When University Turns Your Life Upside Down

Hi all! It’s been a busy start to my third year of university. I’ve been less active on this blog, but it hasn’t been forgotten! Below is a post I wrote for a website back in the spring. I never heard back from them on whether they wanted to publish it or not, so I’m going to post it now on my own accord. Enjoy!


When I was 4 years old, I had a dream. I wanted to be a teacher. I lined up all of my stuffed animals in rows on the carpeted floor, and dragged my toddler sister to sit in front of me and my little blackboard. “I’m Miss Carole,” I said cheerfully, writing 2 + 2 on the board. “Let’s learn some math!” Of course, the stuffed animals said nothing when I asked them a question. My baby sister got bored and wouldn’t listen to me. But I continued to teach as if I had a class full of engaged students.

When I stepped foot on my university campus in September I had a goal. I spent all of grade 12 preparing for this moment. After a lot of hard work (and a lot of tears) I had made it to my dream school, Western University. I was going to get a degree in music and a minor in English, go to teacher’s college, and teach kids forever.

I’d grown up in a small city. My view of the world was small. I was always excelling. Always at the top. When I came to university, that all changed.

I was suddenly aware of how many people were in the world. I was meeting people from all over the country who had just as many accolades and awards that I did. Suddenly my big world plans felt so small.

The truth is that university is just a taste of how big the world is.

I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I wanted to touch hearts, and instill love in a way I knew how; through music. Here I was, trying to make my dreams come true, and here were 100 other people just like me that wanted to do the same thing.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something that everyone else was doing. This wasn’t a bandwagon fad, like temporary tattoos in elementary school. This was my future. But it led me to wonder, what else was out there? Was I destined to a life that I thought I wanted, because it was the only thing I knew?

I was having a crisis. I didn’t know what I wanted out of my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to be anymore. Suddenly, I didn’t know who I was. I defined myself by what I thought I wanted, by the goals I thought I wanted to achieve. But suddenly the world was big and full of opportunities I had known nothing about, and I didn’t know what to do to get them.

My academic counsellor recommended I visit the university’s career counselling.

I learned a lot of important things there. The most valuable lesson I learned? There are two kinds of jobs in the world. Those that require special education: doctors, teachers, firefighters, architects, etc. They are the jobs we see most often, the ones on TV saving the day, pulling people out of fires and performing surgeries. But behind them is an even larger work force.

The ones that build their career on networking. Who don’t have a plan spelled out right in front of them. The ones who go out looking for jobs with a degree in their hands, no specific plan in mind, but a desire to work and be flexible. All my life, I’d grown up thinking you needed a plan, but in reality, not many adults do. I grew up in the house of a nurse and a mechanic, both immigrants, who had pretty specialized jobs. All I ever knew was I wanted to provide for them the way they always provided for me. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t explore all that life had to offer.

After that, I wanted to have learn more; to have more life experiences, and to take away as many different experiences I could from my undergrad. My life changed. I was less laser focused on a goal, and more open to experience.

Was it hard? Yes.

Letting go of control and allowing myself to just live in the moment was, and still is, scary. I’m a perfectionist. I want everything to go according to plan, but the reality is, life never goes according to plan.

When I stopped worrying about it all; my grades, my career, my future, that’s when it all started to click into place. I expanded my own horizons, joining groups that I aligned with. I joined my faculty’s music council, which opened me up to student politics. I joined the faculty peer guides, where I was able to connect with younger students. I joined the Western chapter of Active Minds and took part of so many activism movements toward mental health on campus, in my community, and onwards.

I wouldn’t have met any of these opportunities had I not gone to university. And more importantly, I wouldn’t have tried them out, if I had been so focused on sticking to my plan. The goal was to go into school, get my degree, rack up some teaching experience, and get out. But I’ve learned so much from opportunities I risked passing up because I thought there was only a linear way to success. Going to university turned my life upside down, and yeah it was scary. There was nothing more terrifying than doubting everything I’d ever wanted for myself. But going out and trying to find the things I love and am passionate about, meeting new people and making new connections is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.

I think part of the reason I failed to notice this so soon is because I was taught as a child to have an end game. We start school at 4 years old and are expected to keep going until we can land ourselves a full-time job that will sustain us for the rest of our lives. Students just like me have long since forgotten that school is supposed to be a place to learn, not just what we need to have a full-time job in the future, but to learn about ourselves, and the things we love, and the people around us. Often, we find that the things we learn in school don’t hold any applications in our real life. After all, who really uses the quadratic formula in real life anyway? But the connections made between ourselves, other people, the things we are passionate about, and the life skills we learn from our education and all the opportunities that come with it? They are priceless and are skills that I know I will use for the years to come.

– Carole

 

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