Column ‘I thought I did everything right – so why have I ended up here?’

Aoife O’Connor has gone to college, got good results, borrowed money to get more qualifications by doing a postgrad, but she still finds herself with no job. Here she asks why she can’t catch a break?

THERE IS ONLY so much rejection a girl can take. Thanks to a series of events, not completely within my control, I find myself at the midway point of 26, unemployed, in massive debt and with very few prospects on the horizon.

This morning proved to be the tipping point in what has been months of irrational anger bubbling under the surface at where I find myself in life.

I did what I was told in school, worked hard and had fun along the way and I received a very satisfactory result in the all-important Leaving Certificate, just shy of the 500 points mark. I got my preferred college course, which in all honesty I didn’t particularly want to do, but then again I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But being a good girl I did what I was again supposed to do and went to college.

Aged 21 – I went to college and them the economy imploded

Four years later I get a BSc degree like you’re supposed to, just in time for the economy imploding on itself. What is a girl to do? I’m 21, with a degree framed in the sitting room at home, therefore it was time for what I was supposed to do next – find a job, find a man, travel a bit, get engaged, get married and have a kid before or after the marriage, it doesn’t really matter anymore. My job was and still is, to continue with the monotony of human existence. Only I didn’t get that particular job spec. I got rejected from the vetting process it seems.

I came fourth in the aptitude tests for a Clerical Officer job in the local County Council, and got into the planning department for a whole six months before I was unceremoniously shown the door because of the moratorium on hiring or extending contracts. There goes my notion of becoming a town planner. Off to the social welfare I go. Only I’m under 25 and live at home. My father is dead, my mother is a school teacher and my step-father has some land. Therefore I’m not entitled to anything on social welfare despite working since I was 14. At this point panic mode sets in.

Aged 22 – This wasn’t supposed to happen to me

I am now 22 with no job, no man, no money, what the hell? This wasn’t supposed to happen. There was the plan. Looking back now, I can only laugh – 21 years old and terrified I had missed the lifeboat. My friends in college were all working or in further education, so rather than remain outside the loop and get left behind I start applying for postgraduate courses in England because they’re cheaper than doing them in Ireland.

I take the first one that I’m offered. It’s Magazine Journalism in the north west of England. I beg the bank for money to do it, they say no. I cry, I continue to beg, they agree to give me half the money. I sign the dotted line with a heaviness in my chest. But this is what I need to do right? I need to get on the planned life bandwagon before it’s too late. I tell myself that there is no other option, this is the only way.

Then I’m on a ferry with my life packed into a Seat Leon. My step-father drives and one of my younger sisters comes for the journey. The Google map print out directs me to where I’m going to finally get back on track with the big life plan. Wrong. I make new friends, I make the bank give me the rest of the money, and I make a magazine. Now what?

Aged 23 – When will my life fall into place?

I am 23, with a degree framed in the sitting room at home, my MA scroll ready to sit framed beside it. Surely this was it. This was the time of my life that everything was going to fall into place. Turns out this girl can’t catch a break.

Working in a bookies paid the rent and kept my head above water, but this couldn’t be it surely. This was never part of the big life plan. Everybody else is doing great, I need to buck up and up the ante. So I did. I got onto a graduate program and I moved back to Ireland. The graduate program fails to materialise. You’ve got to be kidding me?

Pausing to take stock of my situation, I realise I’m 24 with no job, no man, no money, wait a minute, I’m exactly where I was two years ago, only €10,000 in debt being the major difference. That’s where I get sad and confused. I did everything I was supposed to do. I went to school, I went to college, I went back to college and all for nothing?

Aged 25 – I’m living at home in a box room

So, at 25, despite doing everything right, I’m living at home in a box room with a deep freeze and after much to-ing and fro-ing I get to go on the dole. Hurrah! I get offered an internship with a local newspaper. Things are looking up. I pack up my life again and move to a new town. I’m ready; this is it I’m sure, things are going to change. I was off the beaten track for a while, but now this has got to be it.

Wrong. The internship is a bust, there was never going to be a real job at the end of it. I was just kidding myself. It’s funny how distance and separation from a situation can give you so much perspective on what was really going on.

Aged 26  - €55.53 a week to live on

Now I’m 26, in a town where I know no one, I can’t afford to move, I can’t afford to leave the country, hell I can’t afford the bus down home. I get €188 a week. I’m very glad I do. I appreciate it very much. After rent, bills and loan repayments, I come out with €55.53 a week to live on, provided it’s the week I don’t need to top up my phone. It makes Australia or Canada seem like a silly pipe-dream when you think about it.

So I’ve resigned myself to days trawling through job websites, cover letters and sporadic moments of self-pity. What did I do wrong along the way? I’m at a loss. Last week I decided to apply for a training program, eight months of learning new skills to complement those I already possess. I had it all worked out. I would borrow money from my sister (already owed €175) or mom to buy a bike and I’d cycle the 23km to the city and back every day because I wouldn’t be able to afford the daily commute on the bus. At the end of it all I’d have a smoking hot body and skills that would definitely definitely get me a job. I would turn 27 with a job, with money, with a man (still hopeful on that front); I would turn 27 back on track.

Wrong. I got the rejection email this morning. I’m “not eligible” for the course. Those two words seems rather apt in my regard, they sum up my life thus far. I’m “not eligible”. It’s a shame really, because I’ve done everything I was supposed to. What’s a girl to do when modern Irish life rejects her? Keep signing on I guess.

Aoife O’Connor is a journalist from Kerry. You can view here LinkedIn page here or follow her on Twitter here.

Read: USI calls for greater investment in Youth Guarantee Scheme>

Read: “You are a privileged generation” – Barroso to TCD audience>

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