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Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundamentally Bad Decision Making by Erin Watt

Education systems tend to be one of the biggest structures we build our lives around and those decisions can effect the rest of our lives. But what happens when you don’t know what decision to make?

Enter Erin.

So, I think Ria’s either going crazy in isolation or she’s really struggling for ideas for this blog because she’s turning to me for Matriarch content now? Desperate times I guess…

Anyway I’ve been told to write about my experience coming out of school since I ended up not going to university. Why would you care about me not going to university, you ask? Good question. Though this may not be that big a deal for a lot of people, I went to a school where pretty much EVERYONE went to uni. Out of a year of over 100 people, it is quite possible you could count the number of people who took a gap year on one hand (may not be 100% correct but blame the editor, Ria, because I called her to check my maths). From the few that didn’t go to university straight away, I am also pretty sure I am one of, if not the only one who didn’t go onto Higher Education AT ALL. Don’t worry, it’s all worked out for the best for me (at the time of writing). Despite what the title suggests; I try to save my bad decisions for my love life and we definitely won’t have enough time to get into THAT.

I left school with the idea of having a gap year.

It would be made up of a little travelling and working and a lot of training and competing with my horse, then go on to take my place at Birmingham University on their International Relations and Spanish course starting September 2019. If you’re thinking that this seems like a pretty great plan, I would be inclined to agree with you, I thought I had it all figured out. Unsurprisingly, as with most things in life, it didn’t all work out as planned and I’m not where I thought I would be 2 years ago. However I like to think that things have worked out even better.

Everything was running to schedule until last summer…

I had spent 2 months working for 6 time Olympian, Andrew Nicholson, which was obviously incredible, and a dream come true for me. However, I was also working 12-hour days, 6 days a week for next to no income which it why it only lasted 2 months; I may be passionate but I’m not stupid. I then spent almost 6 months working in an admin role in a construction company which was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, but also gave me my 1st experience of the “real working world”.

What did I learn from this? Most people are idiots and, what’s worse, is that they all treat you like an idiot too.

After that I went to Argentina for 6 weeks to doss about eating steak and drinking wine, though the official story is to “learn about and appreciate Argentinian culture” and practice my Spanish skills in prep for uni…

Travels to South America

It was arguably the most fun I have ever had in any 6-week period and my first important point in this post would be that if anyone reading this is considering a gap year to travel: ABSOLUTELY DO IT. I don’t care what anyone’s doubts or arguments are, because trust me, I probably had them all at some point too; it is absolutely not going to be something you regret. I imagine anyone considering it will already have their list of pros and cons and I just want to suggest 2 lesser-known pros you may not have thought of:

  1. You will have some experience that you can bring up in almost any social situation ever (all your friends will hate you but it’s definitely worth it).

  2. You will meet so many people travelling that you are unlikely to ever have to pay for holiday accommodation again.

Upon returning from Argentina, I was working 3 jobs part time.

I was behind the bar in a pub, I worked on a big livery yard riding and looking after horses and I was a temporary receptionist at a number of different companies. I won’t lie; it was really hard work. I could’ve found a job to do full time but I liked the variety and the flexibility it afforded me to compete my own horse. I was lucky that all the jobs I was doing gave me an opportunity to interact with people almost all the time, as this is something I think I’m quite good at (lots of people tell me it’s because I’m good at chatting shit but they’re just jealous). I can joke about it all day but it’s given me incredibly useful communication skills that help me in job interviews. In terms of networking, I feel like I now have a lot more contacts for potential job opportunities.

Memories of travels

Another really interesting thing I noticed, working in the receptionist jobs especially, is that people have an inclination to treat you like shit when you work behind a reception desk. I guess it’s probably back to the “real working world” idea but for some reason, the majority of people who walk past assume you’re an idiot. The number of people who were genuinely shocked when I told them I planned on going to university was kind of embarrassing, and that’s before I told them where I was going and what I was doing. It might be because I quite often found myself working in places like car showrooms and it can potentially be related to the industry, especially since the other place I saw it a lot was in construction, a typically male-dominated line of business.

