“Why do we think it’s our human right to have a job we love?”

A generation of young people has grown up with the idea that it’s not only possible to make a living doing a job you love, but that it’s your human right to enjoy your work. Is it time to grow up and realise we can’t all have fun jobs that pay well, asks writer Sophie Cullinane, 22…

“Work hard and you can do anything you want to do.” That’s the mantra a generation of young people has been told by parents and teachers still giddy from the financial boom of the meritocratic 1980s, when every possibility really did seem within reach. But we can’t all have fun jobs that we love – so is it time to get real and suck up the reality of adult life?

It’s a fact that many of the industries considered the ‘sexiest’ by graduates are in decline.  Print magazines, newspapers and book publishing are being replaced by digital, which nobody yet knows who to make money from. The music industry is being strangled by illegal downloads – and the (already struggling) art world is threatened by the coalition’s austerity measures. TV and film are in trouble too – the latter having been buoyed for the last few years by the (US funded) Harry Potter films which have now come to an end. Even the charity sector is out of reach for many – as the industry embraces unpaid internships as a way to cut costs.

Despite this – and stiff competition for a tiny pool of jobs – thousands of young people around the country are spending tens of thousands of pounds training so that they can translate their passion into a career that they will love – and make money from. But are they being realistic? Guess how many applications the Times received when it advertised for an entry-level reporters role last year? 1,200. Mercury Music says they receive hundreds of speculative CVs a month for non-existent jobs. The Vogue Writing Competition – offering the ‘prize’ an unpaid work placement, and £1000 – receives  thousands of applications.

With the economic climate as it is, why do we think we all have the right to be in a job we love? What do we think makes us so special? With these numbers as they are, inevitably some people – a lot of people actually – will have to give up on their dream of making a living out of their passion. It sucks, but we need to accept that it’s true – and move on to something that we love less, but that pays the bills.

This is a harsh reality to face up to – and many of us refuse to believe it. Instead, we cling to our dream, enduring endless internships, believing that if we want it badly enough, we’ll get there in the end. (Er, who says?) Our vice-like grip on our ‘dream’ is unlike any previous generation. We are the first generation who have not only hoped, but expected, to fulfil our dreams in such staggering numbers. Do we think our parents went through this struggle to pursue their passions? And what about our grandparents? Of course not. They knuckled down and got on with it.

Listen to the way many of us struggling to break into the creative industries. Nobody wants to give up their passion and do a “boring nine-to-five”. We “couldn’t do it” – we’d “die”. We all think that by investing in our education as we have done, we have the right to expect that it should magically turn into full-time, permanent, paid job that we love. And we’re surprised when – oh, look – it doesn’t.

But the blame cannot be placed solely on the ambitions of a generation of day-dreamers (yeah, thanks for dubbing us ‘Generation Whine,’ by the way). Some responsibility must be taken by the institutions which continue to herd thousands of us into courses they know have almost zero chance of leading to paid employment.

This is daylight robbery. Recruiters have said – over and over – that courses like media studies have minimal weight in the job market compared to graduates with degrees in ‘traditional’ subjects from a Russell Group University. So why do the universities continue to take our money and give us training for industries that are either on the decline or already dead? They are breeding false hope in return for our cash.

In future, universities will be forced to provide evidence to show how likely graduates from each course are to gain employment. But there are already concerns that these numbers can be fudged. (Even if a graduate is counted as ‘employed’, is the job doing what they’d hope? And what are they earning?)

The truth is that although a lucky few might manage to make a living doing something they love, that still leaves hundreds of thousands of disappointed hopefuls. These people will be ‘forced’ to take jobs that they are less excited about, but which pay the rent. They will feel like failures – but they shouldn’t. Their expectations were just way too high right from the start.

Besides, if you’re working for peanuts (or nothing at all), with people who show no remorse for the way they are treating you, are you sure your dream job really is still your dream? Perhaps we should release our grip on what we thought we wanted, step away – and look for an alternative where our employer treats us well and pays us properly. That way, we can stop struggling – and start living. After all, it’s only a job.

*Do you expect to have a job you love?
Are you struggling to break into your chosen industry – but refusing to look at alternatives? If you’ve given up your dream to do something else instead, what made you decide to throw in the towel? And do you regret ‘giving up’ – or was it the best move you’ve ever made?