If you could be your very own Ghost of Christmas Past, what period of your life you would go back to? Would you return to a past lover and never let them go? Would you go back and make that decision you were too afraid to make? For me, this moment isn’t anything too dramatic. I’d simply return to myself as a first-year. But, I’d like to tell him a few things.
If I got to sit down with my first-year self, I would warn them that trying to make friends is pretty much the same as dating. Adult friendships are weirdly similar to figuring out romantic relationships. And because of that, making friends at university can be pretty hard. I mean, your first year is almost like you’re starring in a new season of ‘The Bachelor’. But instead of finding true love, you’re meeting new people, hoping they will accept your metaphorical friendship rose. Even moments in class made me feel like I was on a reality show. Doing icebreakers feels like that moment all the contestants pull up to the mansion in the first episode. You arrive — armed with your most powerful weapon — a fun fact about yourself. In reality, this really is your moment to make a great impression and stand out from the crowd — try to own it.
The Forms Just Keep Comin’
Adulting isn’t as glamorous as you’d expect. If I’d have known how many forms I would have to complete in order to start my first year of university, I don’t think I would have actually accepted my offer. All the open days and brochures made it seem like a seamless transition from high school. I imagined strolling between lectures, having lunch with a group of friends on a patch of grass. What did I get instead? Forms and more forms. I think what makes it worse is that I naively didn’t expect it. Of course, pursuing tertiary education at any institution is an incredibly significant opportunity, so of course there are bound to be some official forms. But instead of being excited about university, I was suddenly filled with anxiety about filling out and submitting these pieces of paper. I didn’t know who to ask about fees or signing up to different classes. It felt like no one was there to help and in those moments, I realised I was truly alone. Not in a lonely sort of way, but rather in a way that made me realise I was entering the next chapter of my life. It was as if signing away at the T&Cs on my HECS-HELP form symbolised my next step in life. I want to tell my first-year self that those forms were only the beginning. Oh, and it gets easier... kinda.
Put the Red Bull Down
There’s a lot of pressure to get HDs in your final years of university, however I felt a heightened sense of responsibility not to flunk out in my first. After all, I was the one who chose to go to university. I had chosen these classes. I wasn’t going to fail straight away. About halfway through my first semester, I found myself in the middle of one of those weeks when I had an assessment due in every subject. I’m sure many of us have faced those weeks. If you have, you know the feeling.
At first I just had readings to complete. Then those readings needed comments. Completing the comments meant I had mandatory blog posts to do in order to discuss those readings in class. At the same time, essays needed completing and one of my subjects required us to make an app for an assignment. That week it felt like all my tutors were Oprah handing out free cars. But instead of proclaiming, ”You get a car, and you get a car,” they were walking around tutorials screaming, ”You get an assessment and you get an assessment!”
I felt like I’d never get it all done in time. The finish line was looming. I could see all the moves I had to make, I just couldn’t seem to take that first step. So I made the decision to pull my first all-nighter. With that decision, I drank two Red Bulls to fuel me through the night. It felt like my only choice. But they only made things worse. If I could return to that moment, I would tell myself I really didn’t need them. Instead of being awake enough to get through my work, all I could feel was my heart racing. Racing too fast. I thought I was having a heart attack. Instead of being focused on finishing my assignments, I was focused on staying alive.
In hindsight, I should’ve just taken a break. Some of the best work I’ve done has been when I’ve left an assignment and returned to it later. In some ways, it felt slightly glorifying to pull an all-nighter. There’s a sense of solidarity in tagging a friend in a meme about staying up all night to finish an assignment at 2 a.m. Sometimes it feels like there is a pressure to do so, if you want to maintain your social life and complete assessments on time. Things come up and get in the way of uni work. But, I want to tell my younger self that whatever it is, things will get done and it will be okay. It’s okay to stress, but you will get through it in the end. Whether it’s that day, the next, or the day after that, the assignment will be finished. The feeling will pass. Just like the sun rises and sets each day, time goes on. Hopefully it would comfort my first-year self to hear that in some other universe, I’m relaxed and not pounding Red Bulls to meet deadlines. Maybe just a coffee instead. Or two.
Hindsight is a Wonderful Thing
Looking back, the word ‘okay’, popped up a lot while writing this advice to my past-self. That leaves a smile on my face. I guess it’s because in those moments during first-year, I worried way too much. I didn’t see it back then, but it’s clear to see now. I was so stressed about adulting when filling out those forms. My thoughts spiralled from filling in boxes on an application to the bigger decisions I was making with my life. I was overthinking the process of making friends and concerned about being alone. I panicked when I thought I was having a Red Bull induced heart attack. And yet, everything turned out okay.
Overall, if I could go back and tell my first-year self something, I’d tell him that with time, everything will be okay.