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  • Jason

Graduation in the age of Covid-19: 4 Strategies for Survival

Around the world, University graduates are asking that perennial question... What Next? After the transformational stage of life that is Higher Education, graduates are taking their next step into the 'real' world of work, responsibility and career progression. It is an exciting but terrifying time! Many of my past students have been understandably fearful of the crushing wave of reality rolling unstoppably towards them; an alarming surge of disorientation approaching, requiring all their fortitude to withstand ... or risk being washed away by the perilous currents of Life. The blinkers of denial are sometimes difficult to remove!

Graduation has always been hard, the first year out of University being the hardest in a students' journey in my experience. But this year it is different, this year is worse; our graduates are entering the world of the Pandemic. This is a world of uncertainty and 'unemployment', of recession and doubt. A world of professional survival, not growth and luxurious abundance of opportunity. In the UK Music world, for example, the very survival of the industry is the current concern; not which new opportunities are becoming available for our graduates.

Graduates have already been robbed of the final course achievements, whether final recitals/presentations/exams, and the sense of 'completeness' these experiences represent. They are now left alone, adrift and vulnerable. This necessary betrayal of an expected passage through their final stages of their education, due to lockdown, has already been costly but the future presents even greater threat. This is without doubt the hardest year in the hardest year (2020) and Graduates will need super-human creativity, mental-strength, motivation and stamina for their dreams and ambitions to survive. This is the challenge which faces YOU, the graduate.

This is without doubt the hardest year in the hardest year (2020) and graduates will require super-human creativity, mental-strength, motivation and stamina for their dreams and ambitions to survive.

So what to do? How can this crisis be weathered? Perhaps you already have the job of your dreams lined up; if so, VERY well done to you! If not what can be done to move in the desired direction against this tide of uncertainty? What strategies can you employ to ensure you are still standing when the winds of fortune change?

1. State your Meta-Aims

It is unlikely that you will be moving straight into your dream role right away (this has been largely true for all graduates throughout history too) but this does not mean that you need to discard your dreams, or Meta-Aims. There is something calling you... the Call to Adventure. If you cannot hear it yet, listen more closely and don't dismiss what you are hearing ... however crazy other people might think it/you is/are! This is your Will (or Jungian 'Libido'), the life energy which will bring satisfaction, completion and self-actualisation.

Just because you are not at the top, or even close to the top, you should state which Mountain you wish to climb. Your degree has, most likely, taken you to base camp, but the toughest climb is yet to come, you will need the Energy of Will. State your Meta-Aims (literally say it, write it, record them) and position yourself at the bottom of the Mountain of your dreams. Do not be afraid of taking a new direction if necessary; you will not find satisfaction through a life of meandering the 'safe road' or living the life of others' expectations. Be brave, especially in the face of challenge. Start with the end in sight or the 'beginning' will not have any meaning.

2. Inventory of Resources

You may not feel like you have anything currently at hand to help you, are alone and 'unarmed' for the battle... but this is not true, your Cultural Capital takes many forms, most of which are hidden from view, 'every soldier has a marshal’s baton in his knapsack'!. Take some time to draw up an Inventory of Resources as means of more meticulously analysing where you currently are and what Powers you have. You should think about the various Capital 'credits' and 'debits'.

  • Embodied Capital: What are your skills, knowledges and abilities? What can you already 'exhibit', and communicate, with a confidence and sense of mastery? What have you learnt through your degree? When would you describe yourself as 'Skilful'?What have you learnt from significant experiences throughout your life? What 'subject-specific' and transferrable skills have you developed? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you know? How would others describe your abilities (ask people if you're not sure)? When do you feel most confident? What are you doing at this time? Record your answers (WRITE DOWN / RECORD), this is an active exercise, not a passive period of day-dreaming.

  • Objectified Capital: Which Objects of Capital do you already possess? These could take many forms... writings, recordings, portfolios of work, educational materials, tools and work equipment, objects of transportation, research resources etc.. It is likely that you have built up a body of work throughout your degree, do not disregard this work, collate and record it. How could your current Objectified Capital contribute to your next steps? What do you need and NOT currently possess? Do you really need it? Why? How will you obtain it? Which forms of Capital can you exchange for 'profit'? How could you use or exchange your Objects of Capital?

  • Institutional Capital: You have, hopefully, achieved your degree (and this is an important piece of Institutional Capital) but what other qualifications do you have? What endorsements from Institutional leaders can you evidence? What accomplishments within Institutional settings can you draw upon? How did you contribute to your institution throughout your degree? What contribution could you continue to make? What qualifications do you need? How do you know? You have left your Institution but that does not mean the Institutional Capital is lost; use it.

  • Social Capital: ‘Social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.’ Put simply, how Powerful is your network, and what is your influence and reputation within these networks? It is highly likely that you will make 'positive' steps forward through the invitation of others rather than through the power of your own individual endeavours (although these two phenomena are closely related). How do you contribute to your network? What do you offer to others? If you are not yet within a network, perhaps if you have moved city/location, begin now; who are currently climbing your mountain and who are at the top? Helping others = helping yourself. What is your 'Status' and who are your friends? Who are your competitors?

