Own your failure

Rejection seems to be a huge part of a starry-eyed graduate’s life.

The sooner we accept this fact, along with all our student debt, the better. Prior to graduation, you might have experienced rejection applying to university, a part-time job, or asking someone out. Without undermining these disappointments, I think there’s something unique about graduate rejection. It’s the anticipation. You’ve worked at your degree for three years, you sat at school for a decade before that. It’s all been leading up to this very moment. The start of your real adult life. You have your 2.1 (maybe a golden ticket First) – the world is yours for the taking. You fire off cover-letters left, right and centre. You’re hopeful. You wait, and wait, and wait…

‘The managers have completed their short-listing process and I regret to inform you that on this occasion you have not been selected to attend an interview.’

If I’m completely honest, prior to these past few months, I haven’t been rejected that often. I’m not boasting. I haven’t really put myself out there enough. So when the dream I’d been living and breathing since school came crashing down in February, I took it pretty hard. There’s a prestigious university I’ve always wanted to study at. I didn’t apply at A-level because my grades weren’t up to scratch. But as an undergraduate, I’d upped my game (I found out this week that I’m set to graduate with a 78% average). Whenever I dragged myself to the library at 9pm, to put in a few hours on my latest essay, my motivation was getting onto that dream Masters. So when I got rejected for, in hindsight, a pretty weak research proposal, I lost all motivation. The timing was awful. I was mid-dissertation. I had a 4,000 word essay due next week.

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Since then, I’ve boosted my grades again. I somehow pulled off 83% on my dissertation and an 88% on that very essay. I’ve also decided a Masters might not be for me. My initial backup plan was publishing. I sent off at least a dozen applications for assistant jobs and internships. One by one, I was rejected. I’d been so set on continuing with academia, that I didn’t have any of the publishing experience necessary to even make it to an interview. Coming to terms with this, assessing my strengths and weaknesses, my current idea is digital marketing. I have some relevant experience. This blog itself reflects my interest in social media and content production. You know what, I think I’d be good at marketing. It feels assuring to at least have something resembling a plan. Or maybe I’ll reapply for that Masters… I’m staying open-minded.

What have I learnt from all this? Well I’ve gotten better at writing cover-letters for one thing. But I’ve also learnt that it’s okay to feel dejected, disappointed, even angry following rejection – for a little while that is. It just means that you cared. It means that you worked hard for something you wanted. Feeling and doing the same might well pay off next time. It’s even okay to mope around and feel like you deserved for things to have worked out. You might well have deserved that promotion or that position. But the problem is other people probably did too. The key thing to accept is that the universe doesn’t owe you a job or a First class degree or even a girlfriend.

An air of entitlement will get you nowhere.

Rejection isn’t inherently a bad thing. Sure, you might miss out on some great opportunities, but it can help you duck lousy ones too. It can inspire (okay, maybe force) a change of direction or a new approach you might never have otherwise considered. From recent experience, getting rejected is also a whole lot easier when you have other options on the table too. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you ask out each and every girl in your seminar class, but, providing they don’t all find out, you’ve increased your odds.

The personality test

Today I found out that I’m a INTJ-T.

That’s an introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging and turbulent individual. Not the catchiest of acronyms so they call people like me ‘architects’. I can’t see that going on my Tinder profile any time soon. A 12 minute test confirmed what I already suspected: I’m an introvert – 57% to be precise. I’m 62% intuitive which sounds like a good thing. As does 59% ‘thinking’ until you realise the alternative was ‘feeling’. They may as well have said: ‘Lee, you’re a calculated and cold human being’. I also can’t help but feel 56% ‘judging’ is just a nicer way of saying judgemental. And a whopping 74% ‘turbulent’? They didn’t even try to make that sound positive.

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I’d like to point out that a ‘who even am I?’ crisis didn’t lead to me searching online for mathematical and psychological proof that I might be ‘normal’ after all, or hard-wired to be Apple’s next CEO. I’ve been accepted onto this three-day entrepreneurship programme and taking a personality test was mandatory. They apparently use our results to sort us into balanced and effective teams. Do businesses actually operate like this now? It wouldn’t surprise me. Although it does feel a bit like setting up your Gemini friend with a Sagittarius. (That could be an astronomic disaster.)

