Growing Pains and Growing Privileges

By now I feel like half my blogs start by explaining why they were delayed. This time, I feel like I’ve had not just one, but a succession of good excuses, including:

  • Looking for a new job as my contract was extended repeatedly without any sign of stability for months
  • Trying to find somewhere to live when it emerged that my boyfriend could move up north to finally escape from the trauma of long distance
  • Finding a flat, doing a metric tonne of paperwork and eventually having to move in and unpack
  • Learning to live with a bloke with whom, up until now, I’d never spent more than 10 days in a row
  • Waving off my baby brother when he emigrated
  • Getting a new job, starting it during the busiest week of the year and facing a massive learning curve because it’s totally different to anything I’ve done before.

Let’s take them one at a time, shall we?

Fixed-term fever

Here’s the thing with a fixed-term contract: it might get extended. It might even lead to a permanent job. But you won’t know that until the last possible moment.

Take my latest contract extension. From October 31st to May 1st, I had an extra six months. Then the website I was working on was pushed back into May, and someone eventually said in April “Hey, we’d better keep her around to work on it”. So I was meant to be unemployed at the end of May instead, and I was planning for this. I updated my CV, applied for jobs. Then, in early May, I was offered an extra month, because the department I worked in had an extra job that needed doing.

Given that they were waiting for funding for a permanent job, and the feeling was that I was probably a shoo-in for it, and I hadn’t had a better offer, I took the extension. But to be fair, they’d also been talking about this role they were creating for months, and I was cynical enough to know that I needed to keep applying.

The job they were holding out in front of me like a certain white whale was right up my street. It was basically a more interesting version of what I was already doing – writing copy for a website, but with more in-depth features and interviews, a budget to commission video and audio work etc. I knew I could do it. But therein lay the problem: if I could already do it and I knew it wouldn’t be a challenge, why bother?

I was already bored rigid at work and I didn’t know where I was going. So eventually, I managed to get another job. And get this – no, seriously – it’s actually related to my degree.

Medieval merriment

If you’ve been brave enough to follow this blog (or me, for that matter) for long enough, you’ll know that I had fully accepted there would never be a job in my field of study. There’s only so far an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Literary Studies will get you in any particular industry, unless you’re doing a PhD or plan on teaching exclusively Chaucer and Shakespeare.

I accepted that long ago. I would never regret one of the best years of my life, where I threw myself into a subject I loved, gained skills and experience I wouldn’t have had outside university and did some much-needed growing up. But there was never going to be a job in medieval or Renaissance studies, because they don’t exist.

Except that one of the biggest medieval studies conferences in the world needs medievalists to plan and programme it. Step forward, Parkin. We’ve finally found a use for you.

My first day in the job wasn’t technically a day. It was a Sunday night, because delegates were arriving and it turned out that the week I needed to start this job was the week when this massive conference that takes a year to plan and prepare takes place. The good news was that this meant nobody could ask me anything because I literally had no answers (except to “Where are the loos?” – I got that one down pretty quickly).

This job is totally different to anything I’ve done before. There are places where I can use what I’m good at (the website’s a mess and I want to fix it, for example), but in many ways I’m learning from scratch. Ultimately, that’s exactly what I need: at least every day won’t be boring.

Sort your shit out

This blog started life as a way for me to negotiate the growing pains of leaving university and trying to find my feet outside of academic life. You’d think that finally finding a job that specifically relates to my degree – a qualification deemed pointless by half the people I know – would be a huge moment; that the past four years would culminate in a great big fanfare of trumpets (or lutes, more appropriately).

Even four months ago, that would probably have been true – I’m dating a trumpet player, so the fanfare might have been the easy bit. Yet in reality, it’s just been one element in a period of massive change, subsumed into that rich tapestry that we lazily describe life as.

I no longer live in the house where I grew up: a place I never expected to go back to when I left university, but which will always be my home. My brother left a few weeks before I did (a fact the cheeky sod pointed out with glee), and now he’s a flight away. My parents actually have to talk about things that aren’t us now. And as I spend the next year bumbling around trying to learn a job I’ve never done before the next conference, I also have to learn to share space, cooking, housework and more with another human being.

This shit is hard, man. I’m very privileged to be in this position, and I know that for many people one or all of the things I’ve experienced this summer might be unattainable. Yet to have them all come at once is more than a little surreal; negotiating them at the same time is a challenge.

Don’t all the best challenges make you want to rip your hair out sometimes? (If the answer’s no, don’t tell me.)

It’s not like I ever thought I had my shit together – I’ve usually said exactly the opposite – but I’ve realised just how much I’ve still got to learn. As everyone’s favourite childish humour-based band Blink-182 once said, I guess this is growing up.


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