Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 14 Sep 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Advice to freshers (from an old fart)

Hello. I’m an old fart, which may dispose you towards ignoring this advice. However. Read it, and, if needed, tuck it somewhere at the back of your brain, because what I’m saying here is hard-won truth and is set down as faithfully as I can manage. Were I to have a time machine, then I’d get in it and what I’ve written below is what I’d tell myself. I know you’re yawning already, but hear me out.

When you go through GCSEs and A Levels, you’re reaching the end of straight train tracks. For a long time, you always knew what would be happening to you, and when, which school you would be going to next, what homework you had and what academic hurdle you needed to jump through next. Getting to university represents the next stage in that process, but also a culmination in its own right, because it’s the stage when you’re solely responsible for what you do. Whether you go to lectures or tutorials or not is down to you. Whether you stay in bed for 24 hours a day or party hard, is all down to you. And that freedom is suddenly a bit scary.

As a result, you suddenly start to wonder who you are. Without your parents and familiar friends around, your personality suddenly doesn’t seem quite as fixed as it did. You are, so it seems, what you say you are to other people and are taken at face value. The problem is that you don’t really know and start trying on different personalities like shirts. Are you the bookish geek who hits the library at every opportunity? Are you the boozy party animal? Are you the product of the university societies that you’ve joined? Who’s to know what you are?

The answer, of course, is you. At the back of your mind, as there was at the back of my mind, is a voice that tells you what you like doing. That voice also tells you who you like spending time with and what direction your studies will go in. And I’m telling you that you need to listen to it. Nobody, but nobody, has your best interests at heart like you do, so guard them jealously. When someone tells you to do something you don’t want to do, with the idea dancing behind it that it might make you more popular, more attractive or more acceptable, just don’t do it. At university, surface is all and you’re right – it might make you all those things, but it would make you them by appealing to other people, and that isn’t the route to long term happiness. As soon as you have to check your decisions by your peer group, or, more importantly, by an imagined jury of cool people you’ve put in your head, you’re not being true to yourself and you’re not doing the things that make you happy for the simple reason that you worry they won’t advance your cause.

Everyone at university does this. And I mean, everyone. Even the people who make the most noise about wanting to sod everyone else and go their own way are the people who are most guilty of caring what they think, because saying ‘bollocks to it’ is a form of expectation management in its own right. I did it, a lot, and you’ll do it as well. It isn’t failure to want people to like you or to want to fit in. In fact, it’s the most human emotion in the world. But what you will come back to, sooner or later, is that you need to be yourself and that university is as good a time as any to start finding out who that is. You don’t want to drink? Don’t drink. You want to study hard and really push yourself to honour the hard work that you’ve done? Go for it. You won’t regret it.

And it’s also a good time to start being kinder to yourself. A Levels is still, from the distance of many years, the time when I did my A Levels is still the most stressful, because I was doing three different subjects and struggling to get a foot on the second rung of the ladder after GCSEs. I’m not very bright and am certainly not a natural student, so I had to sweat blood over those books and from about January to June can’t remember doing anything much that was fun. The idea of ‘being kind’ never figured, with the result that when I finally got to university, the thing I’d been working towards, I didn’t know what to do. Unless you show yourself kindness, unless you allow yourself to not do things you dislike and find out what you do like, you’re getting into some very unhealthy ways of seeing the world. Getting to university takes hard work and dedication, so the fact you’re there at all suggests that you should cut yourself some slack.

Part of cutting yourself some slack involves keeping one eye on what happens after university, because it’s a hard bump if you aren’t prepared for it. I knew some people, absolute howling wankers, who started playing golf because it would help them when they got to the boardroom. This is simultaneously sad and depressingly calculating. Don’t do this unless you’re an absolute howling wanker, in which case, you’re very unlikely to be reading this. Think about what you like, what your skills are and what the best way of developing them might be, so you’re slightly ahead of the game when you finish. And try to sort something out ready for when you leave, whatever it is, because I was wandering around in a daze for two months, bleeding money out of my bum. And you really don’t want to do that.

There we are. My advice to the younger me, twenty plus years on. Other advice includes ‘don’t get into that relationship because it’s abusive’ and various other bits and pieces, but that’s very specific to me and won’t help you at all. Enjoy university and be yourself and let it be the springboard to a life that makes you happy. Good luck.

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