As she drops me at the bus stop for my weekly pilgrimage back to Dublin, my mam jokes: “Only ten weeks of this commute left, thank God.”
The now altogether familiar feeling of panic, which has periodically floored me throughout the year with the force of some sort of sledgehammer of doom, returns in all its crippling fury as the uncomfortable reality that my time in Trinity is coming to an end strives to reassert itself.
One phrase has come to encapsulate this feeling of fear more than any other. “What are your plans for next year?” An entirely innocuous question, it has become a firm favourite among the members of my extended family. More often than not posed for want of any other topic of conversation, the words have come to embody a sort of alarm bell, chiming with a deathly toll that drags me from my comfort zone and back to reality.
It is an occasional pointed reminder, mailed directly from the real world, that spending entire weekdays sitting around drinking tea in Botany Bay apartments and devoting successive Tuesday nights to challenging strangers to rounds on the boxing machine in Flannery’s Bar can’t go on forever. There are grad schemes to apply for, damnit!
Undoubtedly, much of my fear comes from the uncertainty of what comes next. While leaving secondary school and learning to function independently is a massive transition for most, at least there is a sense of certainty there, a set path. Most know that they will go to college, where the broad strokes of the next four years are planned out pretty clearly. Write a few essays, drink a few pints, maybe go on an Erasmus.
The end of a college career is a different beast. Most graduates of Trinity these days don’t lack for opportunities. A quick scan of the Dublin’s crane-dominated skyline will tell you that the boom is very much back, at least for those dwelling in the shadow of Dublin’s docklands.
Large firms have re-established their yearly ritual, doling out training contracts for those more corporate-minded students. Many, myself included, will therefore spend much of October and November battling it out in some sort of corporate battle royale for one of these coveted contracts, spending hours tucked away in the library answering baffling questions on esoteric challenges that few 21-year-olds could have ever faced.
Cooked up by the HR department from hell, identifying the biggest challenge I have faced might just be the answer to that very question.
In truth, those choosing to partake in this harrowing rite are rarely driven by a character-defining desire to rule the world of corporate law. Rather, the choice betrays the natural desire for the certainty we had leaving school. Once such certainty had been obtained, surely any final-year fears should have been banished?
While I’m aware that my time at home is rapidly coming to an end, and I’m still not sure where I’ll be next September, I am confronted by the fact that the issues will work themselves out
Yet my fears have persisted. A nagging doubt endures in my mind that the certainty of that choice is nothing more than a dead end. It promises an unadventures one-way ticket to middle age, a suburban house, 2.4 kids and a letterbox crammed full of brochures for schools – a fate preceded only by a decade tackling professional qualification exams.
“Follow your dreams”, roars my internal monologue, for some reason voiced by Ewan McGregor in full Trainspotting mode, as it seizes on this sense of doubt. “Travel the world! Crave adventure! Venezuela looks nice this time of year.” Slowly it begins to win the battle, that niggle of doubt slowly maturing into outright panic as May 2019 rapidly approaches.
Ultimately, I think that feeling of panic is a natural symptom of facing up to such a massive decision at such an early stage in your life. Twenty-one is a strange age. While I live away from home and have to make huge decisions independently almost every day, I don’t feel entirely like an adult. I still battle to put my own desires before the expectations of my family.
And while on the one hand I’m being offered a job looking after the legal interests of Ireland’s multinationals, I often question my capacity to survive if Tesco were to stop selling oven pizzas and microwave meals. It’s a strange dichotomy, having one foot planted so firmly in the adult world, all the while not entirely trusting yourself with the responsibilities that come with it.
I think ultimately that is where final-year fear comes from. Finding the confidence to back yourself to make such crucial life decisions that can influence the course of your life, while not entirely trusting yourself with other basic determinations.
Now, as I write this piece in the confines of the Ussher, with the sounds of Trinity’s rugby team in the background, I feel uniquely at home.
It’s a strange dichotomy, having one foot planted so firmly in the adult world, all the while not entirely trusting yourself with the responsibilities that come with it
While I’m aware that my time at home is rapidly coming to an end, and I’m still not sure where I’ll be next September, I am confronted by the fact that the issues will work themselves out. Sure, the next step is scary and fear of the unknown is natural, but I’m not the first person to make the solemn pilgrimage from Trinity to the real world, and for most of them, Trinity has been the perfect starting point.
While I may not know exactly what I want to do at 21, I do know what I enjoy and what I’m good and, knowledge that will surely set you, if not on the right path, then at least it will launch you somewhere in the right direction.