  • Economic Capital: The most obvious, and often immediate, Form of Capital; how much Money (£$£$) do you have? This is important as, more often than not, your Economic Capital will be very low after 3/4 years of Student Loans. You may feel like provision of your basic needs is the most important and pressing concern at this point and the Big Dreams can wait for the future...? Yes and No; organise your basic needs AND think big. How much money do you need each year? Total up all your projected outgoings to provide for a basic lifestyle, how much is this? How much do you need to attract a month? How are you going to achieve this? Can you manage risk through some allocation of your most valuable resource (TIME) to a part time job in the short term? What job? How are you going to get a job? How can you attract Economic Capital autonomously without reliance on being 'given' a job? What do people need? What do you have to give? Is there business opportunity through analysis of this Market equation? Capital / Labor / Time are all intrinsically linked... How much time do you have? How much time are you willing to 'give'? How much time do you need to dedicate to climbing the mountain? How early are you prepared to wake up? How early do you need to wake up? How early will you wake up? 'Capital is Accumulated Labor'.

3. Planning your Journey : Taking your First Step

Now you have set your eyes upon the top of the mountain, ascertained what is already in your backpack and taken consideration of what you may need as you move upwards, you are ready to start the ascent. Now is the time to draw your own map and set your course. Drawing a map may be quite simple (e.g. the target is a very specific job or role which can be obtained through 'normal' means of application - simple not easy) or abstract (e.g. I want to be 'respected' within the field of ....'x'......, or 'I want the products of my Artistic Skills to change peoples lives').

Don't worry if your aims are abstract, there are ways in which you can start to begin to draw your map. Who is already doing what you want to do (i.e. who IS well respected in your area)? How did they get there? Take another Case Study... How did they get there? And another... and another? What is the 'Path' that these cases share, what do they have in common? You can set your course on this previously trodden path. Of course, we are in all manner of different situations (e.g. place, time in history, social classification etc.) and it is highly likely that you will need to re-view and re-course on a regular basis but you CAN start. It may be that, through this process of research, you actually engage directly with these respected Heroes, and maybe they will help you?

How to set your course? If you were to achieve your Meta-Aim in 10 years, where would you be in 5? If you were at this position in 5 years, where would you be in 2? If you were in this position in 2 years, where would you be in 1?

Set your initial large target for 1 year in the future based on your prima facie ideas for the next 10. Write this year target down. Now divide this yearly target into monthly targets, write these down. Divide down to weekly targets (write down) and then daily targets (again, write down). You have now set your course and can take you first step, tomorrow. At the end of tomorrow, ask yourself the question, how did that step go? What went well, what was unexpected, did I succeed or fail? What mistakes were made? What did I learn? At the end of the week, do the same. Then the end of the month etc. Do / Reflect / Research / Plan / Do / Reflect / Research / Plan - Experiential Learning, literally, in process.

The course will, and should, change. This regular reflection will be required to continually assess your position and situation which is always changing. The world is also always changing, in part due to your actions. Planning therefore takes the form of a Phenomenological dance, an every changing exchange of forces, rhythmically positioned, between the subject and the object. Whether you are an object, subject to the world, or subject engaging with the object of the world is really up to (I recommend the 2nd!). This, in some part, defines your 'attitude' or sense of agency.

This is all very hard but it IS possible, even with the uncertainty surrounding the world right now. The world in 1/2/5/10 years is, and always will be, an uncertain place. Taking mindful steps based on your previous experience, with regular review of your goals, provides a framework to manage this uncertainty, moving with regular purpose, rather than fearful paralysis. Do not be tempted into staying still through 'fear of the dark', the sense that we have no way of knowing where we are going so should not move at all. I know things are pretty bad right now but the situation, and your situation, is not hopeless, it only becomes so when you lose hope, but to TRY must come first. Pretty much anyone can become an expert in virtually anything over 10 years (10 x 1000 = the magical 10,000 hours : roughly 3 hours a day every day for 10 years).

4. Whistle While You Walk

It is tempting to think that 'Happiness' is the prize at the top of our metaphorical mountain and that the 'suffering' we experience whilst on this journey is therefore justified. In fact, the road never ends and it is very possible that when you get to the top, you decide to climb another one anyway. Or possibly the top is never reached because it is forever 'in the future'. The top is just an illusion, a vital one, but illusory nevertheless. Therefore, Whistle While You Walk, enjoy the journey because, in reality, this is all we really have.

It is easy to get bogged down in the seriousness of life, the peril, crises and negativities but these are necessary for meaning. When you lose the fear of failure, and see negativity as the necessary catalyst for positive experience, anything is possible ... and the ride will be thrilling! Dance up the Mountain ... why not take your first step tomorrow?

Thanks to William Brown for inspiring some of this thinking today. I advise you visit his brilliant blog for more ideas on taking your first steps, written with far more eloquence and Art.

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