6 Life Lessons University Taught Me

I’m officially a university graduate and you would think I’d be thrilled about no longer being in school, but I’m not. Being a student for almost 20 years of my life I feel more lost then I’ve ever been. A sense of sadness overcame me when September hit and my siblings headed back to school. Growing up, my immigrant parents made it very clear to me that not going to university wasn’t an option for me. Going to university I learned to see the world from a different perspective, never stop asking questions, and overall became a more well-rounded person. University wasn’t an amazing experience but wasn’t terrible either. Seeing my mother’s beaming face when she saw me in my cap and gown made the years of stress worth it. Neither of my parents attended university so they couldn’t be prouder to see their firstborn get her degree.

People have described attending university as the gateway to adulthood. I definitely didn’t feel like an adult I felt like I was enrolled in a never-ending course about learning how to master the concept of adulting. University is very fast-paced so I learned the importance of time management but five years later and I still haven’t mastered the skill. You have to learn how to handle stress and balance your workload while working part-time, can’t say I did that well. You have to learn how to handle more responsibility all while trying to be an excellent student. It’s truly a time where you’re a hot mess in constant confusion, but you’re just trying to push through.

I know this may seem obvious but university (at least in Canada) is definitely not like the movies. After watching movies like Legally Blonde and Sydney White I had expectations but was left disappointed. Sororities aren’t common in Canadian universities and there were no acapella groups. Regardless of the lack of secret societies, here’s what I learned during my time in university.

1) Don’t Be Pushed Into Doing Something You Don’t Want To Do

When high school ended I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I loved writing and fashion but I wasn’t ready to decide what I wanted to do next. I would’ve preferred to take a year off but my middle eastern parents didn’t see the value in that. I ended up surrendering to my parent’s wishes and went to a school close to home just like they wanted. Before attending my first year, the anxiety of starting university had accumulated and taken a physical toll on my body. I’ve never loved change and the thought of starting university made me nauseous. My mother started noticing how anxious I was and said, “If it’s making you feel so terrible than you don’t have to go.” I considered it but ultimately decided to go. I went to the University of Toronto (UofT) to study journalism.

Once I started my program I contemplated if I was meant to study fashion. One of my professors even told me I should be in a fashion program, but luckily I got to incorporate fashion into my assignments and through this blog. I found another way to educate myself on fashion and that was through the Chang School at Ryerson University. I enrolled in a certificate program called Fashion Coordination and Styling. I took classes every summer, it was nice to be around people who were passionate about what I was.

However, at UofT, I met a lot of people that either:

A) Decided to attend UofT because of their parents said they had to. Hence, they were not at their school of choice.

B) Wanted to take a year off because they had no idea what they wanted to study but were told from that was not an option for them unless they wanted to be considered dead by their parents.

C) Discovered they didn’t love what they’re studying or the school itself. Hence, I met a lot of miserable people, but not all of them chose to stay miserable. I admired all the people that said, “Hey, I tried it. It wasn’t for me,” and either switched programs or schools or dropped out to pursue their passions. The faster you make a change the more you’ll enjoy your university experience.

2) Make the Most of Your Experience

If you want to have a great university experience don’t just attend classes be engaged and involved in the school in someway. I personally didn’t do much, I wrote for the school papers a few times but that’s about it. I was never athletic so I never cared to try out for a sports team or go to watch a game. I wasn’t interested in being a cheerleader for the Varsity Blues basketball or football games. I could have participated in more clubs or groups or even start my own club but I never did. Who knows, maybe my experience would have been better if I did. Everyone I met that studied abroad said it was an amazing experience, but I didn’t have the money to do it. I wish I did a semester in Europe would have been divine.

