Graduating in 2020 wellbeing webinar video transcript

Hello and welcome to this recorded webinar for those students graduating in 2020 and we're going to be looking at your wellbeing now and in the future. My name is Gareth Hughes, I work for Student Wellbeing at the University and I'm delighted to be able to talk to you today as you move towards your future in what we know are uncertain times. But that does not necessarily mean your future needs to be uncertain in the long term and we'll be talking a little bit about that as we move through the session today.

So I wanted to begin really by saying well done. This is a fantastic achievement, getting a degree is not easy, it's not a given, you don't get it for just turning up, you have to work incredibly hard to get to the point where you are right now. And not only that, you've managed to graduate at a very difficult time. You've managed to graduate during a global pandemic which is a real challenge. So you've done amazingly well to get to this point, you've overcome some real obstacles, some real challenges, difficulties and uncertainties to get to this point and it's really important that we stop and acknowledge how fantastic that is and how fantastic you have done. Even though the end of your degree may have not been what you were expecting, even though you may have not done all the assignments you were expecting to do, or you may not have been able to do them as perfectly as you were hoping. It's still a huge achievement to have got to the end of your degree, to be graduating and to be ready to move on to your next phase of study.

And I think the other thing about that it's really important that you take the time to acknowledge and mark all of that, with everything that's going on right now it would be very easy to kind of move past it. Particularly, because we aren't having graduation ceremonies as normal. So I think one of things that I would have recommended is as a beginning point, is that at some stage over the next few weeks, do try to take the time to just stop and mark the fact that you have got to this point. That you have achieved this huge thing. We are now at a point when I'm recording this and that I'm speaking, we are at a point where we're able to kind of start gathering together with friends and family in a socially distanced way again.

So, if it's possible, do try to gather together with some other people. And just mark the fact that you have reached this stage, acknowledge you've got to this point, celebrate your achievements, celebrate all the hard work that has gone into it over years. And just recognise for yourself that you've done this, you've reached the stage in your life, you've got this achievement and you're now ready to move on to the next phase of your life, overall. But I think it is really important whenever we achieve something like this in our lives, that we do take a moment at some stage to just stop and go "yep, I did it. I did that". And that's really important and it's really good, "look what I did" because what that means is, "I can do more things in the future".

The other thing is, one of the things we've noticed from a lot of the research we've been doing with students both at Derby and around the country, are their experience in COVID-19, there's a lot of final year students who are worried that because they haven't necessarily done the final assessment that they would have initially planned to do, it sometimes means that their degree isn't worth as much of it, they are somehow an imposter going into the job market and that their degree isn't in some way not proper. That is absolutely not the case. Your degree is not your final assessment, one of the unfortunate things about our education system, is that because it focusses very much on end point assessments so in our schools we focus very much on the, the last exam that you sit, we can almost get tricked into thinking that that's the purpose of education. The whole point of education is the final exam and the final assessment that you do and of course it's not. The reason we get educated is to learn. Education is about becoming an educated person. And a lot of the learning, all of the hard work, all of that growth, all of that development that you've done over the last few years, that is not lost because you didn't do a particular assessment in a particular way. And that's the thing that's going to count in your future.

Most employers aren't particularly hung up about whether you've got a particular grade of a degree. But they're interested in is that you have the degree and then testing it in interview, how much knowledge do you have, how much learning, how much understanding, how much you're capable of growing and developing, how capable are you of solving problems. And they will test that in other ways rather than just by looking at your final degree grade. So, don't get too hung up on what happened with that last assessment and focus instead on what is it you're taking away from your degree. All of that learning, all of that growth, all of those things that you can do now that you couldn't do three years ago. That's the real value that comes from doing a degree and that's the thing that's going to change your life and your career. It's not a final grade or a final piece of work, it's all the learning that you've done over that time. The other thing is, by graduating in a pandemic, you've actually demonstrated your ability to be flexible, resilient, responsive.

