The reality of jobs and a career in your 20’s

This article was written by Billie-Louise Hoey.

When we’re in secondary school, we are told we need to make a decision about what we are going to do when we leave school. We are told that this decision needs to be really thought out and considered because it’ll impact your entire adult life. Looking back to that now, it seems pretty ridiculous that at 16 you are asked to decide what you want to do for the next 50 years when you still have to put your hand up and get permission to use the bathroom (?) 

After a conversation with my friends over coffee, everyone started to discuss how they felt they were doing in their twenties. I stayed quiet for a moment while I listened to what they had to say – the sixteen year old voice in my head quickly trying to piece together a sentence that sounded convincing that I knew exactly what I was doing with my life. One friend admitted she thought she would be married with kids by 25 with another explaining she isn’t anywhere near where she thought she would be. When did being in your twenties come with a checklists of things to achieve? Why are we all so panicked about these years of our lives? And where has this immense pressure to have it all figured out come from? I mean, it was slightly refreshing to know that even my friends had the same doubts, concerns and pressures I felt. I’ve never written anything with the intention of it being read before, but in that moment I had so many thoughts whirring around in my head, I wanted to write everything down so that other women in their twenties could read it and feel like they weren’t alone. So if you are at a point in your life where every choice seems totally overwhelming and the thought of another family party with your totally perfect sibling bragging to the rest of your family makes you want to throw up, then this Is certainly the article for you. 

I was a teen obsessed with make up and my trusty old 2true aqua blue eyeliner and rimmel mascara piled on three layers thick. Obviously. I loved spending hours doing my makeup and following all the nail trends – Including that god awful nail crackle trend. Still not sure what that was about. Not to mention straightening the heck out of my naturally wavy hair so that it was damaged beyond repair. So when I flicked through that glossy college catalogue the pristine girls in their pretty tunics appealed to me. I could do play with new products and makeup every day and get paid for it? Amazing. Alongside my hobby of trying to impress boys who turned out later in life to be total idiots I was also obsessed with criminal minds, CSI and most murder documentaries so to make sure I had consider all my options I thought I better check out a forensic science course too – I was making grown up decisions already. 

On the Beauty Therapy open day I was greeted by glamourous young women that looked like they came straight out of the fashion mags I read. They practically floated through demonstrating these amazing treatments with the most beautiful products I had ever seen. The therapists seemed so calm and stress free and I felt like I had found the thing I wanted to do. They told me the things you would cover in your level 2 and 3 courses and how it would open the doors for working on cruise ships or fancy hotels around the world. What was not to love?! All of this for 2 years of study and I could basically travel the world like some sort of celebrity. Count me in. 

I don’t actually remember too much about the Forensic Science open day. The room smelt like cleaning chemicals and no one looked calm or stress free. There was certainly no floating around the room. The students and the lecturer both looked totally miserable and I remember thinking what a mistake I had made leading my parents to think I could do this. I knew from the college brochure that this course was just the beginning of a very long and hard educational path. I listened and nodded while he explained I would learn about science, maths and law and should be able to find a job when I was in my 30s if I worked hard. I don’t think I could of looked more uninterested if I had tried. 30s? I couldn’t get my first proper job in my 30s! I had big plans and timelines which included husbands, three darling children, houses with garages, white picket fences and a Labrador by then. Sorry professor, this is not going to work for me. 

So I settled on Beauty Therapy. I worked my ass of for 2 years studying the anatomy of the human body, chemicals that are found in beauty products and specific skin conditions and how to treat/diagnose them. Alongside my exams, my part time job at KFC and studying I started ‘Blissful Beauty’ my very own mobile beauty therapy business. Armed with business cards printed with vista print and a very dodgy looking price list charging absolutely nothing for treatments I was making it in the world. 

What I will say is that anyone who thinks you just sit and paint nails is very wrong. The industry is hard and its cut throat. If you don’t know what you’re doing you can really hurt someone (or wax someones eyebrow off which I did in my first salon job a few years later) There are salons and mobile therapists everywhere so if you’re shit, you aren’t going to last 5 minutes. Two years on, I qualified as one of the top in my class and making some amazing friends on the way. I was totally ready to get into the world and make something of myself. I even had Pinterest boards on the go for my dream salon. 

