Tag Archives: University

Dear John Bellany

28 Aug
John Bellany Image by Robert Perry

John Bellany, Image by Robert Perry

Dear John,

We never met, but when I read of your death earlier this evening, I knew I had to write this letter.

I’m not an artist; I gave up on drawing after a classmate made fun of my clown drawing in primary school. “Amy,” she spat, with real venom, “Your clown has six fingers on one hand and eleven on the other.” It wasn’t good enough, she said, clowns had five fingers on each hand, she explained. So, I’m going to honour you the only way I know how to, and that is to write about how your words have affected my life.

You received an honorary degree at my graduation in 2009. You were the second person to receive a degree, the first being Jonathan Mills, the Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, but his speech was, dare I say, very, very boring.

I was starting to drift off with my degree certificate sat smugly on my lap when you stood up and slowly moved to the front of the stage. You fumbled with the papers you’d written your speech on, you seemed nervous. “Oh dear” I thought, “It looks like we’re in for another dull speech.” And I prepared myself for a long morning.

You began by thanking the university and launching into a speech about looking out from the stage to all the young graduates assembled. But then, you paused, and uttered the now immortal words, “Well, if I’m honest, I’ve forgotten my glasses, so all I can see is darkness.”

The audience laughed; we cheered, we giggled, I think there was even a round of applause. You had won us over with your confession. You were honest, you were on our side. You cast aside your speech, and launched into what can only be described as something truly extraordinary. To call it a pep talk would be insulting; you were preparing us for battle.

As you gazed into the darkness of the theatre, trying to make out the faces of the hundreds of graduates gazing back at you in awe, you said that we were going to come up against barriers once we graduated. We were, you assured us, going to experience having “…many doors slammed in our faces”. But, we were not to be disheartened, you said, instead, we were to pound on the doors that would be slammed in our faces. We were to pound on them repeatedly, until our knuckles bled. I remember you held your hands up, and squeezed them into tight fists as you punched the air, your eyes screwed tight, pounding on all the doors that had ever been slammed in your face.

I can remember imagining a nondescript pine door being slammed shut as you smashed the figurative doors that had stood in your way for years. It’s the same pine door that I see now when I get yet another job rejection. It’s the same pine door that closes when an editor tells me I don’t have enough experience. It’s the same pine door that rattles in its frame as it slams closed when a promising internship turns out to be another dead-end.

But whenever that nondescript pine door has smacked me in the face as it closed – and it’s been closed to me so often, and it will be closed to me again – I’ve heard your words. And suddenly I can see you again in my mind’s eye, on that stage, slamming your fists into your own imaginary door over and over again.

So I started knocking; I would ask that editor for feedback. I would pound my fists against the door; I would look for new opportunities and ways to build up my portfolio. I would start to smash the panels of that door, one by one and then I would pick myself up and try again.

I’ve never been in a fight, but my knuckles have been split open and bloodied many, many times. You taught me that when you go out into the big bad world, you’re not always fighting other people; more often than not, you’re fighting with yourself. Battling self-doubt and a lack of drive is hard, but that’s why they call it work. More than anything, persistence is key.

I’m sorry that we never got the chance to meet, if we had I would have thanked you for your wise words, and I would have told you how much they meant to me on the day I graduated, and how much more they mean to me now, just four years later.

Thank you, John. Thank you for speaking to a sea of excited and unsullied graduates that day. Thank you for showing us that you’d been there, that you knew the struggles that we would face and for giving us all the advice that we will never forget:

“Always do your own thing. Don’t follow trends. Be your own person.”

Thank you, so, so much.

Yours sincerely,

Amy Taylor

Class of 2009

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Surviving Life After Graduation

21 May
Trash on Taylor Street, SF

Trash on Taylor Street, SF


It’s here, graduation, it’s what you’ve been working towards for a number of years and it’s finally time for you to step outside and view the world, not as a poor student, but as a poor graduate. May I be one of the first to say, congratulations, and don’t worry, it gets so much better.

Right now, you might be thinking about hiring your graduation gown and getting your sweaty hands on the piece of paper that is your degree, but this will not automatically change your view of the world. Don’t get me wrong, your graduation will be great fun, it should give you some great memories, but it’s what happens after your graduation that really matters, and here’s some advice to get you through the weeks, months, even years after this.

Don’t Compare Your Life to Anyone Else’s

This is the rule that I simply cannot stress enough; your life is your life, so quit comparing it to everyone else’s. When I graduated in 2009, which was a very tough year to graduate – especially with a drama degree – I felt like so many of my classmates were walking into great jobs. One person more or less walked into their dream job and had numerous other opportunities thrown at them, yet I was still working at my not-quite-minimum-wage-job in the fast food industry.