You've managed to change what you were doing, you've managed to respond to difficult circumstances into unexpected things, into uncertainty, and still get through and graduate at the end. That demonstrates that you've got a set of skills, that employers really want, that ability to respond to unexpected change and still keep going and still get your work done and still be successful. Those are exactly the kind of things that employers want to see. So, don't be afraid in your job applications and your CVs and your interviews, to talk of the difficulty of completing your degree during a pandemic and demonstrating how you did that, how you were responsive, how you responded flexibly, how you found new ways of working, how you show resilience through this period in order to complete. Because what that means is, those students who have graduated this year, have actually demonstrated that they are more ready for the job market, that they are more the employee that employers really want. But don't be afraid to talk that off, and to celebrate it as part of what you have achieved overall.

Now as we come towards the future, I think there are a number of ways that in which students tend to view their future after University. This picture here kind of demonstrates how some students see it, as a kind of huge yawning chasm that stretches all into their future, that is impossible to predict and that just feels doom laden somehow that they’re about to topple into.

Some students on the other hand think this is fantastic I'm out of formal education, I'm out of University, I'm into the real world, I'm free, I can finally go and live the life I want to live. And some students are just a bit puzzled and confused and not really sure what they think about the future and where they needed to go from here. Now the key thing about all of these responses is that actually they're all ok. They're all absolutely fine. How you think and respond to the future right now is going to be different depending on your circumstance, who you are, where you find yourself, what your experiences have been in the past. So it's ok to feel however you're feeling right now.

But you can take control of this and this is the really crucial bit of this. By planning, by thinking things through and by taking positive action, you can take control of your journey and make the next phase of your life and your career go better and feel better overall and that's one of the really important bits that it feels better that you're able to enjoy it as much as you can. Now we have to begin by accepting the circumstance that we're in. It's very easy to get pulled into wishing that we could make COVID-19 just disappear and go away. But we can't.

And it's also very easy to get locked into "if only" thought spirals of thinking if only this wasn't happening, if only it was somebody else, if only it had happened a different year, if only I'd just been able to get my foot in the job market before this all happened. And all that happens when we do that, is that we just get locked in a thought spiral that goes round and round and round, and we become more frustrated, more annoyed and we're not really able to do anything to positively move ourselves forward.

So in order to manage this situation, we need to just accept the reality is, what it is. We cannot change the way the job market is right now, we cannot change the fact that COVID-19 has arrived, we have to accept this is what it is and then work with the reality that we find ourselves in, in order to make it as good as it possibly can be right now and to plan for a better future. Because this moment will pass, we will not always be in this situation, we will emerge at some point from this pandemic, the economy will improve, there will be jobs available, there will be a career that is available for you, there is a great future up there ahead of you.

The fact that things aren't that easy right now, does not mean that your whole future is doomed. So it's important to just get this into perspective, the reality is, it's not necessarily as we would have wanted it right now, things aren't necessarily great right now for everyone, but it won't be like that forever. Part of this is also about accepting how we feel, the emotions that come along. So if you are worried about your future, if you are feeling frustrated that all of this has happened, if you did have plans in your head and you're disappointed that they aren't going to come along, that's ok. It's alright to have that feeling. The important point is that we don't let that feeling dictate what we do next, we don't spiral down into this kind of feeling of doom, that means we don't do anything because we think it's hopeless or it's pointless, or there's nothing that we can do to make things right.

If we engage with the reality, not only can we see the things that aren't how we'd like them to be, but we'll also be able to see those things that actually are still good. There will be aspects of your life that are still ok. You may have friendships that are still good, or still have support of family, you will still have the learning and the skills you've acquired at University which are going to see you through in the future. You might be able to get a paying job right now, you might be able to get a graduate job right now which will set you off on a brilliant future.

So there are still good things around, there are still positive things to engage with and work towards and just because things aren't how we'd hope them to be, it doesn't mean everything is awful. But if we engage with reality, we can then start to make practical plans that will actually start to make things better for now, and in the future.

Now there's a key thing and it wrapped up in all of this which is why I'm talking about short term and long term, which is that your generation has really been sold at a kind of a lie about the future. Which is that in order to be successful, you have to make the right choices at every moment of your life, you have to choose the right GCSEs, choose the right A levels, choose the right degree course, pick the right career, pick the right job to apply for, get the interview right, get every aspect of it right. Because if you don't, you will topple to your doom.