Fast forward a few years and I was now an experienced therapist who qualified in additional specialties like laser hair removal, chemical peels and advance skincare. I was working 5 days a week and absolutely loving my job and my clients. Until the end of the month when I received my wages. At this point, I had moved into a rented house with my long term boyfriend, had two cats and a car to run and my wages just didn’t cover the lifestyle I wanted. I worked full time at a skincare clinic essentially managing it alongside doing treatments for my own clients around work for extra cash. I was clocking up so many hours and just felt so defeated at the end of the month. I had done my research and it wasn’t just me. Unfortunately, unless you work in a huge city, work for yourself or are extensively qualified the wages were basic minimum wage. Where was this on the open day? Why did the shiny magazine girls and the polished lecturers not prepare me for this?! I had dreams of beautiful holidays, new cars and at some point, a wedding with 5 bridesmaids and loads of fucking booze. How was I ever going to pay for this? 

My boyfriend earnt good money at the time as a manager of a well-known restaurant chain but my wage didn’t cover much when you’ve got rent, water bills and council tax to pay. Let alone any of the luxuries I wanted. So I was in a battle with myself, I worked so hard every day. Long hours, late evenings, Christmas and weekends and it felt so not worth it. Then the nagging voices of my teachers echoed in my head that I had made my choice and I had to make it work. It was too late to change my mind now. I was 21 and felt like I had ruined any chance of the life I had dreamt about. 

So I did something that scared me more than anything. I took inspiration from Jennifer Anniston in friends and I decided that I had to find something else. I wasn’t totally sure what that was going to be yet but hey, it worked out for her didn’t it? 

I applied for about 50 jobs with anything that looked like it had a decent wage. I applied for retail, sales and customer services as they all seemed to be skills I had already and was pleasantly surprised when I received some interviews. The first one was a ‘Marketing Executive’ helping to advertise stylish and affordable homeware. When I turned up it was a double-glazing company with an office than smelt like stale cigarettes and was full of pervy old men. No thank you. 

My second and third interviews were for a water company and a well-known logistics company both in customer services. The people were nice, and everyone seemed to have a real part to play in these big companies. Plus, you got your own little headset to take calls on which, at the time I thought made me a big-time female boss in a corporate world. Both interviews went well, they were local to home and paid around £8k more a year (Which was money I could only dream of having!) I was offered both jobs and chose the logistics company. The money was slightly better, and it was a Monday to Friday job. Winning. 

The next 18 months or so was uneventful. I was comfortable having a job that paid me the same every month and for 37.5hrs a week I was earning more than I ever had before. Sure, I was screamed at down the phone and spent the first few months occasionally crying in the bathroom when a customer was awful to me but no job working directly with people is ever all smooth sailing because the general rules is that people are idiots a fair amount of time. But I made friends, I did the best job I could and when progression was offered to me from my managers, I took it. I took on additional responsibilities training new hires and supporting some of the team, even stepping in as a team leader at times. I had enough money to buy a new car (it was a year old but it was rolls Royce compared to Chloe Corsa who was 21 years old and sounded like a tractor) I had been able to go on a few holidays and I had even got engaged and was thinking about a wedding. I couldn’t believe how different things were just 18 months on. 

I am the kind of person that gives everything I have to a job, but I get bored once I feel I’ve completed it so I don’t tend to stick around too long – usually around the 2 year mark I start to feel like I want more. So I look for the next step, the next progression. With that though comes its own challenges of more responsibility and the self-doubt that sets in. I’ve been able to progress well in the company so far and I never thought I’d say it but I like the stability of the 9-5. It’s not for everyone though and I’d be lying if I said I missed beauty. 

 It is so hard being in your 20s. I’ve got friends who are high up in their jobs because they chose the ‘right’ path when they left school. I’ve got friends who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing, and I’ve got friends who have completed all the big life goals in the last 5 years. I just think that when you look at your friends that you deem ‘successful’ you have to remember that there has usually been set backs before they got there. My family think I’ve got it all worked out but let me tell you, most of the time I don’t know what on Earth I am doing. I feel like a fraud because I look back over my working life and think ‘how did I manage to get here’, and that is totally okay. People don’t ever talk about it but its totally normal to not have a clue what’s happening. I don’t have a 5 year plan, as Pheobe once said  ‘I don’t even have a pla’ 

You work so you can live a life you are happy with. You don’t live to work. Okay you made a decision to study something when you were 16, times change it’s okay to change your mind and to want to take your life in a different direction. It’s also okay to be scared about making the right choices. I really don’t think everyone has their shit together as much as they make out – I know I don’t. But I have found a career somewhere I never ever imagined myself. Don’t feel obligated to stay somewhere you aren’t happy because you feel you should, especially if you’re worried how It looks to other people because deep down we are all 16 in the GCSE test hall staring at the first page of the test with no fucking clue what we’re going to write whilst all your pals scribble away. Just write something and the rest will work itself out.

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