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Column What do you want to do with your life?

Life is complicated and has a lot of choices, writes Fergus McCarthy who has some advice for this year’s Leaving Certificate students who have it all ahead of them.

SO, IT’S APPROACHING that time of year again, the mocks are over and the final exams are approaching.

You’ve submitted your CAO form and have decided that you want to be, 1st choice doctor and 2nd choice teacher for the rest of your life. What happens over the next 3-7 years will be a blur accompanied by a raging hangover at the end but you’ll a shiny degree in your hands.

What happens after?

You have a choice, you can then tipple around the reality of being a grown up or embrace the freedom and independence it brings. But, then what? You can continue on the glorious path towards corporate glory or you may find, that after studying for four years closely followed by a couple years of professional work and of course the “you” time exploring Australia or Canada, that you are completely unsatisfied on the path you have chosen.

Welcome to your mid- mid life crisis, or as I like to call it, my life.

This time  ten years ago, I was in your position, bright eyed and bushy tailed, thinking that by now I would be a CEO of a multinational corporation in my high powered business suits with shoulder pads – Melanie Griffith, featured heavily in my childhood. To be honest this was my parents’ dream, that’s where some of the problem lies. We’re influenced by so many factors along the way we lose what our ultimate goal is. I honestly thought I would be an award-winning actor by now. So here I am, late twenties still reviewing my options.

Back-up plan

You see, I’m one of the lucky few. I’ve always known what I wanted to do, I’ve had that Oscar speech written since I could finger-paint but, before the silver screen beckoned, my parents encouraged me to get a back up plan, a business degree.

After university, I went down the management route, while studying acting part time. I always wanted to study acting, but my parents said, “I needed to get a proper degree first”. Going to bed I would be gripped by a fear, the fear. The palpitations that occur when your mind starts to race, I should be doing this, why am I not doing that. For me this feeling has always centred on acting, I am constantly being torn whether to throw caution to the wind and follow my dream or stick at the sensible route and get that IFSC career. The feeling of “what if?” eternally banging in the back of my head, closely followed by, “what happens if it doesn’t work?” “I’ll have a gap on my CV” “Am I employable?” “It’s difficult to get a job now” “what will it be like in three years?”

This feeling of fear and anxiety is a common phase that most of us go through in our twenties. We are constantly pitching ourselves against one another, both professionally and personally, using other people’s lives as a yardstick to see how successful we are. They have made decisions and taken opportunities that you may covet… at this point I ask you to step away from the family bucket of KFC.

There is support out there

Don’t let this feeling of anxiety consume you. We are too concerned with success and we need to take steps to make a change. Confide in someone you trust, acceptance is the key. Once you realise this, change will happen. We can sometimes find it difficult to air our fears as we think it shows weakness. There are so many support groups out there who can listen to you without judgement. (Spunout, Aware, The Samaritans, local social offices, youth outreach centres)

Career wise, if you are interested in a certain field there are countless internships and work experience placements around and don’t limit yourself to one thing, branch out into other areas if they interest you. Never feel entitled to anything – you may need to slog to achieve success with determination and some hard work you can do it. Figure out where you want to go and implement steps to achieve that, say yes to everything (within reason) and keep yourself open to advice and criticism (of the constructive type).

What lies ahead?

What about me? Well I’m throwing caution to the wind, the acting world has beckoned for so long that it is only fair to myself that I not only knock on the door but burst through. So where will I be 10 years from now? I could be in that corner office with my shoulder pads, it may be a scene in a movie, it may be my office or I could be darn well cleaning the thing, but it’s time to face my fears, success or failure I will have tried.

So to all of you about to sit the Leaving Cert with dreams of grandeur ahead, don’t worry if you feel lost or confused this is going to happen, the important thing is to power through and never be afraid to talk to someone.

There is so much support out there, always remember, you are not alone.

Fergus McCarthy is an aspiring actor and comedian. Originally from Co. Meath – or Cork if you ask his parents – he currently lives and works in London. You can follow his adventures on Twitter @fergieymc

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Column: Why the Leaving Cert as we know it is redundant, by a headmaster>

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