Over the past few weeks many people have been graduating from university after years of hard work and dedication. Seeing all the celebratory photos made me reflect on my own experience of university life.
After taking a gap year I started at the University of Dundee as an enthusiastic, well travelled 19 year old. I was excited to begin my course in Politics and International Relations as I was convinced that this was where I would meet similarly minded people, ready to take on a broken system.
The reality was that most of my classmates were very competitive and all we seemed to do was try and one-up each other with big words and quotes. This kind of academia, which seemed to focus on regurgitating information rather than anything new or creative, left me feeling unfulfilled.
Out with class I loved my uni life: the freedom of living alone for the first time, trying to be an adult and meeting new people were all exciting and wonderful. Despite these positive experiences I could not shake off a feeling of suffocation. I ignored my doubts and ploughed along until the middle of second year when that stifling feeling in the back of my brain got too much and I realised, just in time, that I was on the verge of a complete breakdown.
Soon my dull lectures were replaced with weekly therapy session and anti-depressants resulting in me having to take a year out to recover from my struggles with mental illness.
Feeling more like myself the following year, I returned to class and managed to get a Bachelors degree; but I left before my final year. I strangely did not find the decision to drop out scary and instead was excited at the prospect of being out of an educational institution for the first time in 19 years, as it gave me the freedom to do things my way.
Straight after graduation Pablo and I moved to London with no jobs and only enough money for one month of rent. I have now been in The Big Smoke for 5 years and still love the diversity and excitement that city life has to offer.
I have no doubt in my mind that dropping out of university was the right decision for me, but it was not an easy one to make. The reason I stayed for so long was that I was worried I would let down my family who had supported me getting into university, that I was throwing away all of the hard work I had put in and that if I left I would be labeled a failure.
Looking back, these concerns now seem silly;
- My family may not agree with all of the decisions I make but when it comes down to it they want me to be happy and healthy above anything else.
- The work I had put in to get to university simply did not disappear because I didn’t have a certificate to prove it, that knowledge and experience will always be part of who I am.
- I think we put far to much emphasis on failure as a negative, I think failing shows that at least I showed up and tried instead of playing it safe.
- Even though university is often sold as the only route for those who manage to get good grades in school it really is not for everyone, some of us simply were not built to follow the most straightforward path and instead prefer to take side roads – with lots of adventure on the way.
Whatever your educational experience I think you have to take the road that feels most right for you, and no matter where that takes you be prepared to work your ass off to get the happiness you deserve.