By Andrew Rella and Sonny Wong M.Ed.
Academic Career as Your New Life Stage
As you are transitioning into college/university, among the many novel thoughts on your mind – there may be one so glaring that it forces you to stop, observe your surroundings and re-evaluate your decision. You may say to yourself, “So this is what they were talking about?” The thought associated with the expectations of doing well and fitting in are all part of your new life stage. This excitement eventually wears thin as the realities of “student-life” finally hit and you recognize that your life vaguely resembles the snapshots you have previously seen on the various social media sources. Behind the carefully crafted images are what your peers do not tell you but we will let you in on some of the secrets.
The Ought-To-Self Concept
Your inner voice, otherwise known as your gut feeling is there to guide you down the exploratory path. At times you may be tempted to ignore it because you are learning how to distinguish your authentic self from your “ought to self”. Here is a secret. Try to monitor your emotions – if you are having feelings of doubts and fear ask yourself how come? You have never had to juggle so many responsibilities – studies, work, family, friends and your self-time. Now, you see on social media the extra-curricular activities that you ought to be doing just because your peers are doing them. By engaging in constant social comparison you may experience some negative self-talk or thought patterns. Try using those social media messages as clues/motivators to help you create your own meaningful experiences – rather than see them as prescriptions for crafting a social influencer persona. There are countless clubs, volunteer opportunities and on-campus-jobs but there are also other experiences found within your own community, culture and family life. If you feel like things are starting to pile up, take a step back to determine what you are striving to live up to – is it achieving a persona to gain social media followers or being YOU? Not engaging in particular activities does not mean you are a social outcast.
Peer/Social Media Construction
It is easy to give into the peer pressures and ignore your own truth, however it is integral that you stay in tuned to what you desire and what is right for you. By evaluating your present thoughts, feelings and behaviours, what you are doing is curating a healthy mindset and giving yourself strength to navigate through this new life stage in order to learn what is valuable to you. It is inevitable that you are going to be impressionable as you try to make sense of this new social culture. If you use social media as the measuring stick for what your life is supposed to look like – you may be subconsciously and consciously creating a prescribed narrative about yourself. Here is another secret. Allow yourself to engage in trial and error exploratory activities which will lead you discover who you are, what you care about, and your purpose of gaining an education. This trying-it-out approach will foster a more fulfilling educational experience while simultaneously ridding your mind of some fears you may have during your academic training. School is the chapter in your life that is supposed to prepare you for the workforce which is why it is vital to get involved in activities that will get you ready to answer that big question – what is meaningful work for me?
Worries & Stress
The domino effect will hit you. At one point or another you will probably experience some level of anxiety and stress. The first month or so of your first semester is always manageable. Then the second month rolls around and you are bombarded with assignments/tests and they all seem to be due within a span of a week. You asked yourself – what just happened? You quickly realize what you were doing previously will not work for you now. This is when the stress takes over as you are now filled with worries as you are afraid that you are going to fail. These are good worries to stress over. Here is the final secret. Lots of students deal with the same sort of feelings because peers do not tell them that for every 3-hour lecture it is 5 hours of independent school time. So, if you are taking 5 courses – that is 40 hours of hard work right there – a full work week. Another tip is that when your instructors give you the course outline with due dates it is best that you follow it. What it means is that you work towards those assignment due dates rather than start the days/night before it is due. You are now a professional student managing your academic career so that you can gain entry to the workforce. These small steps are about learning new employable skills. You may not get paid for it but your grade point average is your reward systems along with the new knowledge that you have gained from each course. Creating good habits from the get-go is a discipline. Remember, there are always professional services on campus to help you with your worries. Learn to evaluate what are good worries vs bad worries.
Whether you are an adult learner re-entering school or a teen transitioning from high school to college/university – congratulation on making this life decision. School is only for a few years but what you do in those few years set a foundation for your next life stage. There will be many opportunities to do the right things. There will be even more situations where you will just have to do right by engaging in trial and error. Eventually, you will find moments when you say to yourself – I am doing right by me.
This article is co-written by Andrew Rella (graduating Sociology Student @ Ryerson University) with Sonny KH Wong, M.Ed., Registered Psychotherapist.