I recently made a comment about gender inequality in an interview for a construction company and, to my surprise, the interviewer told me to be brave enough to talk openly about issues like this instead of talking around the issue, trying to be polite. I guess this goes back to my innate ability to bullshit… I’m now taking this advice and running with it and I don’t feel awkward or uncomfortable calling out all the people who walk into a car showroom, see a young woman behind the reception desk and automatically assume she’s there to smile and get you your coffee. Please don’t mistake this as me claiming I know about cars because I don’t know shit, but it’s irritating that people assume this.

“It’s made me aware of stereotyping and I’m constantly making sure I don’t do that to others.”

Similarly, whenever I spoke to a supplier or even client over the phone during my brief stint in construction, it was incredibly annoying when they congratulated me on correcting their spread sheet as it was so shocking that a girl who has no experience in the industry can add and subtract. People working in these positions aren’t stupid, despite what many people believe. It’s definitely made me more aware of stereotyping in other parts of my life now and I’m constantly making sure I’m not doing that to others.

With all this experience now under my belt, I’m sure you’re thinking I couldn’t wait to start university. I can remember quite clearly that this was not the case, and that was probably the first warning sign. I had my accommodation, finances and moving the horse all sorted and was pretty much ready to start buying books and things for my room and I felt nothing. No excitement. No apprehension. Nothing. My excuse for this is that I was really busy and working a lot and when it all sunk in the excitement would come. I continued to believe this up until about 3 weeks before I was due to go when I finally asked myself the question:

“are you sure you really want to go?”

“Well, Erin, did you not think to ask yourself that question before now? Maybe when you were applying, over a year ago?” I’m pretty sure the honest answer to that question is no. I realise now that I don’t think I ever asked myself that question before. I had never considered anything other than going to university; the idea of doing anything else had never occurred to me. What makes it all more confusing is that I didn’t have a definitive reason that I didn’t want to go. I loved my course, I really like the uni and Birmingham is obviously a great student city. I had organised what I was doing with the horse and how that was going to work, I had great accommodation and my student finance was ready to go. I just had absolutely no interest in going.

So, I went home and I told my parents I wasn’t going.

No backup plan in mind. I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead I just knew I didn’t want this. My parents weren’t all that surprised, neither were any of my friends. Apparently I had been pretty transparent with everyone except myself about how I felt. Nevertheless, it still took my Dad about 2 weeks to get over it and speak to me again. The thing they were most worried about is that I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do instead. It didn’t help that I never knew what I wanted to do after university so I didn’t even have an idea of where to start.

Which leads me to my final part of this post. Once I made the decision it actually wasn’t all that hard to figure out where I wanted my life to go. I looked into apprenticeships and quickly found out that there is a type of apprenticeship where you can study part time and earn a degree over a period of 4 years (something I would’ve found out within a day of research had I not been adamant about going to university). From this I saw there were lots of opportunities in construction, an area I knew I found engaging and interesting from my experience working in it.

After applying for a couple of different roles I now have a position on a Management Trainee Programme, starting in September. I will be on work placements in different sectors of the company over 4 years whilst studying at university part time. Not only am I getting paid to work and getting a degree, I have no student debts either. The only downside has been the application process, if there was ever a time to use the word soul-destroying, now would be it. Although, from what I understand, it is pretty similar to that of internships and graduate jobs so I imagine it’s something you’ll have to experience whether you go to university or not.

“it is great to be able to say one of my childhood dreams has come true.”

Since making the big decision last September I have been working with horses again. If you’d asked me 10 years ago what I wanted to do when I was older I would’ve described this job almost to the letter. Despite the poor timing of it being winter (I don’t know if anyone noticed but it didn’t stop raining for the first 3 months of this year), it is great to be able to say one of my childhood dreams has come true. Partly due to this and partly because I now have a job and don’t have to go through the stress of more phone and video interviews, I can honestly say I don’t regret not going to university. I don’t even know if I can say I regret not making the decision earlier because, like I said, working in all my different jobs has given me insights I wouldn’t have otherwise had and allowed me to meet some really great people. For that I consider myself very lucky.

Erin Watt

Erin Watt is and, I am sure, always will be one of the most well equipped and well accomplished people I know. She has single- handedly proved that you don’t need a university degree to deem you ‘successful’ or ‘worthy’, but rather you can do that for yourself. Living and breathing the independent woman life, Erin is truly flourishing and has found the best environment for herself, by herself. The admiration I have for her is unparalleled and she’s a driving force in my life, pushing me to do and be better.


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