And that's why often think when I'm listening to third year students talking about their future, this image often comes into my head. This is Philippe Petit walking between the Twin Towers on a tightrope and there's a film that's been made about this that some of you may have seen. But that idea that your future is somehow a tightrope, strong out on a very tall height and that if you get anything wrong, you will plunge to your doom, it's just simply not right. This isn't how your future is going to work, it's not how careers work, careers don't work in a straight line. The expectation now is that most people will have four or five careers in the course of their lifetime.

So you will move around, you will do different things, so the step that you take today, doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be absolutely the right step. It can just be a step forward, you will learn from that step from what you try and do if you try a career, or try a job and it turns out to not be the right thing for you, that's ok. You can change and live in a different direction go and do something else. If you were to go in the Student Wellbeing office, at Derby, and ask everyone and there's a lot of very qualified professionals in that room, a lot of Masters, a lot of Doctorates in that room and say to them, "ok, everyone who is in the job they were expecting to be in, put your hand up" you would see no hands going up, including mine. We are all in careers we didn't expect to be in when we left University and that's how the world actually works.

Success doesn't work in a straight line, our lives move in squiggly little lines. They loop back and forth, we go in one direction then decide that's not the right path for us and come back and go in another direction, and that's ok. We know that actually, people who are really successful aren't people who have worked in a straight line all the way along, who had a clear plan and followed it all their life, they were people who had a plan, worked towards it, and they were able to adjust and change their plans, in response to new learning.

So if they thought, actually you know what I'm not actually enjoying this as much as I thought I was, actually this career isn't for me, they were able to adapt and change, think about what they have, think about what they learned, what skills they had, what abilities they had, and then changing and move in a different direction. So be open to that. What that means is, you can free yourself up today, from the needs to make the perfect choice.

And you can just look at what would be a positive step forward now, in these circumstances and then that will give you something to build on in future and again, and again. And do remember, just because this pandemic has happened, it does not mean you're not going to have a brilliant career and a fantastic fulfilled and happy life. It may be different, the path has squiggly before you maybe have expected it to, but that's all this is, the path that you're going to be taking will be a bit different from the one you imagined. But in truth, the path that you ended up taking will have been different from the one you imagined any way, like I was saying about my own experience. This isn't what I expected to be, I'm delighted that it's where I've ended up, but it's not where I would of expected to be at the beginning.

So work with reality, work with what's important to you, take the step that's available to you today and then you will find your way through. And do remember the University are still here to support you, the Careers department and Careers team will support you for the next three years as you work your way into the beginning of your career. So you still have a lot of support around you to help you move forward. 

Now the end of student life often comes as what we call a hump of uncertainty. Where you come out the end of your degree and you're not sure what the future brings, you haven't yet found your career yet, you haven't necessarily settled into what you want to do next, and so you're not yet into your future. But the truth is, that's ok. Because that happens to thousands of students all over the world, actually millions of students all over the world every year. And yet they all, somehow, find their way through, eventually find their way into a career, move forward, learn, get promoted, get a new job, move on and their future develops. All the people who are in professional occupations now, all the people who have come out of University and gone on to be successful, have all come through this hump of uncertainty.

So if that's what you're experiencing right now, if you're in the midst of that hump of uncertainty of not knowing where to go, not knowing what to do, not sure how to make your future work, worrying what will happen next, all of that's ok. That's a normal part of being a graduate and you will move through it, and you will come out of it and you will find your future. But we're gonna talk now, a little bit about some ways in which you can think about all of this stuff and plan through all of this stuff to get you out of that hump a little bit quicker. So the key thing is about focussing on what you can control. So you can't control the economy, you can't control what's happening with COVID-19, you can't control all the job opportunities that are going to necessarily come up. But what you do have control over, is you. You can control your thoughts, your behaviours and your plans.

And if we focussed on what we can control, we then start to feel more in control, we feel we have more control over our future because we have more control over our day to day, our wellbeing improves generally any way, we're then able to make more and better and clearer plans for our future, we can respond more flexibly to opportunity as it arises, and then we can move forward more easily.

So let's focus on the actual what's happening on a day to day at the moment. Now one of things that's important to think about is what it is that you want from you future as you're moving through. Now there are a number of things that we think brings us happiness and happiness is a thing we are all aiming for in our lives. All of the things that we think we want, we generally want them because we think they will make us happy so we think we want money, or fame, or family or whatever it is because we think if we have those things, then we'll be happier. But the research shows that there are some things that actually don't make us as happy as we think they would.

