Welcome to our new 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.
“Say yes to everything.”
“Don’t be afraid to say no.”
“Seize every opportunity.”
“Plough your own furrow.”
In the 21st century, advice is more readily available than ever before. Where guidance was once limited to our immediate family and friends, social media has provided a platform for anyone’s opinion to be expressed, and while this has many benefits, it can also prove self-defeating.
When I was at school, I approached opportunities by assessing whether I wanted to do them. Whether I thought they were what was best for me at that given time. This approach served me well, and my education was enjoyable and rewarding.
Consequently, when I began university two years ago, I attempted to employ the same tactic. In my first few weeks I attended events that interested me (such as Model UN, and various political society meetings) rather than those that did not (clubbing, for example, was simply not on my list of fun).
However, I soon realised that university was not what I had expected. I felt homesick and lonely, but everyone else seemed to be having a great time — what was I doing wrong?
In hopes of vitalising my university experience, I voiced my concerns to family and friends. Family members thought that I was taking work too seriously; they encouraged me to party more and study less. Friends of my parents proposed that I should grasp every possible opportunity — university has so many, all of which would bulk up my CV.
Feeling overwhelmed by the fun and career-enhancing opportunities that I had already missed, I decided to look online for advice from older students. There was plenty, but again it seemed overwhelming. Everything centred around the need to maximise the experience and have the “best years of your life,” yet so much of it was contradictory. Some people advocated focusing on my studies. Others recommended enjoying the freedom that university life affords, particularly in first year before grades begin to count.
I did not know which advice to take. To make matters even more confusing, personalised internet algorithms quickly filled up my Facebook newsfeed and Instagram discover page with articles and opinion pieces offering suggestions and tips from people and sources whom I had never met nor sought out.
Unfortunately, I had no light-bulb moment where I realised that this bombardment of conflicting advice could itself be negative. I continued seeking the correct solution from sources external to myself, believing that their authority was better than my own.
In my desire to enjoy myself more, I became bogged down in what worked for other people, and forgot to ask what I thought would work for myself. I attempted to make my time at university more enjoyable by implementing tactics used by other people. It is unsurprising that this did not work.
What I have gradually come to realise however, is that other people’s opinions are just that: opinions. No one has the perfect formula for how best to live life. The most that anyone can do is endorse the things which helped them, the things which made their experiences particularly fulfilling. The fact that so much advice is contradictory demonstrates its inconclusiveness.
Advice is a wonderful tool; a way of passing on wisdom. That said, the only advice which I still keep internalised is the importance of listening to myself.
I appreciate that to recommend this would be paradoxical. Therefore, I won’t. Instead, I will simply say that your time at university (and life more generally) can’t be experienced by anyone else.
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