6 important lessons I have learned at university so far

If you follow me on twitter you will probably know I finally finished my first year of university on a course I am incredibly passionate about (Community Learning and Development). After missing almost all of my secondary school education, and multiple attempts at education without ever managing to finish a whole year, I couldn’t be happier that I finally managed it! I have learned a lot of important lessons along the way and I want to share these for anyone at university or thinking of going. I’m not going to say ‘if I can do it then you can too’, because we are all fighting our own battles and the system isn’t set up for everyone to succeed. But there have been many times when I thought I was just going to keep failing and this time I haven’t. Maybe this time you won’t either.

Ask for help before you are desperate for help

I used to wait until I was at breaking point before I even considered asking anyone for help and it was usually too late by then. This time I have made sure the support is there in place before it gets to that point. I am lucky in that my university has had a lot of support available to me. I have received mental health mentoring at the disability services every two weeks throughout the whole year and that has been so important for me. I have brilliant support from lecturers and tutors, who I can go to as soon as I feel like I might be having any problems throughout the course. I have asked for extensions in advance before it gets to the point where I am panicking. There were times throughout the year when I wanted to give up because managing my health was taking up all of my time. But I realised that rather than dropping out again, I could ask for changes to be made so that it was easier for me to be there. In conversations with my tutor and disability advisor we decided it would be okay for me to stand up in class or go for a quick walk if I was in too much pain due to my Fibromyalgia. In the past I would have felt too guilty to do this, but I know now that I deserve an equal chance at succeeding and if that means I need some reasonable adjustments put in place, that is okay and what it is all there for. You deserve that too.

Pace yourself and don’t try to do everything all at once

I am a very passionate person and it is easy for me to get caught up in the excitement of everything and try to do too many things all at the same time. The first time I started first year of this course I started a new job at the same time, and I pushed myself basically over the edge. I ended up in hospital and taking a leave of absence from uni. It was just too much. But that experience forced me to go at a slower pace. I have learned how important it is for me to pace myself and focus on one thing at a time. It is incredibly difficult because there are so many things I want to do, but I won’t be able to do any of them at all if I don’t learn to do one thing at a time. This year I have focused on the basics and my priorities, which were my health and succeeding in finishing the year. That has meant I’ve had to say no to a lot of things I’ve wanted to do, and at times I’ve felt like I am missing out on some brilliant opportunities. But there will be time for all of that. The main thing for me has had to be keeping myself as well as possible, everything else can come in time.

It is okay to fail

I wouldn’t have learned how to truly look after myself if I hadn’t failed so many times. And in realising that, I have realised that failing is okay too. It is not really failing if you can take something from it to move forwards. Even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time. I have always had a bad habit of being incredibly hard on myself, and beating myself up for anything I feel like I’ve failed at. To the point where I often just wouldn’t try in the first place, or I’d give up so that I was my decision to fail rather than anyone else’s. At the start of this year at uni, whenever I found myself with that fear of failure, I told myself it was okay if this didn’t work out. If I wasn’t ready or if it wasn’t for me then that was okay. I would find something else to do. It didn’t have to be something I needed to beat myself up for. I took the pressure off myself and it was an empowering feeling. I kept having to remind myself of it and it wasn’t easy, but it kept me going.

Stickability

One of my lecturers introduced me to this word and whenever I feel like giving up it is in the back of my head. What is your reason for doing the things you’re doing? When things get difficult what keeps you going? I have had to realise that there are going to be some very difficult times throughout my degree, and maybe at times I will lose sight of why I am doing it. But there is something that has kept me going throughout those feelings, and I have needed it to get through those difficult spells. For me, it is because I am so passionate about my course. The thing that got me through my most difficult times in my life is that I felt like I could use all of my experiences to strive for change in this world. CLD as a profession is where I see myself being able to do that. It gives me hope, and I have held onto that in those difficult times where I have lost hope in other ways. It has helped me to stick through it, and to have that hope that it will all be worth it. And it has been worth it, to get to the end of this year and to see the progress I have made in so many areas of my life, it has definitely been worth sticking it. So when things get difficult and you are searching for a reason to stick at it, what is it that gives you hope and meaning? Hold onto that.

Find the things that give you joy, and make time for them

This is something I am still working on and trying to find. I have been so determined that I was going to stay as healthy as I could and that I would finish this year that I didn’t really make enough time for the other things in my life that make me happy. I don’t think I really know what they are yet, but I am getting there. I’ve realised how important it is to have a balance in your life. I can easily slip into focusing all of my energy on one thing and forgetting about everything else, which can be draining. I am learning how important it is to take time for myself, to wind down, and to do the things that make me feel joy. Reading, writing, swimming, spending time with people close to me, being with my dog and being creative are some of the things I have found make me happy. What makes you happy? It is easy to forget about them, but they are so important in helping you succeed at anything in life. Make time for them.

If it isn’t for you or you are not ready, that is okay too

We seem to value education, working and achievements over everything else in this society sometimes. I have met so many people at university who seem to be so unhappy with what they are doing, but they continue to push themselves to do it because of a pressure to not be seen as a failure or to have their whole lives figured out already. University is not for everyone, not everyone enjoys it or wants to do it, and that is okay. I have went through times when I’ve thought ‘this just isn’t for me’ and I have struggled to sit in classes and be a part of formal education sometimes. School did not work for me, and I have thought many times that maybe university wont either. If it wasn’t for the fact I am so passionate about my course, I probably wouldn’t want to be there at all. In previous attempts at university I was driven by a determination to prove everyone wrong. I was doing it for the wrong reasons; because of a pressure to achieve, and that reason wasn’t enough for me to find some hope to stick at it when things got difficult. If you’re going to do it, do it for you.

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