By Theerada Moonsiri (She/her/hers)
It’s the first week of the university’s teaching block. I’m sitting at our Andersonian Library; it’s packed full of students who seem to possess that great energy and enthusiasm, eager for what lay in store for their academic journey. Some are revising (already!?), and some are bringing home their readings. It’s a well-oiled machine out here. Why does it feel like everyone has got their sh*t together? It’s literally just the first week.
It’s been more than half a decade since I finished undergrad. I started my postgrad earlier this year in January, and re-entering academia felt alien and terrifying to me. I was worried if I could keep up with younger classmates, if I would be able to think “critically” enough at the academic level; my high functioning anxiety got way ahead of me. (Spoiler alert: I survived the first semester – tears were shed.) Fast forward to today, this is my second and last semester as a postgrad student, which is exciting in one way yet intimidating in another. It feels like “the beginning of the end,” where I’m supposed to define a path for myself and know what my next steps are, but in reality I’m constantly worried and anxious on a daily basis – I don’t even know what’s for dinner.
Today’s society is rather fixated on the idea of passion, productivity, and all that goal-achieving jazz. We often come across inspirational success stories as a result of solid, comprehensive plans, so much so that sometimes we lay a guilt trip on ourselves because living in the moment or one day at a time feels no longer productive and “good enough.”
But think about it, really think about it – what’s so wrong about not having much direction, not yet having an answer to “where do you see yourself in five years from now” figured out? For what it’s worth, I’ve learned in the past year that it’s okay not to have all the answers, and not because I’m incapable of finding them, but simply because I’m not supposed to know everything.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable? I know it sounds a bit grim, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a bad thing. Not yet having a definite, concrete plan allows you flexibility and freedom to go in search of what really resonates with you. It will definitely involve stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something you may have never done before.
For example, choosing an optional module from outside your programme or joining a society or sports club you’ve been meaning to try. It will be awkward or even embarrassing in some cases. But it is a valuable learning opportunity, a rewarding experience to practise self-reflection and deepen self-awareness that will eventually encourage personal growth.
Give yourself some credit.
I think we “look forward to” and strive for what’s next, much more than we appreciate how far we’ve come. Yesterday’s triumph somehow feels “so yesterday” to the point that we have an insatiable appetite for a winning streak. This constant need to overachieve does more harm than good as it will eventually cause burnout and feelings of insecurity and insufficiency.
It’s now more crucial than ever to practise gratitude for yourself and be mindful of your achievements, even if it’s just a little thing like finishing your required reading or climbing Montrose hill and managing to a morning class on time. (The latter is quite painful, to be fair.) Even though you don’t have the answer to where your life is heading yet, being kind to yourself and becoming more grounded will help you realise you are exactly where you need to be.
You’re not supposed to know everything.
Learning isn’t limited to only classrooms. (But do come to class though.) We’re constantly exploring, developing, and definitely making mistakes almost every day. Having all the answers sounds mental and exhausting to me.
In a world where overdoing things is highly praised, absurdly celebrated, and seen as a marker of success, it’s now easier than ever to get caught up in the chaos of striving for excellence in life. After all, what I’m trying to say is that it’s totally fine not to have everything figured out just right now. It’s okay to try, fall down, and scramble up again.