My final year as a university student happened to be during the time of the infamous Global Financial Crisis of 2007–2008.
As a Media graduate with eyes set on finding work in an already competitive industry, I was unprepared for what the recession meant for employment opportunities in the creative sector.
Fortunately, my retail job kept me afloat and my naiveté about the ‘real world’ given the luxury of living with my parents allowed me to keep pursuing my creative goals. I will never take this for granted but I won’t lie and say that being a graduate without any proper job prospects didn’t affect me mentally and emotionally.
The truth is, it was really hard.
To wake up each day with aspirations to become a writer, filmmaker and performer but facing rejection after rejection, soon took its toll. My frustrations would often surface during my retail shifts, when demanding customers would trigger my every nerve, causing me to storm off into our stockroom where I would let out a wailing scream and brush away a few tears.
How can it be taking this long to find a job in my chosen field? How is it that even having graduated with Honours, no one will give me a chance to show what I can do? Why am I stuck in a place where people constantly complain and berate me when I have the burning desire to create and achieve amazing things?
Back then, we weren’t equipped with all of the terminology, but I am thankful for the rise in mental health awareness in our current times. Feelings of fear, anxiety, depression — these do not discriminate — we all at some stage of our lives find ourselves battling the symptoms, which span across a very wide spectrum.
I don’t want to misuse the term, but as the months (and years) passed after graduating from university, I definitely found myself experiencing bouts of mild depression. I struggled to wake up some mornings, I felt unworthy and hopeless, disconnected from a sense of purpose. Yes, I could still fulfil my daily responsibilities, have fun with my friends and put on smile, but deep down inside — I contemplated giving up on my dreams because it was all too hard and I just wasn’t good enough (so I believed).
This, as I like to identify it, is the Silent Struggle. This is what impacts many young people who like me, have followed a creative passion, done further study, only to be left unemployed and anxious about their future.
Some say that we’re ungrateful because at least we had the privilege to be educated. Some say that we’re spoilt and entitled because we still live at home. Some say that we’re lazy and impatient because we expect to get things without doing the work.
Not all of it is completely untrue but this is what I believe to be absolutely true:
Young creative people desire to change the world for good, but the world around them rarely nurtures their goodness.
In my work with The Mentorship over these last couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some brilliant young people ready to contribute their creative talents to industry and the economy. Some as actors and musicians, others as writers, video producers and social media creators. I see a lot of myself in them — so passionate about their craft, enjoying their three or so years at university, experimenting and honing their skills.
Also like me, post-graduation left them feeling lost and confused, unsure of their career pathway and life purpose.
Their experiences, so similar to mine all these years later, got me wondering about so many things — about education, employment and importantly, how the gap between the two is impacting the mental health, wellbeing and the ability of future generations to contribute to society and the economy.
For young creators, the struggle is even more muted — they are the overlooked and undiscovered artists who cannot seem to find a place to utilise their passions and skills because social structures are not built well enough to accommodate them.
The bubble of education whilst affording them the time and facilities to develop their craft, has not prepared them for the real world. After graduating, they are immediately cut-off from the resources, expected to carve out a path in the industry as independent creatives, assumed to have confidence in all of the knowledge, skills and experience that one can muster during a stressful season of study and learning.
For a few, this is a welcome challenge, for they are naturally equipped with the tenacity, determination and resilience in the job search, fearlessly positioning themselves in environments where they can network and create work opportunities.
For most however, it is a daunting transition, where anxiety about the future and possible failure, greatly hinders progress.
This anxiety, often instigated by societal expectations; seems to be rising in those young people somewhat stuck ‘in the middle’. These are the youth neither from disadvantaged nor wealthy backgrounds, but those deemed privileged enough to have an education and thus, self-sufficient enough to get a job.
This is the bracket of young people who are equipped with the skills and talents to make important contributions, yet lack the encouragement and opportunities to do so. This is most prevalent in the creative sector, which unlike fields such as medicine or engineering, is often regarded as ‘non-essential’ to the way a society and economy operates.
I touched on it in my first post but it’s worth reiterating that those with the innate desire to make art and contribute their creative spirit, can truly make an important difference in the world.
There are no limits to the imagination, and creative people hold a unique power to find alternative solutions to our collective problems, if only we reserve a place for them at the table.
By doing so, we might also help affirm a young person’s significance — we help them see the potential of their voice, lifting them out of the silence that leaves many feeling helpless and afraid.