The thing about these personality tests is that they’re not going to tell you that you have a shit personality, are they? Even if you do, apparently like me, lack in ’emotional availability’ with parenting set to be a ‘significant challenge’. They also tend to describe you as a bit of everything. I’m ‘imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private’. The list goes on. Pretty much all of the adjectives get thrown in there somewhere. In fact, you’re given so much information, from career paths to workplace habits and friendship, that you end up picking and choosing the parts you wanted to hear. Bit of a bossy child growing up? You’ll be pleased to learn your controlling tendencies were completely justified – turns out you’re a natural-born leader.

The results that stand out are your strengths and weaknesses. A ‘quick, imaginative and strategic mind’? ‘Independent and decisive’? ‘Hardworking and determined’? Sounds about right. The strengths part is great for your ego. But then you get onto the weaknesses. I feel like they should have alternated them to ease you in. I’m arrogant, judgemental and overly analytical. Or so they say. I loathe highly structured environments and I’m clueless when it comes to romance. I’m not sure about the environment part but the romance is spot on.

Can you take these tests seriously? Who knows. But I think it’s at least interesting to see how your results compare to your expectations. It makes you start thinking about the different versions of yourself and who you want to be. It turns out I have a lot in common with Vladimir Putin, Friedrich Nietzsche and Katniss Everdeen. I think I’m ok with that.

You can take the test yourself here. Comment with your results!

We do have the time

We need to stop lying to ourselves. Last time I checked, there are 24 hours in a day. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. How are you spending yours? Let’s do the maths. We’re all sleeping through a whole bunch of them. If you’re one of those people who manages to exercise before breakfast or endures a soul-destroying commute, you might be sleeping for a meagre 6 hours. You have my respect. If you’re one of my sloth-like housemates, or, in other words, a student, you could be kipping away upwards of 12 hours. For most people—the grey majority, the unremarkable average—let’s call it 8 hours in the land of nod.

For the sake of making a point, let’s say you have 16 hours left in which you are, at least relatively, awake. Most people have, have had, or will regrettably end up, in a 9 to 5 job. The ‘working week’ might be five sevenths of your regular week, but it’s important to remember that your ‘working day’ is probably about half of your actual day. You have about 8 hours left then. A couple in the morning and half a dozen in the evening. Let’s take away 2 for commuting (though if you’re lucky it will be a lot less) and another 2 for meal times and chores.

You have 4 hours left. That’s a really long time.

How are you spending those leftover hours? The chances are you’re sat in front of the television, binge-watching Netflix, a football match in which your team isn’t even playing, or the first film you found channel-flicking, having already missed the first half. If I asked you why, you’d say it’s because you’re tired and just want to just switch off after work. And that’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong that. It’s your leisure time—do whatever you want. But don’t say you don’t have any time. You haven’t seen your friends in weeks. You’re on your third consecutive takeaway meal. You haven’t exercised properly since school. Don’t say you haven’t had time.

If you don’t like your job, that’s to say, if you don’t live to work, and this unfortunately seems the case for the majority of people today, then your life is what goes on around the office. It happens in those 4 hours in the evening, on your weekends and your 28 days of annual holiday. It isn’t easy to lead this productive double life. Some people can juggle two jobs, or do volunteer work in their spare time, but most of us can’t—or at least don’t. I’m yet to even start my 40 to 50 year working life so I’m not lecturing anybody. Soon enough, I’ll be in the 9 to 5 machine and then we’ll see how easy it is to write something like this when I’m falling asleep on the sofa at 9pm. That’s why I’m writing it now, as a reminder to myself that I will have a life outside of my job.

‘I do have time’ is a mindset. Getting more value out of those 4 hours is a life project. Something to think about and work on every day. Maybe you’ll play badminton for an hour with friends tonight after work, and then progress to watch three back-to-back episodes of House of Cards.

That’s progress.

 

The future freaks me out

I started this blog on 6th August 2013. I’d just finished Sixth Form and was nervously awaiting my A-levels results, desperate to find out whether or not I had made it into university. QFL was a project that was about keeping busy. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and far too much to worry about. I needed a distraction. It was therapy.

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This time last week, I handed in my final year dissertation at university. I have one exam left before my sixteen years of education are over. In honesty, I’m not taking this particularly well. I do have some friends that want to leave. Everyone is a bit fed up of the work at this point, myself included, which I wasn’t really expecting, having loved studying up until now. The freedom that comes with earning money will be a huge change, of course, for the better. But I don’t want to leave. I’d redo fifty assignments for another three years. I don’t want to leave people behind. Or maybe I don’t want to get left behind.

