Why do we discount all of our 4 year old ambitions in favour of corporate promises, larger salaries and The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers?

Because of the fast-stream mentality. The goal is to graduate with a job lined up, move through the levels, up the career ladder as quickly as possible – and simultaneously climb the property ladder, obtain the aspirational lifestyle, become financially secure…preferably before you’re 30. Because then you’re running out of time, especially as a woman. There is no time for creativity, innovation, social awareness, because we’re all just trying to get there (wherever there may be) as quickly as possible, because that’s what we should be doing.

This got me thinking about the idea of ‘fast-stream’ and I’ve concluded that it’s just words. Seemingly coined by the Civil Service graduate scheme, it suggests that it’s for the elite: those who are capable of more than progressing at an ‘average’ pace; an alternative, super-quick route into a career in government. Actually, it’s more or less the only the only way for graduates to enter the civil service because of a widespread recruitment freeze; nor is it a particularly fast process, at 4 years, double the length of most other large graduate schemes. There is absolutely no need for it to be referred to as a ‘fast-stream’, it is nothing more than the primary route for graduates to enter government jobs. However, the ‘top’ graduates of today like the idea of being catapulted into a career, and thrive off the notion of being able to complete a scheme quicker than the ‘average graduate’. It serves our egos, it gives us false promises of rapid routes to success.

And this is the mentality we need to change. It’s not just about taking the time to consider our ambitions, our values, our interests – but being allowed to do this. It is the responsibility of parents, schools and universities to help students broaden rather than narrow their horizons; to help young people understand the wide range of options open to them, rather than manipulate their interests into suitable graduate schemes, and then squeeze them further to fit into fast-streams. It’s also the responsibility of students to stick to their guns, and be able to focus on elements other than salaries and career progression. We need to start thinking about careers as more than day jobs, and as activities that we dedicate 40 hours of our week to. Is it enough to dedicate that much time, effort and commitment, for so much of our lives, to a cause we don’t believe in or agree with, just for a pay check?

I am months away from applying for graduate jobs, and slowly forcing myself to really think about what I’m going to do. I’m not sure that I want to be a farmer’s wife anymore, but I would like I job that means that I don’t sit at a desk all day every day. I value job security too much to try and pursue a career in acting, but it’s important to me to do something that I enjoy. I’ve learned that lawyers’ jobs aren’t quite like how they’re portrayed on tv, but I still want to do something that challenges me. I’m gradually putting together a portfolio of values, interests and qualities I’m searching for. I know what I don’t want to do, and that’s helping me decide what I do want to do. I will not be put off by the term ‘fast-stream’ because I know it doesn’t mean anything.

I’m changing my mentality, I’m putting my values first, I’m enjoying the journey rather than perceiving my career as a means to an end, I’m slow-streaming it.

Laura

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