Us Europeans

Ambitions and choices

Manchester, UK (View on map)

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Seeing book shelves full of Self Help books could easily make visitors think that British people don`t know how to make something out of their lives. Gossip magazines are not much of a good example either: they show that even people considered role models hardly have a clue. In the meantime, young and well-educated British youngsters dream of traveling to far-away places or find alternative ways to avoid the scariest phenomenon among current day British youth: commitment.

With the Welsh as a pleasant exception to the rule, many young British people seem chronically dissatisfied with life. Over the last few days, I heard a few people say about their job that `they do it because they have to`, while today I learnt that quite some British people have a similar attitude to life in general.

Life path
Alex (21) says he has not made any significant choices in life yet. `I am studying Business Administration, because I was good at economics and maths. When I complete my studies, I will leave on a one year trip to find out about myself. I haven`t had a year off since I started school at 4. I would like to go to Southern America, but I don`t speak Spanish so I`d first have to work on that. I hope my parents will lend me money to do it, but they have been really helpful so far with paying for my studies.`

Alex tells me that he sees his father as best example for his own life. `He always paid for everything we wanted and I am quite proud of that. I would be happy to offer my children the same, and I wouldn`t mind being a bit more organised as well. Rob (19), Alex`s friend, wants to have a well-paid job in the future so I can give my family the same opportunities I have had as a kid. I don`t take any particular person as an example. I am studying sports science and strongly support Everton, so it would be a football player. But football players are not necessarily the most intelligent people, so I would not take any of them as an example in how to lead my life.`

Miz (32) thinks that what she calls `general British laziness` was created in colonial times: `We somehow expect things to come easy. On a global level, we think the UK has always been at the forefront, and many believe we still are. At the same time, people are suspicious of all-out winners. If somebody is desperately striving for something, we think that person is overcompensating something he or she lacks. The only option that remains is to work for a comfortable living which for many British people has become a goal by itself.`

Miz herself has quite a clear vision on what she wants to do in the future. `I would like to become a world-famous music guru, like Malcolm McLaren. I recently changed jobs and today was actually my first working day. I promote and manage musicians, so it seems like I am getting somewhere!`

Like Miz, Jessie (23, photo) can easily get annoyed about how British people oftentimes prefer to be ignorant rather that face problems and find a creative way around them. She works for a charity organisation and is faced with the disinterest of the public on a daily basis. `People simply admit they carry on because they have to, I really could not live like that.`

Jessie is working to pay for her future trip to India. `That`s where my family is originally from, and I have never been! I really want to go explore. My dream in life is to help unprivileged children. I see my older sister as an example, because she is very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and passionate about life. I want to be like that to!`

Most people I talk to do not seem as motivated as Jessie. Alexander (23) thinks that many British have a hard time combining practical life, work and pleasure, but quite good at overspending. James (27) says that everybody completing studies has a debt of several thousands of pounds. Fortunately, loans for students usually have favourable conditions. `In many cases, you don`t need to start paying back as long as your annual salary is below 15,000 pounds.`

James will soon leave to New Zealand for a year and a half, followed by a trip to Ecuador. He explains why the young British generation is so fond of traveling: `It`s a way for people to find out how big the world is, and to get to know themselves.` When in Ecuador and New Zealand, James will work on voluntary projects. `It`s fun, a very different experience from everything else and it is usually highly valued by employers. It shows that you are interested in the outside world, and it serves as a proof of commitment. Financial commitments, commitments in relations or whatever kind of commitment: many young British people will try to avoid it or postpone having commitments as long as they can. Making sacrifices is not the number one British quality. But if you can, it will put you ahead of competition when it comes to finding jobs. And so the model of people leaving on far-away trips sustains itself, and people keep searching for happiness abroad rather than in their local real life.`

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