“So what are you studying?” the student in my halls of residence elevator asks nervously, breaking the ice.
“Law and Arts. You?”
“Engineering and Commerce”
“Nice. We’re both in long degrees, huh?” I said back, thinking about how unfortunate it was for both of us that we’re tied down at university for 5+ years.
As I walked to my class it got me thinking. Is it really so bad to be studying at university for five or more years? You know, they say the years you spend at university are the best years of your life. With all the stress of exams, all the stress of being perpetually broke, all the stress of spending a thousand dollars on a subject that you could potentially fail, are these years really so great?
University is a unique time in your life. I’m in my third year and I had to change my course twice before I settled on something I was finally happy with. For me, university has been a journey of self-discovery and growth. It taught me responsibility and independence, something I thought I had at high school but I hardly did. University, for me, was a gateway to moving overseas and experiencing something different to the familiar ground of New Zealand that I grew up in.
I’ve been a waitress and I’ve been fired. In fact, I have gone through a handful of different jobs. I’ve learned how to make coffee, how to cater for a wedding, how to use the checkout register at McDonalds, how to sell suitcases and how to cook hamburgers; grounding experiences that I would never have been through if I wasn’t a student. I’ve been in overdraft multiple times, survived on two-minute noodles on numerous occasions, spontaneously spent my pay-cheque on flights to New Zealand the day before I left, and of course, spent money on clothes I probably didn’t need. But to me, those mistakes are okay. They’re okay because they happened throughout the journey of something much greater. And that’s the wonderful thing about university – it’s a long-term investment of knowledge, experience, discovery and growth. Making mistakes is okay because they happen as you acquire new skills and build yourself into something far greater than what you were to begin with.
Being a student is like a get-out-of-jail free card. You’re allowed to be broke and eat junk food. You’re allowed to stay up all night completing an assignment in its entirety. You’re allowed to abuse caffeine because you have exams. You’re allowed to call your parents two days before payday and ask them for money. You’re allowed to get hopelessly drunk on Saturday night and spend all Sunday in bed recovering, only to stay awake all night again watching Netflix before crawling to your Monday 9am lecture in your old jeans and a hoodie. Do you think you could maintain such a chaotic lifestyle so successfully and free of judgment while working a 9-5 professional job?
You are not working for another person or a corporation – you are working for yourself. These are years you can spend shamelessly focusing on no one but yourself, figuring out what you really want to do in this world. You can change your mind about what course you want to do but nothing will be wasted, because with every subject you take comes a new set of skills and new knowledge that you will take with you everywhere you go. No one is forcing you to do anything. You can take classes that really captivate your interest, and write essays on topics that really matter to you.
You are the curator and sole author of your own future, and gosh, aren’t we so lucky to be in that position? Never again in our lives will we get three-month holidays. Never again will we have the opportunity to travel, the opportunity to try new things, to study different fields, to go on exchange and live in a different country, to paint our own destiny and be whoever it is that we might want to be.
After spending the last two years being scared of the fact that I’ve tied myself down for 5+ years into a conjoint law/arts degree with honours, I think it is time to see these circumstances as nothing short of a blessing.
“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There is no greater investment”. – Stephen Covey