3) Friendships Will Come to An End

As you grow older friendships fizzle and friendships and sometimes that hurts more than a breakup. Not all friendships survive the transition from high school to university but you learn to appreciate the people that have always cared about in the process. The reality is sometimes your just friends with someone because you see them every day. As the years go by you meet new people and people come and go. You never know who is going to be a temporary person in your life. It is only the ones you make a genuine meaningful connection with that become apart of your inner circle. It hurts when there’s no effort or communication from the people you care about it when it comes to maintaining relationships. It hurts the most when the people you thought would not be temporary people in your life are no longer apart of it. However, it’s the people that are no longer apart of our life that makes us realize our worth. It helps us realize what we want in a friend and helps us determine what kind of friend we want to be. We aren’t going to tolerate bad behaviour or people who give half ass effort. If someone isn’t adding value to our lives then they shouldn’t be in it. We realize what kind of people we want to surround ourselves with and that’s only with people who enhance us.

3) If You Need Help Ask For It

I know asking for help is not easy, but there’s no shame in doing so. If you’re struggling with something no matter what it is it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. When it was course or career-related I never shied away from asking for help. If I wasn’t understanding course material or confused about the grade I was given I definitely used my professor’s office hours. Some of my professors seemed annoyed with all my questions but I didn’t let that bother me. It was their job to help so off I went to their office hours whether they liked it or not. Asking for clarification always helped.

A support system is important not just in university, but in life. Life is stressful and having someone to vent to is essential. When asking for advice from your friends whether it’s regarding the school or something more personal try to be open-minded towards their advice. I learned that I love to vent but I’m not so great at taking advice. Friends tell us what we don’t want to hear and of course, we don’t like it but having a different perspective can be enlightening. We don’t want the things they say to be true but sometimes we need somebody else to help face reality.

When it comes to mental health know your friends might not have all the answers. It can be hard to ask for professional help but once you do it can make a difference. Don’t let things get worse to ask for help. I think this is a mistake that lots of people do. We think we can handle more than we can, we think we have the time to do it all, but when in fact we don’t.

In my fifth year, I was going through some health issues and was finding that I couldn’t finish my assignments on time. I was nervous about asking my professors for more time to work on them, but I got lucky that all four of my professors were very understanding. They even gave me information on other resources that help me handle all the stress. Without their kindness, I would not have graduated and for that I am thankful.

4) Don’t Forget To Take Care Of Yourself

Taking care of yourself should always be your number one priority but when you have so much to do you completely forget. Eventually, your body catches up with you and the stress takes a physical toll on your body. Sacrificing sleep and not making time to eat will only make it harder for you to concentrate and complete tasks. I still struggle with making the time and taking the steps I need to in order to take care of myself. We prioritize work and don’t always realize how much we can handle. I’m currently learning not to overwhelm myself with work and to remind myself to check in and reflect on my habits. Reflect on what I’m eating see if I am eating and actually addressing symptoms instead of ignoring them. Making sure I go to the doctor when I need to, keep track of my spending habits, and track my bills. Having a routine is something that’s always helped me and when I go off my routine that’s usually when I know something is wrong.

5) Just the beginning of people telling you can’t make it

I had a professor tell me I wasn’t in the right program which might have been true, but he didn’t tell me in a caring advice type of way. One of my professors told me I would never be taken seriously because of my valley girl voice. She said I needed to change the way I speak so I did. I speak very differently now, but the valley girl voice does come out from time to time. You have to learn to have thick skin fast because life is going to throw unexpected obstacles in your way and you need to be strong to deal with them. It’s just the beginning of numerous rejections and some will hurt more than others.

6) Network

No matter what career you pursue networking is essential and university is a great place to start. Surround yourself with people who have the same hustle and drive you have. Nothing will fuel more than being around people who have similar interests and passions that you have. Make those connections and learn from others. Don’t just network with people in your program but with everyone. You might learn that someone has similar interests or they might introduce you to something new that you become passionate about. Networking doesn’t just stop in university, actively seek networking events, join networking apps and join Facebook groups with people who have similar interests. Many of the opportunities I have now is because of the people I knew.

Feature Image by McElspeth