According to a Canadian study, almost 90 per cent of students stated that they felt overwhelmed with what they were expected to do during a school year, and 50 per cent said they felt hopeless. The mental toll that university takes is a reality for many, including myself.
I distinctly remember standing up and walking out of an English lecture halfway through it to avoid an anxiety attack in my last semester of my fourth year of university. I walked right out of the school to my car in a daze and drove home. I couldn’t sit in that classroom any longer.
For the first time in my university career, I had begun to feel a lack of motivation and a lack of interest.
I have always been a driven individual. Despite this, I struggled to get out of bed and attend classes near the end of my degree. For the first time in my university career, I had begun to feel a lack of motivation and a lack of interest.
Each semester I took on a full-time schedule without hesitation. As the years went by and the classes I took on got harder, my grades only excelled as I learned the ins and outs of being a student. I liked learning new things, and I loved working hard.
I watched as people I knew failed classes and dropped out as they lacked the drive to take school seriously. To me, school was just an obstacle that I had to overcome to get to the next stage of my life, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I had accepted that fact and had taken on the challenge to excel beyond “just passing.”
The beginning of my fourth and final year of university is where I faltered.
The internship made me realize that much of what I learnt in school was, in fact, irrelevant…
I had just endured a disappointing internship in the summer that had left me questioning my future. The internship made me realize that much of what I learnt in school was, in fact, irrelevant and I still had a lot more to learn within my own field.
I could memorize practically anything, but how was that going to help me create communication plans and social media schedules? Even more alluring was the new freelance position I had secured writing blogs and tweets for clients. The classes that preached theory no longer interested me. Theory, I had come to learn, didn’t have much of a place in the real world.
There was a strong and scary mix. One part of me was tired of the repetitive essays and tests I had to endure to prove that I was qualified for a job position. I began to understand the formulaic aspect of university and how much of it relies solely on the memorization and repetition of fact. Even in my program where creativity was encouraged, we were still stuck to an algorithm that I was tired of.
My perfectionism was at play with my anxiety here. I couldn’t fail, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I had the energy to succeed.
Then there was the other part of me that, when I transitioned into the second semester began to take over. The pure and unrelenting anxiety about what the hell I would do once I wasn’t a student anymore. I had constant questions: What if I fail a class and can’t graduate? Is all of this even worth it?
My perfectionism was at play with my anxiety here. I couldn’t fail, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I had the energy to succeed. I was on the Dean’s List, an accomplishment I took immense pride in, but I wondered if all the nights I had spent studying to achieve this was something that employers even cared about.
Over the years, I had heard the snide comments about degrees not getting people anywhere anymore, that it was a waste of time and money. I had always shrugged off those comments, never believing them. But now, as I was nearing the end of my four-year degree, I wondered if it was true.
I was tired of writing essays and studying – when was I ever going to use any of that?
In my second semester I was in a new internship position that had resulted from my freelance work, and all I wanted was to put my time and energy into learning at a real communications agency. I was tired of writing essays and studying – when was I ever going to use any of that?
I kept feeling like I was a prisoner. Here I was, an individual passionate about communications and marketing, and I felt like I was being forced to do work that I didn’t care about. I didn’t feel like I was in control of my own life. I felt overwhelmed and sick at the thought of completing project after project—and writing test after test— again and again, like an endless loop.
I was burnt out. I was tired.
I knew that I had to change my perspective. But it was hard to try and convince myself that everything was okay, and soon I looked for help from family, friends and resources at school.
In a TED Talk, Bel Pesce listed five beliefs that kill your dreams, the first being the belief in overnight success. I began to understand that I could not take hard work for granted. Believing that I shouldn’t have to take classes anymore, or that there was nothing else I could be taught from other disciplines was wrong. In my last semester, I ended up writing a 3,300-word literary journalism story that received both praise and admiration from my professor, with a recommendation to try and get the piece published nationally.
“I’m never going to be a journalist, why do I have to do this? I don’t even know how to write a literary journalism piece, what am I going to do?”
Journalism is not my major, and I mentally struggled with this class every. Single. Day.” I’m never going to be a journalist, why do I have to do this? I don’t even know how to write a literary journalism piece, what am I going to do?”
A good friend told me that I needed to try and see the lesson that can be taken away from everything that I do in life. Everything can teach you something even if it’s not your passion or main interest.
The third point Bel Pesce talks about is the belief that you should settle when growth is guaranteed. I had secured a full-time job after graduation with the company I had excelled in over past year, and I was ready to disregard school.
I realized that you can’t stop working, and you can’t stop learning when you “think” you’ve reached a certain goal. To be truly successful, you always have to keep pushing.
I was angry because I was in classes that I felt couldn’t contribute to what I wanted to do in the “real world.” What I failed to understand is that nothing in the real world is ever going to be easy, either. To those who say university is a waste of time and money, to them I say I’ve learned more than I ever could have without it. I can graduate, and say that I now know more about other cultures. I know about history and art. I know about sociological and psychological theories. I’ve networked and met so many amazing people. I’ve worked hard and accomplished something.
School is never a waste of time.
The classes you take might not be what you’re interested in or what you hope to do in your future work. But having that mentality and giving up simply because you “don’t want to write another essay” isn’t going benefit you or your future. Trust me, that mentality did not benefit me.
If you go to school to do the bare minimum, you’ll never truly benefit.
I know that university isn’t for everyone, and it’s not the only path to success. But, having the mindset that it doesn’t contribute to having a successful future is false, because there’s one universal trait that university teaches and instills in you if you’re willing to accept it; hard work. If you go to school to do the bare minimum, you’ll never truly benefit. You have to hustle and put in the time to get something truly amazing out of it.
I’m lucky that I had the help and support of others to get my through my last year of school, but it is important to know that accomplishments are never “luck,” they are a result of dedication and work. So work.
Anyone can be an expert at anything if they’re willing to put the work into it.
My story is not just my own. It belongs to many students who struggle and feel the same way. I know that things might be hard right now and you’re thinking of quitting or giving up – don’t. I know that a job is ultimately the end goal, but learning and pushing the limits of what you can do by taking classes that are outside of your discipline is rewarding in more ways than one.
Keep going. I promise, it’s worth it.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.