Thursday, October 07, 2004

It'll be alright on the night...

Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
- Aldous Huxley.

University is expensive, even for a stay-at-home type like me. A better socially-adjusted student than myself spends a small fortune every week on the essentials of life; beer and parties. Add on top of that such luxuries as accomodation costs, bills, tuition fees, books and food, and you've got the sort of sum to make you wish for the Midas touch, despite the niggling side-effects. No, these days we're expected to pay through the nose for our education, an expression that's likely to gain worrying accuracy as soon as they figure out a way to put a tax on air.

So why is it that a degree seems to count for so little these days? Employers are looking for something else, something more important than the hard-won eductation that leaves students empty of pocket and damaged of liver - they're looking for experience.

This begs the question: how does one become experienced if one can't get a job? A metaphysical conundrum that could leave your mind chasing its tail in bewildered circles, it nonetheless has a simple answer. Of course, if your mind thinks it has a tail to chase then frankly you're in enough trouble already, and I think the experience you're in need of is more of the psychiatric kind.

Employers don't want the world, although that'd be nice. Nor do they want blood, and I suggest you don't offer. They just want some sign that you're not one of the university pod-people, those strange and soul-less beings that flourish in the greenhouse of academia but wither when exposed to the real world. They want to see that you're a human being, not a Triffid; a well-rounded individual who can bring not just intellectual skills but a genuine presence and enthusiasm.

That's why I feel a great pity for those sheltered things that come to Uni and work without pause or respite, distaining the social side in favour of their books. There's a big bad world out there, and not only has it eaten your grandmother but it fancies a taste of you as well, as you skip merrily along in that nice red cloak of yours. You need to come out of University wielding a baseball bat, not waving a feather duster. That's not going to do any good when "what big teeth you have" is closing in fast.

Experience in the field is like gold dust... no, like great big lumps of the stuff, rare and something to be treasured. Employers don't expect it, though they can hope. No, they are the prospectors sitting by the edge of the stream, scooping pan-fulls of gravel from the river and searching for that tell-tale glimmer to an otherwise unremarkable rock. These days a degree is nothing special, nothing to make you stand out from the crowd. It takes a little experience in the real world to make you shine.

So what I've learned is this: make the most of your opportunities, and live life to the full. University is a practice run for reality, for as Shakespeare said, "...all the world's a stage" and this is a dress rehersal. When the curtain rises just hope you've got enough practice, and play the role like your life depended on it.

Because - in a way - it does.