With the Benefit of Hindsight

One of my favourite Rod Stewart lyrics – everyone has their own, I’m sure – is from ‘Oh La La’. “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger”. Hear his melodic crooning and you’ll believe it too. The sentiment is true. As I enter my fourth and final year at university, there is a part of me that wishes I could rewind the past three years and have a wee chat over a coffee with my 18 year old self about what to expect.

Arriving at my halls at the start of Freshers’ Week was, in retrospect, one of the most jointly exhilarating and frightening times of my life. It’s akin to a gladiator being thrown into a lion pit and left to fight for survival. Those first few weeks were wrought with anxiety, homesickness and general loneliness. I had always been the quiet girl at school, and although I slowly came out of my shell by the end of first year, I was still fairly insecure and felt I couldn’t totally ‘be myself’ around others.

The social upheaval was married with the more demanding academic side to university life. Whilst I had quite happily breezed through school, uni was a different ball game. Everything was much more formal; lectures were at least 5 times the size of my sixth year classes and the concept of tutorials was alien. Living in a constant state of uncertainty over whether I would even pass my Christmas exams, never mind achieving my usual ‘A’ grades, was not much fun.

Was the worrying worth it? In short, I would be tempted to say not. Here I am, having passed every exam thus far (touchwood), all with ‘A’ grades in my first two years when annoyingly the marks count for nothing towards my final classification. Obviously, if I had been out partying constantly this might have had changed the outcome, but I wish I had chilled out a bit more and enjoyed the social side more often. I passed up invitations to nights out if I had a bit of coursework due the next week, even if I had plenty of time in which to complete it.

Even in my third year, when the going really did get tough, I feel I put in excessive effort. Every night I would come home to review lecture notes like a conscientious student. Every weekend I would devote a morning to the library writing up lab reports or trying to improve my organic chemistry. By the time May arrived, when the final exams took place, I was something of a nervous wreck. All this, and I got a 2:1. Much as I kicked myself over those 4 marks which could have bumped me up to a first, I took a pretty nice life lesson from the whole episode. Yes, exams are important, and yes, I would like a good degree at the end of it. But it’s not worth busting a gut for. Life is for enjoying, especially when you are young. I got far too sucked up into the academic side of it.

And so, to my former self, I would impart this advice: study hard, but play hard too. Stop comparing yourself to others; university is a breeding ground for competition and jealousy. You can only do your best. Relax a bit more, and strive to see the bigger picture. You’re here for a degree, but you’re also here for a few extra years to find out more about yourself and your place in the bigger world before you try it for real.

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