Years before I was even thinking of applying to university, I frequently heard the phrase: “You don’t know real work until you’ve been to university.”
Without focusing on the obvious problems with this phrase, I spent a large portion of my life quite bothered by this phrase, as I experienced a huge amount of stress from the workload in A Levels and by contrast have felt comparatively little in my first year and only slightly more so in my second year at university. Although university has definitely not been without stress, the holidays (which are longer than in school) were rarely taken up with revision for me and I never had the feelings of impending “This is kind of all or nothing” that I did in Sixth Form.
Even at the start of Third Year, I still felt very much that it’s only as busy and as stressful as you make it. Notably, due to the dissertation module, we have considerably fewer contact hours, meaning that we can use most of our time at our own leisure. That’s not to say we can watch Netflix and generally do nothing all the time, but we have control over the time we use. I started volunteering as a legal researcher for the Miscarriages of Justice Project and took a couple of independent online courses so was very busy, but I was very aware that my time wasn’t actually overly taken up with actual uni work. So, I started to think that if I wasn’t doing all these extra things, I’d have an incredibly easy life, even in my third year at university. Now, however, since first term has finished and the deadline and dissertation crunch is beginning, I see what people were talking about all those years ago.
I have recently submitted a 4000 word essay, have nearly finished a 5000 word essay, still have all 10,000 words to write for my dissertation, have another couple of long essays to look forward to next term, plus fitting in various volunteering, work and extra-curricular commitments, as well as, on top of all of that, generally thinking “wow, where am I going to be this time next year…?”. I’ve more than likely missed out a couple of things. It is so easy to let all of this get on top of you and it really doesn’t help when people consistently remind you that this is the best time of your life so you’d better enjoy it. I’m stuck in limbo between wanting to enjoy my final year, but also finding that almost completely impossible because this is probably one of the most mentally demanding times of my life.
In trying not to allow the stress to ruin your life, I think that what everything always comes back to is the same and reliant old – it’s going to be okay. You’ve made it this far and you’ve consistently combatted every challenge that’s come your way to get this far, so this is no different and chances are, you’re going to be okay through this as well.
Perspective is also vital. One of my friends likes to remind herself that in comparison to the whole of space, time and the universe, what she’s doing, success or fail, doesn’t really matter. And this helps her to manage stress. This doesn’t work that well for me personally, so it’s important that you don’t expect mantras that work for others to always work for you, but if you remember to put your mind into perspective your own way, you’re going to feel more positive about everything.
When I’m in a negative mind set, I like to tell myself that this mind set won’t last forever, and it helps me to remember that every moment is fleeting so that I’m not thinking the negatives of now are going to feel like negatives forever. I also try to approach every situation positively – if something makes me feel negative, I take a moment to actively change my initial reaction to it and move my focus from that to an approach which gives me more optimism. Referring to the common comment “this is the best time of your life so you’d better enjoy it”, I think it’s best to approach this idea as less of a stressful “Quick! Enjoy yourself!” and instead focus on the small positives of where you are, what you’re doing and where you’re going, without over-burdening yourself with stressful thoughts about how to balance work and enjoyment. The thing is, work can be enjoyable if you let it be. It’s all about mind set.
Third year is the most challenging of all the years at university, for me at least, but that doesn’t have to stop it being a good year. It’s probably going to be different, but that’s a good thing too. “You don’t know real work until you’ve been to university” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You don’t only learn how to prioritise, you learn what is important to you and what you want to prioritise. The work may feel never ending at times, but the small victories within the year are pretty wonderful and I think it’s about learning to embrace a different type of enjoyment and a different type of you.