Views Editor Rothery Sullivan explores the ever-growing priority of happiness among students as they choose their careers.
Graduate lawyers are being placed on starting salaries as high as £150,000 due to a staff shortage, a BBC article has revealed. For such a seemingly attractive career profession, and with a six figure starting salary to boot, this initially seemed nonsensical.
Nonetheless, I know of a number of people who have left high-salaried career paths at university over the last couple of years. While some of their departures were due to stress - the pandemic has only exacerbated the difficulty of high-workload courses - many credit leaving for the sake of prioritising their happiness. After all, one thing we've learned from the pandemic is that life is too short to spend your time being depressed.
"One thing we've learned from the pandemic is that life is too short to spend your time being depressed."
This new-found mindset has led many students to prioritise their happiness at university over their career prospects, resulting in an increase in student nurses dropping out ( there’s a shortage in this industry too!. Instead, students seem to be choosing riskier careers in the humanities.
These courses include History of Art, Philosophy, Geography, or, in my case, English Literature and Film/Television Studies. This is despite many of these degrees being unable to guarantee a decent job unless you undertake postgraduate study, and the financial and temporal investment required of it. Take, for example, the job of a museum curator. This is one of the few jobs that an art history degree can be used for, and a postgraduate degree in museum or gallery studies is recommended. This means four to five years of study and student loans (you only need six to become a lawyer) for a job with an entry salary of £18,000. Why would anyone choose a degree that will reap such low financial rewards? I’d say it’s because they foster happiness, fulfilment and enjoyment.
I’m in the same boat as the future broke blokes I’ve described: I plan on undertaking a postgraduate degree to enter a field where financial success is unlikely. But, my reasoning for the decisions I’ve made has revolved entirely around my happiness. Simply put, I don’t want to be unhappy now on a course I hate for just a chance of being happy in the future. I measure success on the basis of happiness, fulfilment and enjoyment, even if it means barely earning above the minimum wage. My conversations with those who have left Law, Nursing or Medicine courses suggest they share this mindset.
"I don’t want to be unhappy now on a course I hate for just a chance of being happy in the future."
Another worry that many young people have is stress, and a career path guaranteeing high stakes and long hours will only exacerbate this. Indeed, for every step on the one to ten stress scale, employees typically earn an extra £2,000 on average. Is the money worth the stress? Generation Z says no. With less than half of us in good mental health, and the climate crisis breathing down our necks, many of us are deciding to prioritise our wellbeing over our annual income. We are the most depressed and anxious generation since the second world war, and our pursuit of happiness is surely an inevitable response to this.
That said, there are those who do find happiness and fulfilment in stressful careers which reap large monetary rewards. Of course, having a larger income can help relieve the financial stress that only gets larger as we get older, which is a big motivator for some students. Family-orientated students may logically pursue a career that can provide a steady income for them, as lacking this will only result in stressful parenting. It makes sense for these students to prioritise the happiness and wellbeing of their future families, even if that means pursuing a high-stress career themselves.
I come back, though, to those goals of happiness, fulfilment and enjoyment. These are our generation’s priorities, and for an increasing proportion of us, earning a six-figure salary will only squander our realisation of them. Gowns and gavels aside: it’s the galleries we’re off to.
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