Note: This article originally appeared on The Irish Times Generation Emigration Blog.
At home and abroad, young people are building their own futures, writes Aisling Twomey.
Three years ago, I wrote a piece for The Irish Times, outlining what I recognised as a huge problem for my future: jobs were disappearing like gold after the rush, opportunities seemed slimmer with each passing day, and as a student preparing to graduate, I was worried for what came next.
I was lambasted for that article. An entire thread popped up about me on politics.ie, where I was called, among other things, “a vacuous bimbo with a demand for her rights but no idea of her responsibilities”. I was called self-indulgent, smug, self-serving and entitled.
The comments were presumptive and in some places downright insulting and crude. I was accused of all sorts of political persuasions and notions. People said I wanted to provide nothing and pay zero back for the investment the state made in my education. This was, and remains, a lie.
I wasn’t without my defenders – people who said I should up and leave, that I owed Ireland nothing; that I could succeed elsewhere. Some people wished me the best of luck. Three years have passed. I committed myself to learning as much as I could, and I took on board every challenge I could have. I was frankly desperate for opportunity, for a chance to work full-time and contribute what I had learned.
The past three years have been far from simple. Despite my own ego and a determination to make it on my own, I am intensely grateful to my parents for their endless support. It would have been too hard without them. I completed my degree, and then completed a Masters. I worked part time for three years and did a legal internship, where I learned more than I ever thought I would or could; it was a golden opportunity that changed my entire outlook on life.
For seven months, I worked seven days a week. I’m not moaning about it – I literally took as many chances as I could find. There were times when it was really hard. I have no savings, I did a lot of free work, I have not earned anything as such, and there were days and weeks where it seemed nothing was coming down the line. Emigration was a serious option – I was accepted to two PhD programs in some of the best universities in the United Kingdom, but funding didn’t come through to make them manageable. That was a hard blow.
I still live in Ireland. For the most part, my friends are gone or planning to. Brussels, London, Glasgow, New Zealand and Toronto have called. They have answered in their droves.
One commenter following my original article posited that he had often worried for the Tiger generation – what levels, the user asked, of inner strength had we developed to weather the bad times?
Every begrudging comment that day made me think about myself. While I know most of them were derogatory, born of ill will and downright ignorance, they made me learn a lesson. My generation, here and abroad, have proved our own abilities – our independence and our courage. We have taken up every chance that exists, running into the water headfirst to surf a tide that is uncertain, unbalanced and risky.
My generation has learned about risk. They have left families and loved ones and they have thrived. I know of people in their early twenties who have started their own companies, sought out funding for further education, become part of the social media revolution and developed careers that didn’t exist twenty years ago- or even ten years ago. They are entrepreneurs, building their own futures from scratch with old fashioned hard graft.
My friends have demonstrated a lack of fear in the face of great uncertainty. They are innovative, capable and determined – no, stubborn – about what they want. People three years ago called it entitlement. I call it self-determination.
My generation will honour the lessons that the biting Tiger never taught us. In the bad times, we learned about our own strengths, and we shared those lessons with each other. We have emerged to take on the world in our own unique way. What we learn through adversity are the best lessons – and in the future we will bring those lessons home.
The online forum users can call me anything they want – but this “vacuous bimbo” is very aware of both her rights and her responsibilities. I have to do the best I can with what I have – but I want it to be useful, worthwhile and contributory. What sin is there in that?
Those commenters were very aware of my responsibilities – but they undermined my rights and sought to destroy my determination to succeed, instead of applauding someone who wanted to try for the best chances they could get. I learned a great lesson when the Celtic Tiger died – the question is, did they?