I read Past Bedtime



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10 Things I Learned About Myself After Completing an Intensive AF Grad Scheme

Enrolling onto a grad scheme that claims to offer you responsibility from day one and has at least 5 hoops to jump through before being offered a position is the next logical step for any self-respecting millennial grad.

Why then, are so many of us turning away from the prospect so early in our careers? We’ve all heard the line that we’re not succeeding in competitive fields because we’re entitled and everyone won a participation award on Sports Day, but come on – there has to be something more to it than that.

Having just arrived at the halfway point of my two-year grad scheme, I won’t be adding myself to the statistic of leavers just yet. Still, that’s not to say I didn’t come pretty darn close along the way.

Grad schemes reel you in by claiming to kick-start your career in a competitive market – rapidly teaching the skills you need to be successful later on. It’s way too early to vouch for whether this is true or not for me, but I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself this year. Here are the 10 things I’ve taken away from the first year of an intensive AF grad scheme.

1. My priorities take the following order and little else matters:

1. Relationships
2. Writing
3. Food
4. Work
5. Sleep
6. Exercise

If this year has taught me one thing, it’s that you can survive on 6 hours a night for a good 6 weeks before it starts to catch up with you. When you’re working late into the evening, the amount of free time going to bed at 12am instead of 10pm gave back to me was a total revelation (and no, I didn’t use that time to fit in a workout..)

But while I was happy to compromise sleep to make sure I met all my deadlines, there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing the people that mattered.

At uni, work was undoubtedly number one priority. I was terrible for pieing people off (nod to Love Island) because I felt I had too much on. These days? I see my loved ones as I please and know that the work will happen somehow (so far it always has).

2. You can’t please everybody, but you can try your best not to actively piss them off

Imagine how royally pissed I was when I found out that one of the actual compulsory classes during preparation for my grad scheme was a lesson on how to be nice to people, turn up on time and take feedback constructively.

Um, duh?

Six months into my job, though, and it became clear that a lesson on diplomacy is no bad thing when entering the cutthroat world of work for the first time.

Hearing people’s voices tighten over missed deadlines and photocopier queues initially baffled me, until I became one of them.

I eventually realised that colleagues aren’t friends, and you aren’t going to be in everyone’s good books all the time. But I did manage to gain the reputation of ‘always thinking the best of everyone’ purely by not slagging all my colleagues off at work.

The pretty obvious takeaway? If you can’t say anything nice, probably best to keep schtum.

3. There is much solace to be found in TV

I never really watched TV at uni. Without my nightly Love Island this Summer though, I’m not sure how I’d have stayed sane. Already counting down the days to Strictly 2k17.

4. You're never too busy to go after what you want

My particular grad scheme has a reputation for being pretty all-consuming. You throw yourself mind, body and soul against targets like a battering ram and the result is either sink or swim.

Roundabout January, I came to the realisation that this just wasn’t making me happy (go figure).

I decided I wanted to start a blog and found a few hours a week to post. Then I found a few more hours to research freelance writing, and a few more to pitch ideas. It’s meant later nights and more work than I actually needed to do, but I am infinitely happier turning up to my day job knowing that the cogs are in motion to do what I really want.

5. Sometimes, imperfect works just fine

When you’re faced with multiple deadlines a week, the idea of perfection just has to go out the window if you have a hope of staying sane. With the ludicrous amount of things my grad scheme was asking me to do, my motto quickly became ‘do the bare minimum, and I can always redo it if it’s not good enough.’ This attitude saved me countless hours of sleepless nights, and allowed me to focus on the things I really cared about getting right. Like enjoying my weekends.

6. Being in your twenties is pretty bloody freeing

It would be a crime to work so hard in your twenties that you can’t make the most of the opportunities around you. At no time in your life (probably) will you have such a huge network of friends who are all free from responsibility and up for new things pretty much every weekend.

I sometimes marvel at the fact that I eat moderately healthily and put myself to bed at a reasonable hour, given that I can pretty much do anything I want with myself.

Embracing the freedom that this period of life offers is an absolute must.

7. I like what I know

That said, freedom doesn’t have to mean going on wild new adventures every weekend: it means doing exactly what you want. For me, that has almost always manifested itself in having a boozy Friday night and sitting in Greenwich park for most of Saturday. Find what you love, and then do as much of it as you can. (Except maybe drinking – do that in moderation).

8. Grit is more important than talent

I’ll let you into a little secret (slash glaringly obvious fact if you’ve read the rest of this post): I am not very good at my job. I’m not the best writer out there either, but I’ve managed to have a good stab at both this year purely by refusing to give up when the going got tough.

Earlier this year I read Angela Duckworth’s Grit, where she proves with countless examples that picking yourself back up after failure will see you go much further than talent alone ever will. For the mediocre among us, this is excellent news.  

9. There’s no shame in asking for help

Once you’ve left uni, there’s the unspoken feeling that you really ought to have your life together by now. A year after the event, and asking for help seems positively ludicrous (thanks be to Lloyds for writing to tell me that now I’ve been graduated for a year, I really shouldn’t need that £1500 overdraft).

Thing is, for lots of people, things are actually harder this side of university, not least because we’re all pouring our money into rent and being paid a tiny wage for some rather hard work.

Admitting that you need help financially, emotionally or in the workplace isn’t a sign of failure: you’re just one of the few people brave enough to say it out loud.

 10. Doing something on a Sunday and Monday night will revolutionise your week

Probably the only real actionable tip in this whole post: this little nugget has totally changed my attitude to work/life balance. My Sundays used to be spent plodding through the day, with any fun activity well and truly wound up by 5pm so I could fully devote myself to dreading planning for the week ahead.

Realising that this wasn’t the best use of a quarter of my weekend, I started deliberately making plans for Sunday night. The result? The weekend feels ten times longer, and Sunday evenings become something to look forward to, rather than dread. What's more, doing the same on a Monday saw me positively skipping into the week ahead (after all, who can resist the lure of a pub quiz?)


So there you have it: putting aside the professional/academic rigour that most grad schemes claim to offer, you can learn a lot about yourself by selling your soul for a year or two. Make time for what you love, ask for help when you need it and commit to a pub quiz and I’m sure you’ll do just fine.

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