Sunday evening. The sound of the Songs of Praise theme tune drifts from my parents’ living room and brings with it a strong feeling of nausea and dread. As I contemplate the beginning of yet another predictable Monday morning, I realise that I simply cannot face another day of ruthless CV sifting for the recruitment agency at which I work.
I’d originally plumped for a job in Graduate Recruitment because I naively believed that helping people into their dream jobs would be satisfying. Unfortunately, the reality turned out to be very far from what I’d hoped. At the end of last year, the All-Parliamentary Group for Race and Community published a report showing that Black and Minority ethnic women who anglicised their names only had to send half as many applications to employers before receiving an interview. My experience at a recruitment company certainly did not do anything to dispute this finding. Three minutes into training my line manger informed me that I should get rid of all CVs with “foreign-sounding names”, and giggled whilst relaying an anecdote in which another employee was told to search the application database for stereotypical “private school names”.
I simply could not continue.
The work I was doing fundamentally disagreed with my values. There was no way that I was on the right path. The gruesome physical feelings that signposted my Sunday evenings were testament to that.
Leon Festinger, a cognitive psychologist, would describe my experience as a textbook example of cognitive dissonance; the distress felt by an individual who is trying to deal with acting in a way that wildly conflicts with their beliefs or values. Festinger asserts that many people will deal with such conflicts by simply adjusting their values to suit their actions. I, being stubborn and awkward, refused to do this. Instead, I grasped my unassailable values and ran with them, eventually making the seemingly mad decision to eschew paid work in favour of the Year Here Graduate Fellowship.
Becoming a fellow means that I have the chance to make a noticeable difference to the lives of others. The Sunday evening nausea sessions are fading into memory as I try to build a career where I can continue to make positive change for others, and hopefully make a living communicating people’s stories through my writing.
That’s not to say Year Here is proving an easy ride; working in a chaotic school environment, fighting anxiety about my capabilities and dealing with a lack of money and certainty do affect me sometimes. But ultimately, knowing my actions could help rather than hinder means I don’t have to engage in a daily battle with my own values.
Giving up paid employment to embark on a rather ambitious journey to help others may not be for all; everyone has different values after all. Take it from me though, spending a working life in contention with yourself is not pleasant, so if a bout of cognitive dissonance does rear its head on Sunday evening, don’t ignore it. You have to do what truly agrees with you.
Written by Rebecca Ferdinand
Rebecca is a 2013 Graduate fellow – view her profile here