Image: Pang Yuhao
As I submitted my final deadline for second year, I felt free as a bird. Usually, I would have plans to look forward to for the summer, which would mark the end of a tiring academic year and force me to retire my constant state of being worrisome. With the current situation of the world, however, solid plans are something of the past, and I am left with nothing but the mere fact that I am done with my second year in university and only have one more year to go.
As I wallowed in the exhausting periods of overthinking that most of us found ourselves in during quarantine, I soon realised that I was looking back at my experiences over the past two years in London with a checklist to see whether or not I have had a “good” and “fun” experience. This criteria was heavily influenced by plot lines in popular TV shows and films. While it is true that I was not naïve enough to expect a Spring Breakers kind of college experience; the years I spent watching Rory in Gilmore Girls stumble upon new experiences out of the blue created a somewhat unattainable and overly-optimistic view of what I should expect, and hope, my university years would look like.
The romanticised college experience that was forced down our throats as tweens in Hollywood productions depicting students in a frenzy of drugs and alcohol, while also maintaining good social and academic lives, has created an expectation of perfection, at least for me. I realise that what I expected from university was dictated mainly by my fear of “growing up”, and the possibility that I will not be able to have fun once I graduate. The pressure that I have put on myself to have the most fun and crazy years of my life in the three years of my degree had put me in periods of depression before, however I had not had as much time to think about it before lockdown.
What welcomed me during this period of quarantining was disappointment in myself, because I was not always social and energetic, being productive, not always my “best self”, and I felt low from time to time.
The pressure that I had put on myself to have the best years of my life in university was not only detrimental to my mental health - as it is impossible for anyone to maintain the same level of energy and productivity at all times - but it is also an indication of the collective fear we have as students regarding our future careers. It is as though I have accepted the fact that I will not be able to have fun after university, and need to “get it all out of my system” before I am unhappily employed in a big corporation.
The prospect of entering my last year of university is scary, where I begin to contemplate all the things I could have achieved, if my habits had been different. For example, I could have made an abundance of new memories if I did not feel so low during second semester. If I left my room more and wasn’t so lazy, I could have made better use of my time. If I had reached out to more people to hang out and spend time with them, maybe I would have had new opportunities to try new things. The list can go on and on, and I could find so many flaws in my behaviour as a university student, because I have based my expectations on nothing short of perfect.
While all of the things that I have listed are true, and it is possible that I did miss out on significant opportunities, I nevertheless improved myself in ways that I could not have imagined before.
Although, based upon what I made myself believe, nothing will ever be enough until I have the Hollywood college life.
For anyone that has wallowed in the same negative thoughts in the past few months, what we need to realise is that our life does not end after university. Not only is it almost impossible to do everything you want in only three years, it is also counter-intuitive to what most of us would want our college memories to be like: spontaneous and filled with self-improvement. A checklist will never let us do that. Fitting your expectations into a tightly constructed mould not only hinders personal development, it also puts exceptionally high expectations on your person, resulting in a detriment in our mental, and sometimes physical, wellbeing.
Now, I’m entering my third year not with low expectations, but with more self-love and belief, knowing I will try my best, and keep in mind that there is more to life after university.
Edited by Ellie Muir