What First Year at University taught me

September 29th, 2014 sticks vividly in my mind. Day One, Term One, Year One. It was the Freshers’ Welcoming Fair. Nando’s had a stall where you spun their fortune wheel and could potentially win a free quarter chicken voucher (free food!). I spun it. Unbeknown to me at the time, it came at a cost: I had to do a chicken dance in front of fellow Freshers. In the spirit of things, I did it. I do not regret it. Whilst I cannot call it the highlight of my life, it would set the tone for what would be a beautifully unpredictable year. Every emotion possible was felt: courage vs. shyness, happiness vs. loneliness, achievement vs. stress.

September 29th, 2014 was also the day I created a new Word document. I titled it “Messages To Live By”. I knew university life was going to be tough and testing. Very fun too, mind. It was sure going to teach me a lot, and I wanted to capture my thoughts and feelings throughout the year and write them down as they happened. As First Year draws to a close, I have built up many pages of bullet points of notes of what First Year at Uni taught me. I wanted to share some of them, maybe out of motivation if anyone is reading this and soon to embark on their university studies, maybe also to motivate myself.

Whilst these messages of course have more meaning to me, the underlying tone should be understandable to everyone. They do work in chronological order throughout the year; the first few about settling in, the last about exams and revision. Here goes:

  • Never lose self-confidence. Do not creep into arrogance, but always trust intrinsically your decision-making. If it does not work out in the first instance, trust that you can sort it out at the second attempt. Or third. Or fourth. Just never accept defeat.
  • The world keeps spinning. You adapt or die. You stop for one second and you will be left behind.
  • Never take things personally. If you get rejected, it is not an indication of you being rubbish. Do not kill yourself over it — there are so many external factors for which you cannot control, i.e. luck.
  • If you get an opportunity, just take it. Have that 20 seconds of utter mad confidence and just do it. After all, the biggest regrets in life are always the things you never got round to doing. And if you do not take the opportunity and another one does not present itself to you again, you will forever torment yourself. Spare yourself the “oh if only I did this back then…” moments and just do it.
  • Always smile and be enthusiastic. Wish people a good day. People love happy people.
  • Write everything down. Like this. Then self-analyse afterwards. Personal development is key.
  • Work hard, but definitely know how to play a bit too (even if you do not play hard). You need those social skills picked up from social environments. Go for coffees rather than alcohol, if you want. But know how to interact with people, rather than computer screens and phones. People are people, and they equally like to chat.
  • Do not over-analyse hard work for success. Yes, success needs hard work, but do not draw too big a causation between the two and think your success was all down to your hard work alone. Ultimately a lot of people play a part in your successes — and failures — and there is so much luck involved. Success must not go to the head, and failure must not attack the heart.
  • Get to know people and their life stories. Meet someone who is older, younger, from a different social class, whose first language is not English. Open your eyes, the world is so big.
  • Do not make decisions when very happy or when very sad. Even if you think you are still in a rational state of mind, you are not.
  • Try to stay young. When you are grown up, holidays are no longer fun/existent — you work a lot for your degree, and then you work a lot for internships. It is sometimes tough to be at this middle child-adult stage in life but try to mentally stay young and enjoy life whilst you make the transition. But, definitely make sure you do make the transition to a more professional adult with more responsibility.
  • At times you will feel hopeless. Helpless. You feel your fate has been decided and it does not look good. Dig deep. Even if it is looking bad, do not let your mind believe it is. Do not wallow in self-pity. It only self-perpetuates the situation.
  • Peer pressure is huge and, at times, overwhelming. Try to get on top of it; bow down where it might actually help you to develop (always of your own accord), but never lose your values and know your boundaries.
  • There is no longer two distinct parts to life called “work” and “play”. It is all your living. Many times you will spend weekdays playing, and many more times will you spend weekends working. Be very flexible.
  • People are as shy, maybe even shyer, than you. Do not kill yourself if you bump into an acquaintance and awkwardly look down and then regret you did not say hi. But equally, they probably did the same because they are similarly shy, so try to make the first move to help everyone out.
  • The best thing about the human spirit is we always find a way. The geniuses will find the new best innovative way to do it. The lazy of us will find the new shortest way to do it. But however it is done, we always get there.
  • You will feel so out of your depth at times. What is this place? What is this course? Who are these faces? And then things will click: yes, I finally understood that lecture! And then, on closer inspection, you actually realise that maybe you really did not. You will to-and-fro between feeling you have got the hang of it, and from feeling unnervingly out of your comfort zone. And, you know what, that is fine. Things always work out in the end.

As I look back on my year, I look back with immense pride. In truth, I am very tired. I attacked the year from Day One with tremendous vigour, and after nine months of zero rest I am fully deserving of my break. The opportunities afforded to me have been vast and appreciated. I had the pleasure to listen to lecturers and guest lecturers who are at the top of their field. I interned at companies I never thought I had the calibre to intern at. I pushed my own boundaries, my own skill-sets, my own mental capacity. I engaged actively in all the extra-curriculars university life has to offer, but never over-promised to the detriment of my degree. I was very, very disciplined with my time but I was emotionally stable to cope when the going got tough. These have to be my two biggest strengths. I met people from different backgrounds, cultures and social classes who gave me a much more matured look on the world. You live life for the memories and moments you share with others: the coffee chats, the good conversations with good people. I sacrificed my social life a bit (a lot) but I established my priorities and stuck to them. You cannot have it all. I know what I want in life, and clubbing the night away intoxicated is not going to lead me to it.

I knew university life was going to be tough and testing. Very fun too, mind. It was sure going to teach me a lot. It has taught me a lot, academically, professionally and socially. For sure, there are people more academically-gifted than me, more socially at ease than me, more professional than me. But you cannot possibly have self-development without self-acceptance. It gives me room to learn. I will never stop learning. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi,

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

I guess I should conclude by addressing the title I started with: what has First Year at Uni taught me? It has taught me to dig deep. To embrace change. To stay ahead of the game. To be super-disciplined with time. To always be in control of myself, of my mind, of my emotions, of my work-load, of my susceptibility to peer pressure. I have learnt some negative traits about myself along the way, for sure. This will be worked on. But I have also learnt that I am incredibly resilient, a self-disciplined individual and one who can stay at peace mentally when stressful moments arise. And for that I am very happy with myself and my year.

Roll on Year Two.

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