By this stage in life you will have been given a lot of advice, coming from everywhere and everyone. People have a tendency to relay stories of what University was like for them and what it will be like for you. This will quite likely have involved nostalgic, exaggerated memories of late night antics, and stories filled with a ludicrous consumption of cheap booze and fast food. They are right to advise: only those who have tried and tested will have the secrets to fool-proof hangover cures, the best ways to eat on the cheap or finding secret party spots.
But there is one small problem that comes with all the talk about what other people did at University. It is what they did- not what you will do. It is very easy to build an imagined picture of the experience you want, based on what other people have said, before you have even thought about what it is you want to take away from University.
Some of you might believe you know what these next few years will bring; some of you will have no idea, and some of you will be wondering why you ever thought it was a good idea to leave the comfy nest of home.
You all have something in common, though. You are all entering a situation that leads to the unexpected and unknown. The next few years of your life will be unpredictable and not necessarily what you thought they would be. That does not mean they will not be fulfilling. But it’s important to remember that sometimes things might not go to plan.
So I am going to join the gaggle of advisors and offer you one more pearl of wisdom: to remember to breathe.
Now by this I don’t mean that automatic respiratory function that we undertake around 20 times per minute. I am talking about the kind of breathing that allows you to stop and think. This could be a literal moment out of you day or an underlying tactic to help you through a week.
I know it might seem silly to remind you to do something so trivial, but let me explain myself a bit. Breathing in a slow, methodical way is the unsung hero that not only helps to calm you down, but allows you to stop and properly think.
Over the next few years you are going to have some very fun times and meet some great people. You’ll be bombarded with new experiences and ideas, and more likely than not by the time you leave University your understanding of the world will have changed- and hopefully for the better.
But things will also not always go to plan. University might not be as fun-filled as you expected: you will probably at some point become overwhelmed by the workload, and for some of you it might take longer than you thought to find people you can really call friends. Life has a real tendency to throw things at you when you least expect it: before you know it, you feel like you’re sinking, not cruising. It is when things seem like they are going downhill rather than up that you need to remember to stop, breathe and relax.
No matter how many elaborate daydreams you have of ideal University life, you can never predict the unpredictable. So let go of your expectations- the ideas installed by people telling you what you should do. Give yourself some time to settle in and embrace the newfound freedom you have to find out what it is you, specifically, want from University.
Your University life will be a brilliant experience but perhaps only in ways you never thought of. Learning to be resilient and confident in the face of new experiences and new people is one of the least talked about perks of leaving home. And here I am not just talking about events and opportunities around campus. Getting involved in things that take place outside of university could be some of the more enriching aspects of your university life, be they getting a job, doing some volunteering, or joining community groups nearby.
So let new ideas replace old expectations. Allow yourself some time to adjust and come to understand your new surroundings. Release any pressure you feel as to what you should be doing and try to find out who it is you want to be. And when it all gets too much, remember you can always take some time out to breathe.