I went to university in an absolutely magical, beautiful place. Ten years ago, I graduated from Falmouth University in Cornwall, England (back when it was still called University College Falmouth). I received a 1st class degree in Film, but despite being top of the class all three years, despite being a Type-A perfectionist who once cried rather embarrassingly in a one-on-one tutorial with a lecturer because he had to explain something to me (he's only a few years older than me and that's undoubtedly relevant, but that's another story), despite being told on more than one occasion by my course leader — whose praise was the holy grail for those 3 years — that I was the "most visible student on campus," first in line at every extracurricular event because I was just that hungry to learn and soak up every ounce of experience possible, in the end, despite all that, I still feel like I failed.
Because I failed to secure an industry job after graduation.
Sometimes I get depressed about how a decade has inexplicably unraveled since said course leader called out my name as I strode across the stage, exhilarated to have finally finished something I'd started. Like I have "nothing to show for it,"
because unlike some of my peers, I don't have a post-production career though I was one of the few students to spend countless hours in the dark editing suites picking the technicians' brains, even teaching non-film students the software. I don't have an academic career despite loving film theory and thinking paper-writing was an absolute hoot, and despite being accepted on an MA at Glasgow (which I turned down due for various reasons).
I was the stereotypical overachiever on the degree because I'd stopped and started other degrees at other universities, and this was the third (or fourth?) chance I never deserved. Yet after graduation, after applying for dozens and dozens of jobs I was more than qualified for, and interviewing well, I wasn't offered one. (Long story short, I concluded ageism and the unlikelihood of me working for peanuts after having had a decent salary in other industries in the ten years prior had something to do with it. I did the work placements, but when it came to hiring, 20-somethings were probably more attractive than 30-somethings).
So what did happen in those ten years?
Countless European and American travel adventures, nonstop pursuit of writing craft and publishing industry education, completion of 4.5 manuscripts (some of which I rewrote multiple times, because perfectionist...), and I got married (in a Scottish castle). Essentially, I spent the decade filling my inspiration well, and teaching myself how to write fiction. Oh, and I had a baby. Managed to squeeze that into the tail end.
For awhile I was hung up on how "little" I'd accomplished; a glaring lack of CV accolades and titles. An inability to represent my alma mater in the industry, and appear on the cover of their prospectus doing my thing. Whatever it was I imagined I'd end up doing that would fulfil my burning need to prove I was somebody who hadn't wasted her time, while making my friends and family and lecturers all insanely proud.
It’s time to let go of worrying I failed because I didn’t hit specific marks, and instead embrace all that course redirection allowed me to do instead.
I had expectations of life because I'd finally finished something I'd started. Life didn't go that way, and I crashed again, a failure, again. But it's taken me most of the time since to realise I've been doing lots of somethings... and it's time to let go of worrying I failed because I didn't hit specific marks, and instead embrace the course redirection and all it's allowed me to do instead.
I still have my days. But what's more important to me than all that now is the realisation that I wouldn't trade my time at Falmouth for the world. It was the most pivotal part of my adult life thus far, and I was an adult for ten years before I began the course.
Realisation: You don't write your story. Your story writes you.
It shaped me not just as a person, but as a creative. I've been writing stories and world-building since I was little, but I've poured all that I experienced from my time there into my storytelling, and my failure to get a film industry job led to my full-time writing focus. It led to my determination and dedication, the combination of which has forced me to face my perfectionism and plow through mistake after mistake, so long as I keep aiming forward.
Most importantly, that inspiration well I mentioned earlier? My time at Falmouth filled that ten times over. The people, experiences, relationships, environment — it was all the perfect combination to help me grow from who I was before, to who I am now. A bridge between a daydreaming wanderer jumping from path to path in the blink of an eye, to someone steadfast in their approach like I could never be before.
It wasn't just the degree, but also the sea air outside my door, the hilly walks in sideways rain, the isolated, coastal lifestyle, and more crucially than I'd realised at the time, the influence of the historical (and prehistoric) Cornish sites and landscapes surrounding me.
Every aspect of those three Falmouth years was about hopeful possibility; even though I was older than most with lots of dead-ends in my wake, I was accepted and encouraged and believed in, and in such a setting, it was impossible for me to feel lost anymore. I felt like I was only just beginning to find myself, after years of forgetting that possibilities — that maybes — are what life is really about.
My well was filled in those three years, and though ten have passed since I crossed that stage and moved on to the next — every day, the memories and experiences in that well feed my writing, which in turn feeds my heart. Storytelling needs inspiration, and not a day has gone by in this past decade where my three Falmouth years have simply sat idle in my brain. They were magical, and they reminded me that magic is in the maybe. Magic, inspiration, creativity, hope — whatever you call it. When the story isn't finished, there's still room for those maybes. But you also need that magic to carry you between one story finishing to the next beginning.