Image by Linda Tanner, Flickr
So here you are; you’ve finally arrived! After grueling hours slaving over final secondary school exams and tediously completing complex supplementary forms, you have reached the light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Except, that one tunnel that you’ve been racing down has now branched off into other multiple roadways for you to choose from, and life just got a whole lot more complicated.
For some of you, following that road sign marked “Next Stop: Undergrad Years” was unquestionably the correct path you should have taken. It abides by the 12-step plan you and your parents have created for yourself since your diaper days, and any other possible direction you could have gone down would have been unthinkable.
For others, that same path appears far more intimidating, as you may not have yet concretely decided what it is that you want to do in life. You’re looking to post-secondary as an opportunity to experiment and have some adventures, taking it as a chance to escape the parentals and learn what independence entails.
If you’re entering college or university with a crystal clear plan on what it is that you want to do and exactly on how to achieve that, then awesome! You go and take the world by storm! And if your planner for the future is filled with white-outs, unintelligible scribbles, and an abundance of question marks, then that’s okay too. In fact, it’ll probably be an asset when you enter your undergraduate life.
However, regardless of whether you are stepping through those doors on the first day with laser-precision focus or a scatterbrained attitude, it is more than likely that everyone will experience an overwhelming sense of disorientation and personal displacement at one point or another. New classrooms, new classmates, new teaching methods; it’s easy to quickly feel lost and alone whilst sitting in a full lecture hall (especially if you decide on attending a large school away from home). This internal feeling of being lost can manifest itself over into your studies, inciting questions of uncertainty and conflicting emotions that revolve around your ultimate purpose in a post-secondary institute.
So if you find your mind pondering matters such as “What am I doing here?” and “Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?” – read over these following 3 tips that will hopefully help you feel less like you’re driving around blindfolded and more like you’ve just been momentarily reading the map upside down.
1) Nothing is permanent. A lot of the time, we forget that we actually have a choice. If you’re no longer enjoying what you are learning or doing in your classes, then maybe try something different. Despite the contemporary age that we live in, change is still cringed at and shied away from. But when it comes to matters of your life and future, change is inevitable and will, more often than not, bring about bigger and better things. So whether you’re in first year or fourth, it’s never too late to switch majors or even schools if you really wanted to. Yes, it’ll be a bit of a hassle at first and you may even need to play a bit of catch-up, but in the end you’ll be a lot happier and successful in pursuing a field that you genuinely enjoy and have passion for, than in a career that feels like a chore and you only followed out of a sense of obligation. This is your life, and ultimately you are the one who gets to call the shots and make the final decisions that will determine if it will be an enjoyable one or not.
2) Shut out the negative. Being in college and university can lend you a newfound sense of anonymity and isolation that you may not have previously felt before. Away from familiar environments and people who have served as your support system for the majority of your life, motivation can be easily lost when you are fighting against exhaustion whilst finishing a ten-page paper on Nabokov at 3 am. Decreased self-esteem and the consistent presence of competition that hangs in the air throughout campuses can make it difficult to stay focused on what you want to achieve during your time as an undergrad. At times like these, try to keep in sight your long-term goals and continually remind yourself as to what it is that you are working towards accomplishing. Ignore the voices that are telling you that you can’t do it, especially the one coming from your own head (note: this is meant figuratively of course, If you actually hear disembodied voices, please consult a doctor as soon as possible). Pessimism and blows to your self-worth will only affect you if you let them. So whatever you are working towards, remember why it is that you want it, use that as fuel for your drive in all that you do, and don’t let anyone or anything stop you.
3) Take a step back. On paper, the years you spend in schooling appear extensively and tediously long. Yet months fly by in seconds when you’re in the moment, and the real world looms closer and closer as assignments, midterms and finals are completed in succession; one after the other. And let’s not forget the ever-present financial issues of student loans and tuition debts, which call for the simultaneous searches for jobs, internships and scholarships or bursaries. Juggling these along with trying to maintain a social and healthy lifestyle can seem damn near impossible, and has the high possibility of resulting in a full-scale meltdown of both the body and mind. To prevent the likelihood of this from occurring (particularly during exam periods), do this: breathe. Take a moment out of your busy schedule, even if just for a few minutes, and do something to de-stress and relax. Go on a leisurely stroll, bake, do yoga, read (something other than those assigned in class), curl up for a cat nap – take a breather to lower your anxiety levels and refocus. It’s important to have aspirations in life and to continually strive and remain driven towards attaining them, but it’s also vital to remember that you are not a robot or Beyoncé (no matter how desperately you wish it). So often we have the blinders up and face only what is ahead, and forget to celebrate the hurdles and mountains we have surpassed in order to get to where we are now. Be aware of the accomplishments you have achieved so far and give yourself the credit where credit is due, then redirect your newfound energy into your next project or goal.
Though it may seem like everyone around you knows exactly what they are doing and why they are there, chances are that each of them has felt the same sense of confusion and dislocation that you are experiencing now. The important thing to realize is that this feeling won’t last and you aren’t on this road alone. Remember this, and you’ll find that maybe there’s actually a detour around what you thought was a dead end.