So really high status, having lots of people admiring you and being in a really high status, actually doesn't tend to make us as happy as we think it would. Money and material possessions do have an impact on our happiness, up to a certain point. Once you get to a point where you have enough to survive, where you've got enough to be reasonably comfortable, actually after that point, becoming richer has a kind of decreasing impact on our wellbeing. When we know that people who are very, very rich often, actually don't have very good wellbeing or happiness at all.

So if you're struggling for money, if you're struggling to keep a roof over your head, obviously more money does improve your happiness and your wellbeing but once you get to a point where those things are secure, then actually more money doesn't particularly make us a lot more happier. For students, we think that good grades obviously are gonna make us I've got a good grade that will be really happy. But actually studies have shown that impact of that good grade doesn't really last very long and it doesn't make us happy as we think it would.

Ticking off goals is another thing some students sometimes have very clear plans when they've got a lot of set goals and they're going to tick them all off, now once they've ticked them all off, they expect that that's going to make them happy. But again, in general we find that it doesn't particularly, now it's good to have a plan and it's good to have direction, but it's not the ticking off goals that particularly makes us happy and I'll talk a bit more about that in a moment. And then winning, again we think that if people who win all the time are likely to be much happier, but again the evidence is that the impact of that winning doesn't last very long.

So what are the things that do then actually matter? What is that we actually want? Well there's an academical Tal Ben Shahar who wrote a book called Happier, who said that there are a number of ways in which we can think about the way we approach our future and he basically said there are four ways in which people approach their future and try to bring about happiness. The first thing is there is Hedonism.

So in Hedonsim, this is where we spend a lot of money, party, drink a lot, have a lot fun and that actually works a little bit, for a while, generally about 2 weeks or so and that's why, you know, going on holiday and having a really good time on holiday can make you feel really good. But over time, because it doesn't have much meaning in it, generally Hedonism starts to wear out and we start to enjoy it less and we get bored, and actually over time then, it starts to have a negative impact on our wellbeing overall.

The second thing he calls 'rat race' but I've heard it called delay, which is where we say "ok, what I'm gonna do is I'm going to delay being happy and when I've got my perfect career and my perfect house and my perfect family, at that point, I will allow myself to be happy and until I get there, I'm just going to push myself through misery on a day to day basis, working ridiculously long hours, dragging myself through life knowing that when I eventually get to that point, I will then be happy. And what tends to happen is we get to that point, we look around and go "well I've got all this stuff, why aren't I happy?" because what we've practised, is being miserable. What we've practised is being unhappy and what we practise is we get good at, so that generally doesn't work either.

The third way is kind of a denial strategy, where we basically say look the kind of Nihilism, "there's no such thing as happiness, happiness is invented by the greetings card industry, life is just miserable and you've got to push your way through it". Unsurprisingly, that tends not to lead to people becoming happy. So the thing that does kind of work is if we do have kind of big, life long goals. And the key thing here is that there are big life long, these are not goals we're going to tick off remember, their goals we're going to work towards over the course of our life, the things that are meaningful for us and that we enjoy working towards.

So for me, for instance, the thing that really motivates me is that I am passionate about student wellbeing and student mental health. I think we can improve the mental health and wellbeing of our students all over the country and indeed all over the world. Now, do I think I can achieve that by myself? Absolutely not, it's far too big a task. But I think I can make the contribution, working with other people and it's something I can commit to over years and I enjoy all of the things that I do, this webinar, the therapy I do in Student Wellbeing, the campaigning and research that I do, all of it is dedicated towards that goal and I really enjoy all of those things. So I get pleasure from working towards something that gives meaning and if you can find yourself in position where you are working towards life long goals, that give you meaning and are pleasurable, then you will find there are things in your life that make you happy.

Now that could be about your career, it could also be about family life, it might be about being a parent, your goal might be to raise children who can go off and live their life and have good wellbeing and be happy and have good lives, and you might enjoy bringing your children up. That then ticks that box that then fits the kind of description that we have here. You are working towards something that gives you meaning and pleasure.

