Remember the opening scene from Bridget Jones’ Diary?
“Great. I was wearing a carpet.”
Our protagonist, aloof in a sea of Christmas jumpers and turkey curry, does her best to deflect dirty uncles and that “one question dreaded by all singletons”.
“So… how’s your love life?” slurs her gropy ‘Uncle G’.
“Not my real uncle.”
“Super, thanks Uncle G!” she replies, like a drawstring doll chirping out a catchphrase. Luckily for Bridge, her Mr. Darcy is mere metres away and her eventual ‘happily ever after’ ensues.
But what about those of us without Colin Firth to help fulfil us? What about those of us who have no idea what their Happily Ever After even looks like, let alone where to look for it? At least Miss Jones already had a job.
Strip away the unfortunate Christmas apparel; swap the intimacy inquiries with probing ‘post-grad’ questions and it’s a story every undergrad student knows all too well.
“So… what are you going to do with a creative writing degree?” a nosy patron probes at the local bar, where I work.
I make a spiel about “transferrable skills” and how “communication is one of the most highly valued assets by potential employers these days”. I continue to inundate him with statistics about journalism’s new ‘niche market’ until his expression shifts from one of curiosity to poorly-masked pity – although maybe that’s the booze kicking in.
Happy hour is OVER.
Luckily, I hear a glass shatter somewhere in the courtyard and excuse myself – pulse racing; palms balmy. Why do I feel like an imposter in my own life? Am I the only one?
I remember my first week of University. I had just sat through my first 2 ½ hour tute in post-high school French and finished my first ever coffee – ah, sweet innocence (2 sugars, actually). Unsure of the ‘toilet break’ policy, I briskly made my way to the bathroom after the class. There, above the toilet role, it read: ‘Bachelor of Arts: take one!’
‘Well jeez,’ I joked to a classmate later that day ‘if it was this easy, why did I bother busting my ass through VCE?’
But that ‘shitty’ image stuck with me – and, as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one.
Georgia Polmear, (almost B.A.) came to the University of Melbourne as a decorated student: Drama Captain, Poetry Prize Winner, Debating Champion, Gymnastics Captain as well as scoring nearly 50 on her Studio Arts folio – an accomplished woman, even by Mr. Darcy’s standards.
Yet, in spite of these successes, she is quick to dismiss this époque of her education.
“I suppose it sounds good when you rattle them off like that… But that was high school. It doesn’t really matter anymore. Plus, it was a totally different pool of people to Uni.”
As well as her academic achievements, Georgia was also home-schooled for the first nine years of her education. Upon reflection, she admits this to be one of the most instrumental and informative eras of her life.
“I remember how free I felt. I was at that limitless age where I knew I could be anything I wanted, both now and in a future sense.”
Spreading her days between self-directed study, excursions, family debates and circus school, Georgia recalls a time free of insecurity and full of possibility.
“It didn’t even occur to me that I’d have to choose just one area of study. I loved playing something new every day.”
You go girl.
And play she did. After a two-year slug at her Arts degree and an ever-plummeting sense of purpose, Georgia left university to finally pursue her acting dream. It took thousands of dollars in VET fees and therapy to get her there – but, at last, she “found her roots”.
Of course, as an actor, she still faces that dreaded question – perhaps even more than an Arts Student – but she’s found the ‘happy’ party of her ‘ever after’, which is more than many of us can say.
And it’s not just the Arts students.
By the time he was 22, Andrew Sheahan was successfully co-managing two small local businesses and in the beginnings of launching his own start-up PR company. He had also initiated a charity expedition to Cambodia and was undoubtedly that kid with a lucrative profit margin at his neighbourhood lemonade stand.
Like Georgia, his past is paved with passion projects and accomplishments that ascend beyond his years. He is a born entrepreneur.
Why, then, is he currently “battling” his way through a Masters in Engineering?
“People kept asking me what I was going to do with my undergrad in engineering.” He admits.
“I felt like I didn’t have enough life experience to start out on my own, so I went back to do post-grad.”
So where does his start-up dream fit in?
“I’ve just got to put it off until I’m done. It’s frustrating, because I realise that this stuff is what I’ve always been good at, but there’s just too much pressure to prove myself academically.”
In a way, Georgia and Andrew are lucky. In spite of prospective pressures, they’ve managed to cotton onto what Psychology refers to as their ‘calling’
What about the rest of us who don’t know ‘what we’re going to do’? What about those of us who are so busy trying not to appear ‘lost’ that they daren’t pull over and ask for directions?
Well, according to wellbeing facilitator and positive psychologist, Michelle McQuaid, we can start by asking the right questions, using a technique called “Appreciative Inquiry”.
Michelle explains that appreciative inquiry is a model of analysis that uses four, simple questions to recognize the best in people or organizations.
“It’s about affirming past and present strengths, successes and potentials; to perceive those things that give us life.”
The four areas of inquiry include DISCOVERY, DREAM, DESIGN and DESTINY/DEPLOY:
Participants are encouraged to choose a ‘Positive Topic’ into which they will inquire.
In organisations, this topic may be wide and universal, such as: “Best Practice Teaching” or “School-wide wellbeing”, but Michelle reminds us that “A.I. can also be applied on an individual level”.
For example: “Enjoying my education” or “Fulfilment at work”.
“One of the founding principles of A.I. is that ‘what we focus on grows’” Michelle explains.
“When we only focus on ‘solving problems’ we end up limiting ourselves to ‘issue-based’ thinking. Similarly, when we only focus on a student’s lack of employment or stability in the future, they think and act accordingly – from a place of intimidation, instead of inspiration.”
Michelle talks me through a personal Appreciative Inquiry, and the research resonates. While I don’t believe we should get bogged-down in the past, it is a story worth re-reading when equipped with such an expansive lens.
In fact, I can’t help but be reminded of an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that shall be infinitely shared on Instagram posts for years to come:
Perhaps Appreciative Inquiry is a way for us to gift-wrap the past in a way that makes us excited rip it open each day. Instead of faking future plans and spiels about the ‘niche demand’ we can revel a little in the reality of our prior awesomeness.
Maybe then, when our respective ‘Uncle Gs’ ask us what the hell we’re going to do next, we’ll be wrapped to tell them (then make a b-line for the turkey curry buffet).