My teachers at school had high hopes for me ten years ago, when I finished my compulsory schooling and looked down the barrel of sixth-form. I wasn't a genius or anything, but I was a good all-rounder who was generally in the top five of the class in any given subject, with the exceptions of PE and Design Tech. It was even in the reference my form tutor wrote me - "Mary will be spoilt for choice of which A-levels to take."
If you'd told those teachers that in ten years time I would be scraping almost-minimum wage doing a trained-chimp job where I wear trainers to work, they probably would have looked very confused and checked that you were talking about the same Mary.
But, none of them would have been able to give you much of an idea what I would be doing. I was and am reasonably good at all sorts of things, but nothing has ever stood out enough to indicate a specific career of any kind.
At the moment, I am happy as a CD dispatcher. Some of the most important factors for me working are: that I have a flexible and open-minded employer; that my colleagues are sensible and understanding about my particular needs; and that it will not cause death and destruction if I am suddenly crumple up with a migraine (for instance, I should never be an air traffic controller).
In my current job, I have all of that and more. My boss and co-workers are supportive without being patronising, and if for whatever reason I can't work, then the worst that happens is a customer has to wait an extra day for a CD, which to my knowledge, is not the sort of thing that the fate of the free world depends on. We even have a good selection of drinks and biscuits provided in the office kitchen cupboard. That's the sort of perk that isn't to be taken lightly. Some of the most highly-paid career-people I know are jealous of me, as they feed their 20ps into the vending machines in the corridors of their corporate workplaces to obtain a styrofoam cup of alleged tea.
That said, no one should be surprised that I have no desire to be a CD dispatcher for the next ten years. No matter how lovely the people or the workplace might be, the job itself is tiring*, boring, low-paid, unchallenging, and probably not the best use of those all-rounder skills. Furthermore, since I have no interest in classical music, I have no promotion prospects within my current firm.
But, like my teachers ten years ago, I have absolutely no idea what I should be doing. My tragic realisation that, once I got past the age of 18, no one would give a monkey's about the school qualifications I worked so hard for, has not helped.
Some things I won't be doing no matter what. I'm not going to be an astronaut or a doctor or a lawyer or a rally driver or CEO at Microsoft. It's just not on the cards.
There's the stuff I used to do, "helping disabled and disadvantaged people into training and employment"... I was reasonably good at it and I did enjoy it, but these days I think it would be a little bit too close to the bone. I would flinch at having to deal with the Department of Work and Pensions in my work life and my personal life. In fact, this acquired mindset where I regard the DWP as "to be avoided at all costs", probably prevents me from doing most of the sort of social-care kind of work that would, how can I put this, make my Mother proud.
I can think of a hundred new things I could try (given support as appropriate) but most of them, such as being a teacher or a hairdresser or an accountant, would require me to spend a year or more getting qualified first. That isn't a problem. I'd be quite happy to spend a year or so at college, if I had a goal in sight. But I have no idea what I'd want to study and it seems pointless to study just for the sake of it, to put time an effort into doing a course on no real basis other that it happens to be running at the nearest college.
So for now at least, and until any better plans present themselves, I trundle along with the picking and packing CDs.
* The 'tiring' thing is the big problem at the moment. The 'Christmas rush' hasn't subsided, which is great for the company, but not great for me, as I really cannot maintain this level of daily physical effort. My boss would be happy to consider reduced hours, flexitime and so on, the trouble is that if I dip below 16 hours per week then my wages dip to 'better off on benefit' level. If I was a client of the company I used to work for, then I would be put on Supported Permitted Work which allows people who can only work part-time for disability reasons to keep a certain amount of earnings on top of Incapacity Benefit. But the local DEA (as featured previously) won't help, she just tells me I can work 16+ hours or not at all. I have an appointment with my GP next week, maybe she'll have some ideas.
I am also, god help me, considering Tax Credits, on the basis that if I have to wrangle with them ad infinitum anyway, I might as well do a smidge more wrangling and actually get something for it.