I celebrated finishing my dissertation pretty hard. Three big nights out. I woke up at 7am Saturday morning, having gotten in three hours earlier. This wasn’t a normal hangover. I felt sick. But I also had cold sweats and my heart was racing. It was like waking up from a bad dream although I couldn’t calm myself down. In short, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. In hindsight, it was likely caffeine-induced. My fault. I’d had coffees and jägerbombs and all sorts the night before, to try and perk myself up. So I crashed. Weeks of stress, followed by days of overdoing it, caught up with me. I sat wide awake for an hour and just wallowed, thinking, reflecting, worrying about everything. Talking to a friend about it later, he said something we all need to hear sometimes: It’s okay to worry about the future you know”.

I needed to get where I was Saturday morning because now I can get out. No alcohol for at least a week. A healthier diet. From tomorrow, I get up at a respectable hour. I’m writing a bucket-list of things to do before I leave. Revision starts for that final exam: my last hurdle. I’m going to buy a bunch of books I’ve wanted to read. Start watching films again. I have a few weeks left yet and I’m going to make the most of them, spending time with the people who make leaving so hard.

And, quite frankly, I think I need to start blogging again.

A wheel within a cage

As a child I had this hamster who would fidget all of the time. Even in his sleep. I had to call him Fidget. He’d have been offended otherwise.

My old hamster, Fidget, used to do the funniest thing. He’d climb up under the roof of his little cage and swing around upside down. Proper commando. Swinging bar to bar like a fluffy little ninja. Every now and then though, almost because he was too keen, he’d get a little clumsy. He would slip and fall; plummeting down to the straw below. Ninjas aren’t really supposed to bounce but Fidget did. Never discouraged, he’d shake himself off and run back up those bars. What he lacked in grace he made up for in ambition and persistence.

I used to find this whole act really quite funny. I used to hum the James Bond and the Mission Impossible theme-tunes to him, egging him on. I wish I hadn’t laughed now though. I wish I hadn’t taunted my old hamster, Fidget. Because all these years later I have realised that it was never a game. He was never really playing ninja. He was trying to escape.

I suppose we are all like my old hamster, Fidget. Stuck in a wheel that just keeps on spinning and spinning and spinning. We like to think of it as a game, as playtime, because then it’s just a bit of fun. A laugh and a sing-song. Nothing arbitrary or meaningless.

But we are also different from my old hamster, Fidget. 1. He was a hamster. 2. He could see the bars of his cage – we can’t. Once he finally realised his wheel wasn’t going anywhere, he stopped running. But we don’t get off of our wheel. We keep running, going nowhere.

We keep running because the realisation that we’re stuck in a cage would ruin us.

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Should first year at university count?

When you roll up on Day One feeling like an impostor of inferior intelligence to every anxious face around you, knowing that your marks this year won’t count towards your final degree seems pretty assuring. When you groggily wake up after a fortnight of Freshers in a hangover coma, this seems especially assuring. At the end of their first year many do receive that 40% pass with pride. After all, maintaining such an impressively low average seems an achievement in itself. But plenty of students, myself included, did lo and behold venture into the library this year (I didn’t actually take a book out mind you) and end up wishing that it did count, if only for a little.

The “40% mentality” annoys me. First year does count – it counts as much as £9,000. No one would ever willingly throw away such a sum, so why do most students? Sure, first year is about meeting new people, adapting to life away from home, and building up your alcohol tolerance. But you could do all of these things on a gap year – let’s be honest, it’s also about upping your game academically. Scraping a pass isn’t going to do you any favours here. You’re bound to do better second and third year, when it does count, if you can remember how to read and write.

I’m probably giving you the impression that I’ve sat at my desk, locked away in my room for most of the year. I have – playing Football Manager. Contrary to popular belief, attending a lecture or seminar now and again (I only had seven hours of them a week anyway!) doesn’t mean missing out on any of the “uni experience”. I had the best year of my life, going out two nights a week, playing for a sports team, meeting new people all the time. The reality is, the only thing studying really replaces is the afternoon nap you would never have considered taking before this year anyway. You shouldn’t sleep through £9,000, even if your lecture is at 9am.

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I think easing us in with a weightless first year is unnecessary and disparaging. No other environment grants you such a luxury. The real world is a high pressure environment. An employer wouldn’t refrain from sacking you any longer than a week, let alone a year, if you only handed in papers when you felt like it. Sixth Form was all about preparing us for university level work, so we don’t need a year-long practise run when we get here. What is there even to learn? You pick up how to reference in essays and how to work the washing machine soon enough.

