Alumnae Advice: Don’t fall passively into your future

When I think about the picture I had of my life at 18, there has been a shift to the one I see for myself now. This is partially because of external factors, I finished school in 2015 and the world today feels like a radically different place. However this is also because I have reassessed what I want, how I see myself and what I have to contribute. Sydenham gave me the educational foundation from which I could develop my own creative voice, and my time at Sixth Form led me to question the accepted routes of progression and how I could diverge from these. I left Sydenham to study at Central Saint Martins, completing an Art Foundation with Distinction award, before going on to work independently within the arts as an actor, writer, filmmaker and artist. Looking back at what I have experienced, and the journeys of those around me, I think there are some important things to consider as you transition into the next phase of your life.

When thinking about moving forward, and the seemingly automatic next steps, ask yourself whether you’re pursuing something because it’s expected or if it is something you truly want. There is little point wasting time and money going through the motions when you are not fully invested in the path you are on. It will feel incredibly disempowering, a few years down the line, if your only explanation for setting out on a course was that you didn’t know what else to do. You cannot be passive in falling into your future, especially now as we all will need to adapt and be innovative in the way we work, not matter what field you see yourself in.

It’s important to think long term, although difficult at times of such uncertainty, the worst thing you can do is to move on without any passion or direction. Even if it is something that you may eventually deviate from it, consider it a point from which to launch yourself. Think about how you want to work, interrogate what motivates you, and you will discover your priorities over time.

You should also manage your expectations. If you choose to go to university, do not take for granted that you will emerge the other side with both the tools and offers that will guarantee a comfortable career. Investigate what you actually need to equip yourself with to pursue the career you are interested in. In the arts particularly, degrees carry less weight than hands-on experience, especially when you’re competing against hundreds of graduates with identical credentials.

Be open to opportunities and receptive to chances that you may not have considered. Jobs are more fluid than ever, the flip side of the gig economy is that there is a growing culture of being a polymath who has a ‘portfolio career’, not just within the arts but across business and academia. Having a breadth of experiences and a transferable skillset will make you more adaptable, and ultimately able to respond to the employment landscape you will emerge into.

Don’t measure your progression by the metric set out by your peers or institution. We are educated with the perception that success can be quantified, via grades or awards, through to the ranking of the university for which you have won a place. However, this is largely a construct which keeps us thinking very unilaterally about how we should make our way in the world. Moreover, there is a disconnect as these ‘points’ which have been earned don’t always manifest into real world opportunities. Instead focus on how the things you are doing are enriching your life or building towards something.

Finally, don’t be discouraged when the picture of your life changes. It will happen. As you move into the world, you may find that opportunities that you were counting on are now unavailable. Be resilient. Figure out what the most important thing you want out of life is and start working towards it, finding a route that works for you.

Maia DeCamillo, (Class of 2015)

Maia is an actor, writer, filmmaker and artist.

Maia’s work has been featured on arts platform ShowStudio and she has been shortlisted for the Vault Festival New Writing Award.

As an actor she has worked across theatre, independent film and television. She has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and worked on BBC and BFI productions. Additionally, she has been on casting shortlists for several high profile and Oscar winning films.

Maia has also modelled at London Fashion Week, appearing in Vogue.com and other publications.

In 2020 Maia set up her production company, WallsComeDown, an experimental platform and incubator for creative projects spanning film, live performance and immersive events.