When the Future Feels Uncertain, Sometimes the Smallest Act is Enough to Ground You

Illustration by Karolina Varvarovska

As I’m sure is the case for many young people living in an economically fragile, post-Brexit, pandemic-struck UK, it’s safe to say that thinking about the future often fills me with seismic waves of nausea. According to the prophecies of glitzy tv, movies and literature in years gone by, your twenties are supposed to be the decade where the world feels like a giant French window, gloriously open wide to every possibility you could dream of. But in the dystopian reality that is 2020, the world feels more akin to the wind-up window of an old Rover, with a worn-out handle that begrudgingly opens the window just enough to delight you with a whiff of manure from outside.

Without wishing to get too bogged down with every possible thing that terrifies me about the future - no one needs to know what goes on in my brain during an existential downward spiral - one of my more irrational (or perhaps not) fears is that I will simply never develop into a fully-functioning, independent adult. Sure, I survived three years living away from home whilst studying at uni, but when I consider that on one occasion in my final year I had to ring my mum to ask her how long a Magnum would survive out of the freezer because I wanted to take it to the park to eat (she told me to wrap it in foil and put it in a cool bag, and I am happy to report it made it through the 15 minute walk unmelted), this didn’t feel like a true rite of passage to adulthood. Of course, my Mum has zero qualifications that would make her an expert in the melting point of ice cream, but the fundamental fact that she gave birth to me somehow makes me view her as the font of all knowledge, whilst common sense is unfortunately not my strong point.

It doesn’t help that education about taxes, debts, loans and mortgages is noticeably absent from the UK school curriculum as a whole. You would struggle to find a young adult who couldn’t confidently recite the ancient proverb: “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”, but if you asked about credit scores and how to buy property, I would bet that the majority of teenagers/early twenty-somethings would be considerably more stumped. These large gaps in my knowledge of life beyond what you learn at school and university often lead me to worry that I am destined to be a perpetual almost-adult for the rest of my life, still relying on Google or my Mum to answer the most seemingly basic queries.

Of course, there are the additional fears that bubble up as a result of my mere existence as a 22 year old in an extraordinarily uncertain climate. On top of the devastating human tragedies that have happened as a result of COVID-19, many job sectors have also experienced great hardships. Creative industries have particularly suffered through lockdown and beyond (with minimal financial support from the government) and as someone who hopes to forge some kind of a career within this industry, this extra serving of unpredictability is the icing on top of the soggy-bottomed cake. Making a living as a creative can be notoriously challenging at the best of times, but it is especially hard to try and climb the career ladder when it seems that a global pandemic could push the whole ladder onto the ground at any moment.

On the days where the panicked thoughts about my personal development become a touch too panicked, I have often been able to find a bit of solace, however, by seeking out one useful thing I can practically (and easily) do. Literally just one. Usually these tasks are as insignificant as emptying a bin, unsubscribing to a mailing list I have no recollection of signing up for, or, on a recent occasion, finally removing the remnants of an unsightly childhood sticker that had been plaguing the front of my wardrobe for eight years. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed when considering the future, but knowing there is one thing I can easily say I’ve accomplished there and then tends to inject me with the boost of confidence I so desperately need as reassurance that I am actually able to look after myself to a satisfactory degree. Sure, these miniscule tasks certainly aren’t going to provide me with deep feelings of gratification and self-fulfillment in the long run, but sometimes they truly serve as a much-needed reminder that I’m not a complete lost cause, and that maybe - just maybe - I will be able to figure all the rest out some day.

Article by Olivia Cox