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Feeling Lost in University Is All Part of the Process

A common yet unspoken experience many students face.

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Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

Our society places this immense amount of pressure to find ourselves in university. Many of us go in with high expectations and imagine a life full of excitement, friends and success. I was always told these years “will be the best time of your life” and after you graduate the stress of the “real world” will begin. However, the stress of the real world plagued my mind just within a few months of my first year of university. For starters, I was in a program that I loathed, the loneliness I felt was far from what I envisioned and I was experiencing high amounts of stress to figure my life out. I switched my major four times and eventually transferred to a new university for second year. The high expectations I had were quickly snatched away and the FOMO (fear of missing out) I would witness on social media made me feel inferior. I wondered if there was something wrong with me? Why can’t I just get things together and enjoy the university experience that everyone raves about? It appeared that all my friends from high-school were having the times of their lives while I was busy making pros and cons lists on which major or school to transfer to next. 

The Lies Social Media Tells

However, I eventually realized that the lives people post on social media are far from accurate. Apps such as Instagram and TiK-Tok make us feel as though we must reach our goals by twenty! We tend to feel as though our lives should be figured out when in reality they’re just getting started. Much to my surprise it turned out that my friends who appeared to be thriving were actually just as confused and lost as me. It was comforting to know I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. 

Future Revelations

Fast forward to two years later. I switched into a program and university I am much happier in and although I still feel lost from time to time (actually more like every other day) I have come to accept that feeling. You see, after much self reflection I came to the conclusion that being lost in university is actually a good thing. Don’t get me wrong; if you have a solid life plan that’s great. People who want to become doctors, engineers and scientists typically know early on. However, for the rest of society having this set life plan is unrealistic. Life changes quickly, which is why it’s important for us to go with the flow. Look at our world right now. We never saw Covid-19 coming which is why we must understand that having such control on our life plan is far from realistic. We can have goals that can lead us in the direction of our desired life, but we must stop trying to control every aspect. In some cases, our goals can lead us in a completely different direction and that is okay. My 18 year old self would be shocked if she saw me today!

Six Reasons Why it’s Okay to Feel Lost

You are currently on your journey and right where you need to be. Below are six reasons for you to feel at ease in your feelings of being lost.

New Experiences Come With a Changed Mindset Thus Altering Choices

 If you’ve already come up with your life plan how can you have the flexibility to change your mind and start new beginnings? There is no such thing as a simple life purpose! We are constantly adapting and changing to new environments. If you could look at yourself three years ago I am sure you would say that a lot has changed. A life path is not meant to be simple and purpose is typically found from experiences. When I was nineteen I had a major health scare which in turn created a great amount of anxiety for me. Going through that issue allowed me to see that I want to go into a field where I can help others with mental health, particularly Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Whether that field involves writing about mental health for magazines, becoming a therapist or both, I try to be open with what life has to offer.

Lots of Time for Self Reflection 

If you want to be happy in life you must deal with your personal baggage first. The feeling of being “lost” allows you to spend extra time reflecting on situations, emotions and ultimately what you need to feel fulfilled. You will be more self aware and aligned with your longterm goals. When we self reflect we have more control over our emotions and can make better decisions for ourselves and have stronger relationships with others. Self reflection can include journaling, reading, meditation, talking out loud and or even counselling with a therapist. 

You Are Open to a Wide Variety of Options 

 If you picked your exact career that you wanted at 18 chances are you’d regret it. You are more open to try new things and not be placed into one bubble! Could you imagine deciding your life plan at 18? Young adults are not mature enough to come up with these decisions. It is ultimately better for your long term satisfaction to take time and explore what environments suit you best. Being flexible is an excellent skill so having a wide variety of past experiences and jobs can really shape your future decisions. You will be able to learn what you like and dislike and where you can see yourself succeeding.

 Now Is the Time to Make Mistakes 

You may as well try out many different things when you’re young! This could include anything from dating that new person, trying that fitness class, creating your personal brand or applying for an internship. It’s time to test out your skills and see what you can work with. It’s always better to know early on what’s right for you. The lessons that come from these mistakes can ultimately lead you in diverse paths. For example, if you work in a store and hate the experience now you know that customer service isn’t for you. It’s a great thing to figure that out early on, so you can cross it off your list. 

A Higher Chance for Career Satisfaction 

Chances are you’ll do something you love since the decision was made at a more mature stage in your life. I can assure you that the person I was at 18 is completely different from who I am today. I am still changing and chances are my 25 year old self will be different as well. For all I know, I could choose to go back to high school and retake the math and science courses I struggled in, and go to Med school, a decision made by a more mature version of myself versus my 18 year old self.

You Will Become More Resilient 

 You’ll be able to better manage surprises life throws your way. A life with no excitement and only structure can be boring. If you can handle the unknown, and go with the flow you will do amazing in future endeavours. It forces you to get creative, take initiative and learn more about your self. All these feelings create character which will ultimately steer you in a direction you’re meant to embrace. 

Final Thoughts

Feeling lost ultimately helps build growth and character. I understand how stressful and scary this can be but I promise it will bring more benefits than harm. You got this!

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More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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