It’s done. And now, on the horizon of my future, with a piece of paper I’ve been told can unlock so many doors for me, I wake up every day and… my professional life is exactly the same.
No employers have jumped at the chance to make me theirs, and a recruitment agency that got in touch have been offering me minimum wage customer service roles in Student Utility Companies, despite saying I have credible success in my field and ‘should be writing full time’. Go figure.
For many, University is immediately followed by a safe, dependable graduate scheme; a swanky corporation, suits and ties from 9am-5pm, and a salary. I don’t think in the past few months I’ve ever been so aroused than at the mention of a dependable living wage. But, for many of us creatives, life just isn’t that simple. Despite breaking backs over internships ‘payable with exposure’ throughout our degrees, opportunities to showcase our talents in exchange for money are few and far between. There’s rarely a grand prize for finishing an artistic degree; only the promise of many more hours of toil over emails, begrudgingly giving free samples of your work to potential employers and the harrowing reality that comes with job searching online way into the night.
So what now? Give up on your creative ambition, settle down with a semi-managerial role at a marketing firm, or working in sales for an insurance agency, count your lucky stars that you at least have weekends free to go to raves now, and gradually accept that this is your life? As a 24-year-old exhausted graduate stuck in an economy which spits fire constantly, ridiculing me for trying to pursue my creative passion while point-blank locking the doors to the Housing Market, Political Peace and even a stable climate, I decided to do some digging; for secrets to success, breadcrumbs left from other people’s paths to fame, any little tips and tricks that might aid me on my own journey to personal satisfaction. I’ve since found a few life lessons from some of the people who have impacted my life the most in the unlikeliest of places that I believe are worth knowing. Settle down for a brief history class in classic popular culture with actresses, authors, blossoming independent artists and pop powerhouses that all have come from very humble beginnings, who definitely prove one thing; you too can make it, if you really want it.
Like many people my age who have reluctantly accepted the title of ‘millennial’ (translates to: perpetually broke, inheritors of a dying planet, romanticises affordable housing), I grew up watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. An at-the-time revolutionary sitcom that originally wanted to make a monogamist out of Phoebe and a wife-beater of Joey under the alternative- and-sinister title Insomnia Cafe (Americano with no milk for table 2, name: Mr Bates), the show birthed the career of one of Hollywood’s finest actresses’ ever. That is, of course, Jennifer Aniston, and subsequently the loveable, endearing klutz Rachel Green (thankfully, not Rachel Robbins).
Despite Aniston never truly being able to shake off the ‘Damsel in Distress’ overcoat, luckily Ms Green was able to transform herself from runaway bride to runway fashion icon. The reason? That very first job at Fashionista, untangling hangers and reusing coffee filters. It was a far cry from the glamorous, chic departments Green was accustomed to, and yet she stuck herself in, humble as American pie, with nothing but the determination to succeed. The enduring lesson from Rachel, apart from becoming a fashion icon with that Knicks Jersey? Get on the ladder.
Sometimes, a big risk can bring an even greater reward. As in Madonna’s life story, she fuelled her ability to become a chameleon of New York and used her tenacity to lead her to success, carving a path right through the thickets and the bushes. Working the restaurant and fast-food scene, a record deal didn’t materialise until she was in her mid-twenties, and that was only due to being able to persuade a DJ to spin her demo at a club night. A few producers later, the first album was born, and there’s one recurrence that Madonna has stuck to ever since… refusing to play it safe. From switching her sound dramatically with every album cycle to infamous wardrobe malfunctions at award shows, Madge has never let herself be down-trodden for long. From the seamless Confessions On A Dancefloor to the experimental, SOPHIE-produced Bitch I’m Madonna days of MDMA and (questionable) Rebel Heart, Madonna proves her place in the Music Industry through one skill we could all use a little more; adaptability.
Speaking of the music industry… it’s a struggling time to be an aspiring artist right now. In a world of YouTube and SoundCloud, the chances of pulling an Ed Sheeran and being plucked from the busking streets to global stardom haven’t just got slimmer, they’ve evaporated. For every aspiring demo online, there’s a queue of hundreds more waiting to auto-play when this one is over; and even if you get noticed, chances are an already-successful boyband or girlband will break up and take all five remaining open slots left at the label.
People in the creative industry often feel powerless, and in the grip of large corporations who, at times, seem like the only way into a sustainable career; it’s this mentality that bats an eye away from the ‘working for exposure’ hellhole we’ve allowed our journalism industry to fall into. Vérité, an independent artist who boasts 200+ million streams, utilises ‘rejection is always for a reason’. After years of heartbreak and straining struggles whilst waitressing, she took her destiny into her own hands and forged her career path. The message here is one of strength and confidence, championing independence and also a recurring message of hope and faith for those who send email after email, demo after demo, only to be ignored or see an uncannily familiar idea pop up mere weeks later. Rejection is always for a reason.
Not every idea is destined to be everyone’s cup of tea, of course. But if you stay true to yourself and your artistic vision, you’ll never be off track. There is no better spokesperson for this than Lady Gaga, and the hallowed tale of Artpop. Controversial and divisive even to this day, Artpop saw Gaga tumble from the (right-earned) pedestal of superstardom she’d built upon a ruthless work attitude, creative vision unlike any seen before, rah-rah’ing, and by stealing any chance Colby O’Donis may have had for a career. Artpop debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts, yes, but with a number almost 800’000 sales lower than it’s predecessor, Born This Way. Artpop was, to it’s core, pretentious, and nothing if not divisive. And yet, without Artpop, we wouldn’t see Gaga were she is today; A Star is Born, Vegas residency and, I fully believe, the brightest days of her career still to come. Say what you want, say what you want about Artpop, but Gaga proved with her fourth LP that she a) will always stay true to herself creatively, and b) is that bitch. We’ve just got to keep that in mind about ourselves, too.
Life lessons can be found outside of the music and film industries, of course. They can be found anywhere. One big mantra that I’ve lived by (or perhaps a thought I need to believe in to stay a little bit more sane?) is that everyone else is just as confused as I am. We’re all in the same world and so naturally we must all feel similar at some point…? I watched One Day, adapted from the book of the same name, on a Netflix the other night, and was reminded that even Anne Hathaway’s brass, down-to-earth wannabe-writer Emma Morley had, at one point, to slave away inside a building for 12 hours a day explaining the difference between various Mexican carbs. ‘I just feel a little lost, that’s all’ she professes after scraping chilli from the wall, to which best friend/star-crossed lover Dexter Mayhew replies ‘come on, everyone’s lost at twenty five’.
And it was there that I remembered the sanctuary of the written word. The power of a sentence, the warmth that but a simple thought can bring; we’re all a little lost, but at least we’re lost together. I’m just thankful that those people who do seem to be figuring it out are passing on what they can, to make us all a little more uplifted. I don’t know where my career is going, how I’ll get there, but I think I will, eventually, arrive at my destination.
I might not have the backing of my recruitment company, I might lose my footing and hope every once in a while pitching email after email with no avail; I may make Artpop or two along the way. But I think that as long as I carry myself with pride, stay integral to my art, be adaptable and most importantly never give up… I’ll be okay. And you will be too. In the meantime I’ll continue doing anything I have to to make my dreams a reality, and the world better in any way I can.
As Terry Crews says… ‘good honest work is nothing to be ashamed of’. And if even Tinashe can still tweet ‘Trust the Universe’, then surely we can have some hope.