Another way you might want to think about this and again it's another one that ties into, is to think about three things. What gives you meaning, what gives you pleasure and what are your strengths. So you may for instance think about the meaning area, so what is that you are passionate about, that you care about, that you're interested in, what are the things in the world that make you frustrated that you wanted to change, what are the things that you think are really important in life? Then what are the things that give you pleasure, what do you enjoy, what do you find fun, when are you at your happiest and most cheerful, when are the moments that you laugh most? Note down what some of those things are.

And then what are the things you're good at, what are your strengths, what have other people told you that you're good at, if you were to ask your friends or your family, or your lecturers, what would they say? Now if you make a list of all three of those things, the things that give you meaning, the things that give you pleasure and the things you're good at, you'll find there are some things in all three columns, now you may need to just analyse the columns carefully because sometimes when we think about the different ways we may phrase them differently, but you may find that there are things in all three columns that are basically the same.

And if you built a little Venn diagram, you'd find therefore that there are some things in the middle of your Venn diagram. And if you can find that, I would suggest that's what you build your career towards. Because if you can build a career that gives you meaning, pleasure and that is in your strengths, you will have a career that you find fulfilling, and that helps you to be happy and enjoy your life.

And of course we've got to add on a fourth one on to this at some point, which is what you can get paid for. And that's an important factor in all of this, but I would begin by looking meaning pleasure and strengths first and then you can start thinking ok what are the careers and jobs that would get me close to that. Now your first job may not perfectly match up to the middle of the Venn diagram, but at least it might get close, it might include some of those things that are in there, or it might include some of the other overlaps that are between meaning and pleasure, and pleasure and strengths for instance. And then you can start working towards that centre of your Venn diagram. No keep coming back and redoing that because the things that give us pleasure and meaning can change over the course of our lives, but keep coming back and revisiting that because if you are working towards that, then you will be working towards a career that you enjoy.

And this is about following your intrinsic motivation, following the things that you care about and are passionate about and making sure that your career is focussed in an area like that. And then you can just be open to opportunity, you can look out for chance that comes along because that's likely where your career develops not a planned way which you do that, then that, and then that, but opportunities will open up and if you're aware about what kind of career and what kind of work you want to do, you'll be able to identify those opportunities that you want to pursue and those that may be aren't right for you.

And what we're really talking about here is something called planned happenstance, where you learn and develop and you try and identify those areas of your life that you think are meaningful and pleasurable and satisfying, where you continue to learn and grow and develop your skill and develop your strengths so that you're ready to take opportunities when you come along.

And then you're open to those opportunities and courageous enough to try them and that you allow the path to be a journey, so that you allow mistakes. You allow yourself to take on an opportunity and then go "oh do you know what this isn't right for me" "ok, so why now, what is it about the opportunity that isn't right?" "What am I not enjoying? What isn't good? ok, right so I need to learn from all of that and move and go and do something else". And if you allow your career to be a journey rather than a destination you're trying to get to, then it's easier it takes a lot of the pressure off, it take the pressure off trying to get something perfectly right. And it just becomes a process of learning, and developing, and growing, and acknowledging that the job you have today is not the one you'll have forever.

Today is not forever, you can move and grow and develop and get more jobs and more work, because remember, you're a graduate now. You're a graduate and graduates are people that employers want you have skills, knowledge, understanding of the world and of your subject area that means you are going to be able to make a real impact in the world of work and grow and develop and help change the world for better.

Amongst all of those things, this is where you need to focus down on yourself, we all need to be focussed on how we manage our own wellbeing because our wellbeing is an important part of living a fulfilled life. Now this is a thing I have shared, some of you may have heard me talk about this before, talking about how academic performance gets produced. We talk about your physical health, psychological health and social health, it's filled through your academic skills, effort and approach, to produce your overall academic performance. But we could take out the academic bit and replace it with work, or with a hobby, or with a sport because actually the same thing is true, for all of those things. Because everything we do in our life affects some. other part of us. Our psychological health is affected by our social health, if we aren't

spending time with other people, if we aren't taking time out to relax and enjoy ourselves, then our psychological health is impacted. Our physical health, if we give up on too much sleep, if we work too long hours so that we're exhausted, again, your psychological health will drop overall and your work place performance will also drop, it's not possible to continue to work really long hours and give up sleep and maintain good workplace performance. So we need to be thinking about those four areas, your physical health, your psychological health, your social health and then whatever it is you're doing as an activity, whatever it is that you do in your life, so whether it's work or hobbies or whatever, that is good for you. So if you think about if your workplace is a place where you are getting meaning and pleasure and social connection, you can see how that would then benefit all those other aspects of your health.

