5.5 Gems of Wisdom I’d Give to my Younger, Undergraduate Self

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side view mirror by Lisa Cyr / CC BY. I hope you’re able to understand that I’m trying to be artsy using a mirror to depict my reflective blog post.

I am coming out beneath the non-blogging side of the rock to resurface into the glorious rays of the internet world of blogging. Not too long ago I wrote my FINAL final exam of my undergraduate degree. (It was functional neuroanatomy, meaning that it was also my last biomedical physiology and kinesiology (BPK) course.) Of course, I celebrated as I celebrated after finishing the last of my first exams as a first year student in my first year semester, which also happened to be my first BPK course. Did I lose you? Anyways, I did what any reasonable kinesiology student would do after finishing a final exams season. I went to the bar—the olympic bar of course. (Actually that’s a lie, I hit the gym for a workout inspired by Tony Gentilcore because, really, after barely working out for over a week with minimal sleep and high stress, I’d be flirting with the risk of injury pretending to be able to move competently with the bar.)

I have a whole bunch of blog post ideas, as well as a bunch of skeleton drafts in my vault. And this one was a good one to start out with for 2017. So without further ado, here we go. These are some gems that I really would’ve never thought as a naive, bright-eyed first year student. But they are some of the most important things that I’ve learned over the years and would be valuable things to tell to my younger self if I had the opportunity to.

1. There’s a 86.7% chance that you will not end up pursuing the career you were convinced was your dream when you were in first year.  (Note: I do not claim any scientific evidence behind that statistic.)

Honestly, we are SO convinced that we will be “X” or “Y” because of “Z” or “A”. It seems right, and it makes perfect sense given your interests and skills that a certain job or career is written in stone for you! The amount of friends and peers I know that did a complete 360 and did NOT end up pursuing the career that they all thought they were going to strive towards is actually the majority, myself included. Key take away: keep an open mind.

2. Sorry to break it to you cold, but life will hit the fan at some point in your undergrad.

I’m warning you now. It may not be super severe, it may be as simple as a dreadful week of stress and exams that makes you question why you’re in school. To one degree or another, again, my friends, peers and myself included have all gone though some gut-wrenching and fetal-position-inducing times. In conversations that I’ve shared, it’s been agreed upon that really, everyone goes through some period(s) that really ain’t pretty. If you ever get stuck though, there’s a reason that there’s free health and counselling services to students. (I really hope all schools provide it.) And honestly, more people and more FRIENDS and classmates than you are aware of are using these resources to keep themselves mentally healthy.

3. Retaking courses is NOT SHAMEFUL.

As more of your typical keener, go-getter, high-shooter student, I and my social circles also entered university always assuming we would never have to retake any courses; our grades would never be bad enough to warrant such an act. Fun fact, in my first semester when I took a 100-level biology course and I tried to sit next to strangers to make new university friends, I met a girl that told me that she was taking the course for the third time. I just assumed that she was a bad apple because she told me how she basically never attended classes but was trying to pass for once. (That was my “welcome to university, kiddo” moment.) To keep it brief, as you navigate through your undergrad, you will realize that you cannot be your 100% all the time in every aspect of your life. Things will happen and you will make mistakes. And things will not go the way everyone expects it to, yourself included, even if that’s how things have always turned out to be in the past. We all make slip ups, so really, retaking a course isn’t a big deal.*

4. After number 3, I know what you’re thinking, but NO, trust me you don’t need to finish in 4 years.

When you’re on the brink of finishing your degree, you’ll realize how the true “adult world” is kinda scary, beyond losing your student discounts and rates for a lot of things. It’s rare that we all get to have a straight trajectory from point A to B, where the career we step into right after school is the one we’ll happily be in until retirement. So, relax! Take your time. If you’ve been going balls to the wall your entire undergrad, allow yourself to take a breather and don’t rush into anything yet, be it a full-time job or grad school. Unless the opportunity is there, you may want to travel or do some things you haven’t been able to do. Once you might be committed to a career, you’ll find yourself with less windows of opportunity to do things that you’ve always wanted to do.

Coming out of school without knowing what you really want to do is scary. But don’t force yourself to find what you want to do with your life immediately. A friend of mine knew he wanted to do physiotherapy but by graduation time, he felt like he wasn’t ready to commit to professional school mode and enter the true “adult world” yet, and that’s okay. He has been working ever since and learning a lot, making use of his flexibility and freedom before applying to grad school.

5. The education system is not perfect, and could be deemed unfair. But alas, “life is unfair, and then you die”- C.A.. Deal with it.

The world, your professors, your tutor markers, teacher assistants—they don’t owe you anything. Sure you paid your tuition, but in reality you will come to realize that if you have 2 final exams a half hour within each other, OR you have 3 exams, just an hour outside of the 24-hr window subject to examination hardship policies … deal with it. (All of which I’ve experienced by the way.) The real world outside, which could involve a strict future employer, could potentially care less that you had “C” or “D” happen and you can’t meet your deadline. Not everyone can consider and accommodate your needs or preferences. So sometimes we just have to suck it up and do the best we can with the circumstances that we’re in. Don’t forget, “this too shall pass.”

5.5. When times get really challenging and you really feel like you are at your wits’ end … as someone wise advised me, “make sure to do at least one thing each day that makes you happy.”

This sounded really silly to me (which is why I made it a .5 tag-along and/or to make this blog post sound catchier by chance), and a waste of time when I was dealing with anxiety and was so stressed, while I thought the only way to combat my demons was to make sure I studied enough (which was really never enough). So I shrugged off this piece of advice, considering, say, watching a movie or going for a hike was not feasible in my schedule. But it can be as simple as watching hilarious talk show clips on YouTube (something I really grew into and love to this day because they NEVER fail to make me laugh). Forgetting everything in the world even for just a mere few minutes while feeling pure joy in what you’re doing, is so healthy and is so needed. Because we’re human. Finding out the simple things that make you happy even in the darkest of times will equip you with ways to cope. This will change over time, so again, be open minded.

 

As I was editing this old written piece, I realized that there is so much more that I could add now that I’m actually done my undergraduate degree. But I will leave it be. Note: I’m not turning this blog into one about school, but I did just finish a degree and will continue on both as a “life-long learner” and hopefully a Master’s degree student. So the next post to come out of my vault will be: Undergraduate Studying Hacks.

Thanks for perusing this post. I invite you to share your thoughts and comments below whether you’ve long graduated or you’re still in school.

*If you’re concerned about how this reflects on your grades specifically for grad school applications, look ahead into graduate program prerequisite criteria. Some programs and schools allow you to report your highest grade if you have repeated a course. Not all schools do though. Moreover, I know a couple of friends wanting to apply to medical school or other professional programs, and they’re retaking 100-level courses to make upgrades to their GPAs. I think it’s rather respectable and inspiring that someone is willing to go through the trenches again to improve themselves and push towards a goal, especially if they have to retake a brutal course. Again, keep an open mind. You may surprise yourself with what new things you learn because when you previously took the class you didn’t have the time to actually learn everything or you just never paid attention to those details. (True story, it happened to me and I got so much more out of the courses I retook.)