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It's ok if you don't know

As a kid, there was always one question I dreaded being asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

To say I was clueless, would be an understatement. That’s not to say I didn’t have plenty of interests through. Far from it – especially when it came to sports. I played everything from football, to basketball, cricket, rugby - you name it, I probably had a decent go at it at some point. However, I knew the odds of becoming a professional athlete were slim to none.

Then there was the academic side of things. From a very early age, people have always told me that I’m smart. Not like Einstein-smart, but I could fairly easily get A’s & B’s throughout school. The issue is, when you fall into that category, teachers, family and friends say that university is the best place to go, because that’s what the “smart people” do. It was drummed it into us that the only route to have a great career when you’re older is to go to university, get a degree and you’ll be golden.

So, from an early age university seemed to be the only viable option. At least that’s what I believed. Plus, as an African child, I couldn’t tell my mum that I don’t want to do go to university, when I have no plan or any idea what I’m going to do instead. Especially when my brother had just completed a masters degree in Engineering and had begun his career, whilst my mum herself was coming towards the end of her studies as a mature student with a Sociology degree. So off I went to the University of Huddersfield to study Journalism.

Don’t get me wrong, university was absolutely amazing. I learned how to live independently, met the best people who are still my best friends to this day and I came out with a degree in Journalism. However, I was no closer to figuring out what I wanted to do and I came out with a mountain of debt.

Fortunately, I can chat my way through a lot of situations, so I avoided joining the unemployed line and wound up working in sales. Now, if you happen to know anyone working within sales as a livelihood, I implore you to check up on them every so often. No other job will test your resolve and force you to go through a roller coaster of emotions as much as sales. It’s extremely gratifying to hit your target after a month of stress and anxiety from chasing clients, who literally decide whether you’re going to be able to pay your rent or not. That roller coaster of exhilarating highs and crushing blows tests your mental fortitude like no other career. In an instant you go from absolute elation to questioning your self-worth and after for 4-and-a-half years of battling with my sanity and depression, I decided enough was enough. I needed to make a change and find a career which gave better life-work balance.

I had always thought of myself as a fairly creative person and have always been intrigued by digital marketing as a whole. The sheer variety and how vast the industry is both scared me and excited me at the same time. At the age of 25, I had finally decided what I wanted to do as a career, rather than a mundane job I went to in order to pay the bills. The challenge now though, was figuring out a way to get my foot through the door.

My first thought was to go back to university to do a masters in Marketing. After all, that’s what all academically smart people do when they want a great career, right? However, the thought of getting another loan and getting into further debt to pay the tuition fee for the course; along with getting a part-time job to be able to feed myself; as well as having enough time to complete my assignments, made that route all the more daunting. Nonetheless, I reluctantly began the applications to universities. At least that way I was actively taking steps to change to a career that didn’t force me into a spiral of depression and anxiety.

Yet even then, I still wasn’t completely sure whether I was going down the right path. It wasn’t until my girlfriend mentioned the idea of doing an apprenticeship that everything changed. I mean, the idea of being paid, whilst you learn and gain experience, it seemed like a no-brainer. It was literally everything I needed.

Truth be told though; I was still fairly reluctant to go down that path. Especially since I’ve always been told that the best way to get a great career is to go university. Plus, I always thought that apprenticeships were something that school and college leavers aged 16-19 do. Not 25-year-olds, with a degree and have already began working.

However, after several weeks of research and coming across several case studies of people in their 50s doing apprenticeships in subjects such as I.T, Engineering and all sorts, after decades of working in “low skilled” jobs such as janitors and cleaners- surely, I had no excuse.

I went full steam ahead down the apprenticeship route where I came across The Juice Academy’s Boot Camp, which basically has all the aspects of a normal interview procedure, but it’s all in one day. It’s a whirlwind of a day, but it is brilliant because you find out whether you have a job or not, rather than anxiously waiting for several days, weeks or even months sometimes.

Fast forward a few months down the line, I am now at the People’s History Museum in a role I absolutely love, as part of the digital marketing team. All it took was 25 years, going to university, doing a job I despised for 4-and-a-half years and a few mental breakdowns along the way!

The moral of the story here is this: it’s ok not to know what you want to do – even when everyone around you seemingly has it all figured out. Everyone’s journey to a livelihood they enjoy is different. Some figure it all out at a very early age and it takes others a while to figure it out. That is definitely something I wish I could tell me 18-year-old self.

I often say, I wish I knew then what I know now. I could’ve saved myself a lot of stress and anxiety! Since that’s not possible, I’ve opted to become an Apprenticeship Ambassador in Greater Manchester, with the hope of helping those who felt the same way as I felt at that age.

Feeling a little lost? The most important thing is to say “no” when people try and force you down a career path you’re not interested in. Equally, you have to be brave enough to make the change to down a different when you’re not happy and an opportunity presents itself.

(Shameless plug alert!) Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn: Sipho Mangoye

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