In short, I was barely out of my graduation robes and I already felt like a failure; I was intimidated by other people’s progress and envious of their success. When one former classmate moved to London, I was stunned, I couldn’t imagine leaving Edinburgh, let alone Scotland. But the path you go down isn’t the same path that your friends will tiptoe along, and no path is set, you can always change your direction, and you can always, always go back.

It’s OK to Not Have a Plan

You might be one of those people who has a plan, a plan that will not be changed, a plan that they have no intention of changing in any way shape or form. This is fine, but this is not the way that a lot of people work. You don’t always need a plan, you don’t always need something that you set stone; you need that spark, that flash of inspiration, the revelation that comes to you when you’re doing the washing up, the epiphany that emerges as you’re about to fall asleep. Whatever it is, write it down, don’t forget it, and see how you can make this new dream a reality.

Have Something Else To Do

By this, I mean have a hobby. If you’re trying to become a professional writer; write, read, but also have something to do on the days where you just can’t face sitting in front of the computer for another long and unproductive afternoon.

Get out the house; see family, see friends, go to the cinema, the museum, go for a long walk to nowhere and sit and gaze at the sunset. Cook, clean, learn to play a musical instrument, volunteer, head to the gym and work with the Iron, run with no destination in mind, do something that helps you remove yourself from your work so that it remains your goal, your dream, not an instrument of torture. Creating something, working towards your future and being artistic shouldn’t mean that you have to over work yourself; know when to give yourself a break, and know when you are burning out.

You Are Not Your Degree

If I had a penny for every time that I mentioned that I have a drama degree, and every time someone has asked me if I was an actor because of my degree, I would have a fair few pennies. Yet, I would still not be a rich woman. I work with a team of very, very talented people in my day job. One has a PhD, some have degrees in art, others have degrees in history, some are in really good local bands, yet, we work in online marketing, which, we’ll admit, was not part of our plan, but it’s where we are for now. Your degree doesn’t control you, it doesn’t bind you to a certain industry or job, and remember that it can only hold you back if you let it hold you back. Your degree is a small part of your life; that doesn’t mean that it is your life, and it doesn’t mean that it will be part of your future.

Never, Ever Let Anyone Make You Doubt Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in the years after graduating was listening to the wrong people. At that time, there were people in my life that liked to remind me of my limitations, and in doing so, held me back.

For example, during a conversation with a former friend last year, I mooted the idea of moving away from Edinburgh, possibly Scotland, maybe even the UK, to find work, to travel, or just to start anew. This former friend then reminded me that I own a flat, that I was very lucky to own property, and that there were so many other people out there that wanted to get their feet on the property ladder, which wasn’t fair. I can’t remember what it was that they said exactly, but their argument was that because I owned property and because other people didn’t/couldn’t, then I should never, ever think about travelling, ever. I was made to feel guilty and selfish for committing the terrible crime of Expressing a Desire to Travel Whilst Owning a House at the Same Time.

There are many reasons why this way of thinking is completely wrong, but when I thought about the conversation later, I realised that this person was talking about themselves, “I don’t think you should travel”, “I want to buy a house, how can you be so selfish when you have something that I want?” Don’t get into this way of thinking, anything is possible, even if you own property, have a small family, or a well-paid job. Don’t let anyone tell you not to follow your dreams, don’t let others have too much say in your life, this is your time, be your own person, create your own adventure.

21 Things I Wish University Had Taught Me

29 Apr

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Graduation Cake by CarbonNYC - image used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Graduation Cake by CarbonNYC – image used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I learned a lot during my time in higher education; some of which I realised fairly quickly, however, other lessons took a little longer to work out.

Here are just some of them.

1. The nervous first year student at matriculation and the new graduate receiving their degree four years later will not be the same person.

2. You will have doubts about your course/life/direction/goals.

3. If you get through university and are able to look after yourself through cooking, general hygiene and handling money responsibly, then you will know more than a great number of people in the UK, and indeed, the world.

4. Your Student Loan will take a while to pay off, but you WILL pay it off.

5. You will make post-university plans that you won’t stick to, and this is ok.

6. You will not walk into your perfect job after graduating, this will take time.

7. It’s never too late to change your mind.

8. Don’t listen to other people when they tell you that you can’t do something, such as travelling or moving away. This is your life, live it your way.

9. You will have to take a job for the money, and not for the thrill of the job.

10. You will lose touch with friends from university; this is natural.

11. Find a good hobby; it will keep you occupied.

12. Change is normal, don’t fear it.

13. Find your comfort zone and destroy it. Comforts can only hold you back.

14. You might have to start all over again.

15. People change and outgrow each other, it’s painful, but it happens.

16. Never lose sight of your goals.

17. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

18. Take a risk, because failing at something is not the end of the world.

19. Jealousy does awful things to people; rise above it.

20. Know your worth; never undermine yourself or undervalue what you mean to others.

21. Don’t drink too much. Save your money and spend it on something more useful than a hangover.

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