I graduated from the University of Nottingham last year with a 2.1 in Politics and Economics and to be honest, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I made all kinds of plans with my friends for what we would do in summer and after exams – holidays, restaurants, graduation, all that kind of stuff. Instead, from mid-March there was a gradual tapering off as the people I’d spent the last three years getting close to all went back home to their various parts of the world. In July I saw my results online, and in September, an envelope came with my certificate and transcript and that was the sum total of my university experience.
Initially, my plan was to take a year after uni to “recover”. The plan was never to sit at home doing nothing, but I wanted a smooth transition year between university and the more intensive world of formal work. This led to me applying for a job working with kids with additional needs at a school in Dulwich, a role I’d initially planned to do for the whole year. In all honesty I enjoyed it, I felt like I was making an impact and helping young people, while also being guaranteed holidays and working convenient hours.
But in the most uncertain of times, when an opportunity comes, you have to take it. I found my current role, working in Financial and Corporate PR, not long after beginning at the school and I made the transition just over a month in. I’ve now been at my firm for just over seven months, and I’ve learned a lot, while facing all kinds of interesting challenges. The first thing which really hit me was the imposter syndrome, a topic we’ll be covering in detail at EBF in our podcast this month.
I feel like it’s vital to preface everything here with the simple fact that in a workplace with good colleagues, as mine is, it’s rare that you’ll be made to feel like an outsider, or somebody who doesn’t belong. My colleagues are all good people who value me and the work I do, something I will always appreciate. However, as a young and inexperienced black man from Thornton Heath coming into an environment full of consummate professionals from vastly different backgrounds to mine, the feeling of uncertainty comes from within. I joined on a grad scheme as the youngest person at the company and immediately felt like I had to prove myself. Although everyone starts somewhere and I earned my place there, it was hard to reconcile this self-awareness with the fact that I am inherently an outsider in most corporate environments. Even at this point, I still have a constant drive to prove I can do more, and I deserve to be there.
I know you’ll have heard this for your entire life, but a lot of black kids don’t have the luxury of immediate self-assuredness in professional settings and it’s important to remind yourself that you are worthy, and you have earned your place where you are. Plenty of other things hit me hard when I begun in the professional world – the early mornings after years of skipping 9am lectures, the feeling of constantly being the least clued-up in the room as a new beginner, the intensity of working on high profile accounts with clients who have needs that must be met well outside of hours – but this is probably the key aspect that affected has affected me.
To be honest, I’m still learning, and I think that’s the way it should be. Learning doesn’t stop after University, as much as sometimes we’d like it to, and that’s the beauty of the workplace. Perhaps not everybody will feel the same way, but it’s an important message, and I know it’s one I didn’t hear enough before I entered the corporate world.
By Harry, PR and Media Relations Lead, Excellerate Black Futures