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17 June 2024

Essex Is My Oyster

ROSIE MCCANN

Oysters are famous where I’m from and have been since the Romans ruled, shipped back to Italy by the boatful and now enjoyed only as a delicacy, a luxury. Their shells litter the nearby beaches and I take home my favourites to use as trinket trays or tea-light holders. In mythology and folklore, oysters are symbolic of prosperity and fertility (think Venus and Aphrodite emerging from the sea on ridged white shells) but they also represent mystery and luck. The turn of phrase, 'the world is your oyster’ is used to remind someone that they have choices and can lead their lives in the way that they desire, and apparently stems from a similar phrase used in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. It is a saying which is directed more often towards younger people as a metaphorical reminder of the possibilities of chance and luck in life, alluding to the rare experience of finding a pearl inside of an Oyster

I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot recently and have been in two minds about my move home. On one hand, there’s shame or embarrassment, the feeling that maybe I’ve just given up. After living 400 miles away for the past four years, it’s felt like a bit of a U-turn. I have, however, felt more relaxed. Although I think that this has resulted in an underlying sense of guilt - isn’t moving home a cop out? Should I not have been more proactive in sorting out my future? Despite these mixed emotions, I’m forcing myself to remember that it’s temporary  and that I’m lucky to be able to do it in the first place. I’m choosing to be more appreciative of mystery and the unknown. Being fickle - though it’s often painted as a negative and can be overwhelming - can also be exciting. I need the space and time to think before I find my oyster. 

Being told that ‘you can do anything’ or ‘you can go anywhere’ comes with high expectations. First and foremost, for yourself but also, at the back of your mind, you know that whoever fed you this line, has them too. High expectations are not a bad thing and neither is being ambitious, or even just dreaming big, but to realise this does, of course, come at a cost. For me that ‘cost’ was university. Cost isn’t even metaphorical in this case because if I ever do pay off my loans, I will have spent £50k plus. I leapt into choosing to go to Uni with not much clue about what I was studying and with ever-changing, fleeting plans for whatever came next. I wasn’t bothered about that. I just believed that this was the ‘next thing’ so if I wanted to ‘do anything’ or ‘go anywhere’, then this must be how. Nearly four years on, I’ve left university two months early. I feel as though I’ve run away. I’ve not dropped out; I’m going to complete my last (ever) exams at home, my parents’ home, in Essex. Not how I expected it all to end. 

I always got the impression that post-university, or pretty much as soon as you turn 21, everyone immediately moves on to something bigger and better. What I’ve come to realise is that bigger and better looks very different for everyone, and my idea of whatever it is has changed over the past four years anyway. Although I could just go along with throwing myself into something else (a job in the big smoke? A contracted grad scheme?), I’m not prepared to rush into what comes next this time round. I don’t want to rush at all. If I’ve learnt anything from my past four years, it’s probably that. I’m so sick and tired of rushing around and I’m perhaps even more sick and tired of being in an environment where that’s the norm. 

So, Essex is my oyster. Although I’ve grown up here and it’s never felt like there’s a lot of opportunity, I’m embracing the mystery which surrounds me, exploring the parts I don’t know, reading local history. Making the most of it? This isn’t a sulk about feeling pressured to achieve, or a rant about how hard it is to do it all. It’s more just an acceptance I’ve come to, a plateau, a sigh of relief that I’m taking my foot off the pedal for now.

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