And we need to make sure that we are as we're moving through our time at work, taking time to turn off, relax, manage your stress and let go of it because work places now there is a lot of demand, they can be stressful places so we need to make sure we're taking time out and we're proactively managing ourselves so that we are able to relax, as well as possible. So you may want to do this through for instance, breathing exercises and many of you will have heard, those of us in Student Wellbeing talking about the importance of things like 7/11 breathing and if you look online you can find lots of ways of instructing you to engage in 7/11 breathing. It's probably one of the most effective things that we teach, so do go and engage in that because you can use 7/11 breathing to help you relax in meetings, or in the workplace or before you go in for an interview and it will help you then be in a calm place ready to engage with whatever it is you are being asked to do.

Walking mindfully is a little thing that you can do, where you just go out for a walk and just notice the things around you. Particularly, if you notice things in nature, if you pay attention to trees, or birds, or bushes, or grass and you can just do that for five or ten minutes and you will find that you are much less stressed afterwards and you feel that you have more energy. Muscle relaxation is something you can do or even you can do that sitting at a desk sometimes where you may want to just kind of tense up your feet and then relax them, tense up your calves, relax, tense up your thighs, relax and you can do that slowly or you can do it quickly, but if you just spend a few minutes focussing on it and focussing on relaxing your muscles, you will generally find that you are more relaxed. You may want to use a visualisation, so taking some time out or you may want to do this at the end of the day, where you bring the working day to a end by visualising yourself somewhere in nature, feeling relaxed, feeling engaged with nature, feeling calm, recognising that your day has ended and then moving into your evening, so you can spend time enjoying yourself.

Musically mood changes are moved more quickly than anything else, whether this is playing music or just listening to music. Refocussing to switch off trance because stress can be a trance state it can put you into a kind of negative spiral where you can't see solutions because you're just locked and stuck and so you can refocus sometimes just by simply changing rooms or changing your posture, standing up if you're sitting at your desk or sitting down if you're standing up, moving through a doorway can help you switch off a trance or thinking about something else and then bringing your attention back to what it was initially. And things like yoga, exercise can all help you to manage stress and kind of feel better about your life overall.

And remember to keep on learning, and this is a very important part when if you look at for instance New Economics Foundations, Five Way's to Wellbeing, one of them is learning. Learning is good for you, and you by being a University student have acquired the skill to keep learning, you now how to learn, you know how to research, you know how to go and find things out, so don't stop learning just because you've left University, keep identifying areas of interest, areas for your development and make the most of opportunities that come along to help you grow and develop and learn and then you will continue to feel like you're moving forward in life, you'll continue to feel like you're developing, and you'll be in a position to take up opportunities as they come along.

And remember you are a graduate, not every body is able to say that. You have skilled, learning, insight, ability, knowledge that other people don't have. So make the most that and enter the world with confidence knowing that you have that ability. Remember to focus on those things you care about and you're passionate about, if you focus on the way you want to change the world and you work towards those big life long goals you will feel much more fulfilled overall, but do have fun as well, fun matters we need some pleasure, we need a balance in our lives of all of these things.

Look after all of those aspects of your wellbeing and from all of us at Derby, good luck. Our students go off and do extraordinary things every year, we always hear stories about our graduates that amaze us, all the incredible things that they go on and do and you will not be an exception to that, whatever it is that you go and do, whether you go and work in the hospital with patients, you're teaching, you're working in engineering, you're working in computing, you go and work in the arts. Whatever it is that you go and do next, you have the ability to really make a difference. You're one of our graduates and we're incredibly proud of our graduates because we know how amazing you are.

You've worked through a really difficult period of time in the world, and that will have honed some more strength, some more resilience, some more skill, so be confident in that, be confident in yourself, be confident in who you are and all of the learning that you've acquired and know that it's going to make things better in future. Trust yourself, trust on our judgement and you, good luck, remember that we're still here for the next few year to support you and go and have a fantastic life out there and we look forward to hearing about all the amazing things that you have done. Good luck and as the old Irish saying goes, "may the road rise up to meet you and let the wind be always at your back". Thank you.

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