I think the first year at university should count for something like 10% of your degree. Such a reform shouldn’t be made to motivate those otherwise careless and lazy students, but to credit those who would have put in the effort anyway (though subsequently it would encourage the former). First year should be worth enough to acknowledge the hours of study that made it up, but not so much that a jittery 2.2 can’t be raised to a 2.1 by the time you graduate. You might argue that it would be wrong for someone’s early homesickness to be the difference between them achieving or missing out on their dream of a First. It would be a great shame, but the reality is there are countless other factors equally influential and out of our control. The difference between success and failure can be said to boil down to anything: a stingy, hard-to-please marker, or the man flu you couldn’t shake for a month in second year.

Alternatively, maybe first year could be valued with financial incentives. At some colleges in Oxbridge, for example, the highest achieving first years are given the nicest rooms the next year. This sort of approach makes a lot of sense. The way universities are throwing scholarship money at prospective undergraduates in an attempt to lure overqualified students is immoral. These funds should be redirected towards the hardest working first years – students who actually chose to study at the university in the first place and weren’t bribed to do so. Giving £500 to anyone who manages a First and perhaps £250 to those that get a 2.1 seems like a good policy. Universities might even save money as some of the scholarships they offer to new students at the moment amount to thousands of pounds.

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Failing any kind of reform, I would urge employers to pay more attention to those invisible first year marks that most probably don’t declare on their CV. If you have two similar candidates boasting 2.1s the first thing you should be doing to distinguish between the two is to check whether either was guilty of the “40% mentality” in their first year – forget the DofE award. If one candidate did only scrape a pass while the other was pretty solid, you sure as hell know who’s going to be the one pulling sickies, and leaving the office mid-email when the clock strikes five.

 

Laughing in the face of terrorism

Every now and then a filmmaker, novelist or artist will come along and remind society that no topic is sacred. And the world becomes a better place for it. In creating a social commentary on jihadist terrorism, Chris Morris with Four Lions in 2010 dared to go where few other filmmakers would, and tackled perhaps the most sacred post-9/11 topic. Four Lions as a result is one of the most important comedies ever made, and one of the funniest I have ever seen. It earns a comparison to The Life of Brian in its ballsiness and hilarity.

For anyone who is yet to see it, this dark comedy is about a group of incompetent British jihadists who aspire to be suicide bombers. Their attempt to target the London marathon eerily brings to mind the tragedy of the Boston bombings last year. You can’t help but approach this film tentatively, but it soon becomes apparent that the satire in this film is as disciplined as it is sharp – this is thanks to the 3 years of research Morris put into it. Does it mock Islam? No. It mocks extremist Islam. More importantly, terrorism in general. Nigel Lindsay who plays Barry, the most savage of the quartet, has explained how his character could represent any terrorist faction, targeting anyone for any cause – a just subject for ridicule if ever there was one.

Four Lions poked fun at a topic wrapped sensitively in explosives but it did so intelligently enough to emerge intact. Morris avoided a fatwa too.

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When we think of terrorism and suicide bombing we think of evil in its highest form. But what Morris does in this film is remind us that it’s stupidity in its highest form too. The genius of this film is that it takes a subject to which an audience’s natural reaction is fear, and replaces it instead with humour. Four Lions is the hostage in a torture scene that fights back the only way it can: by laughing in the face of its oppressors. This film marked a real effort to dispel fear-mongering in today’s society. Throughout, it has you self-consciously laughing in full appreciation of its controlled wit. By the end it has you self-consciously reflecting, as all successful social commentaries do, on the not-so-funny world we live in.

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I’m sure that some people took offence. Some people always do. But generally the reception to this film has been overwhelmingly positive, especially within the Muslim world. When we think of the glorified portrayals of terrorism in Hollywood action movies, and the lack of Muslim representation in the Western film industry, it is easy to appreciate why. Four Lions depicted terrorism as it really is: ridiculous. And to do so it enrolled and showcased the brilliant talent of a greatly Muslim cast and crew. We live in a world where the media is even more guilty of glorifying terrorism and fear-mongering than the film industry. We are conditioned to consider terrorism as an unknown invincible force. Morris’ satire challenged this image.

It reminded us that terrorists are human and stupid ones at that.