It’s transition and change, a total upheaval of everything you have known and become comfortable with, and your mind does turns over it.
As many of you approach graduation, it is going to be a turbulent period. You will have a million thoughts and worries running through your head: what if I didn’t do enough at university? What am I supposed to do? Am I qualified for this? I am nervous, scared, anxious.
It is very easy at this point for anxieties and pressures about what you should or should not do after graduating to manifest themselves in more sinister things. When I hit the end of my high school days, those anxieties turned to obsessive exercise and eating problems. I dropped a lot of weight, falling to 50kg and ending myself up with significant medical attention.
A lot of those who have written in our Mental Health May series last year and this year have mentioned counselling and therapists, and how helpful they were. Honestly, I do not think I ever wanted to admit I had a problem, and it was not until I was on the road to recovery that I realised this was a genuine illness that had taken hold of me.
I did not go to a counsellor, did not reach out, and when I spoke to my family they did not understand. Unsurprisingly, really, because it is a scary time for them as well. What I found, though, when I came to university was that everyone was in the same boat as me.
That is as true now as it was then. Some friends of mine have been speaking to me about how worried they are about leaving university, and it is not a surprise. For many students, this is the first time you have been without the daily regime of education to structure your lives.
Since you learned that two plus two equals four, you have had over a decade of education to dictate what you do, and being given the freedom to choose your destiny is, all of a sudden, bizarrely restricting.
How, then, do you combat those feelings?
1. Realise that this is not the be all and end all
Do not panic. It is easy to think that, once you leave university, that is it. You’re locked in. You have done your degree, and now your career is set. This just is not the case.
Just as your favourite movie, your relationships, your political ideas and your favourite crisp flavour changes, your career aspirations and goals will change. Not at all sure what career you want to do? Go do something totally out there, like working in an outdoor centre for six months, or fire applications to a cause you’re passionate about, take a course or training, or simply consolidate what you have and try to get promoted in your part-time job.
All of those experiences will teach you things, and help broaden your perspective, but also show employers you’re dynamic and can show drive. Even if you feel under-qualified, be ready to learn, and that brings us to…
2. You won’t know everything
You will never stop learning. When I speak to my friends who are in a career, or my professors who talk about their experience, the one thing that comes through is that you are always learning.
If you see a job application with requirements you do not quite meet, so what? As long as you are willing to learn, to be pushed, to try, then that is what matters. Sometimes it is easy to shy away from this idea, and when I have, I find I need a kick up the backside to realise that life does not give you everything on a silver plate, and there is no way you can ever be qualified for every job you apply for.
Realising this gives you a key attribute: being comfortable with your strengths and your weaknesses. Also, though, that you have a long time to change those weaknesses.
The sad truth is you are likely to be working until you are at least 50, so you have a good while to learn new things.
3. Help is out there
Lots of people feel the same way as you, or have gone through it before. Recently, I have been doing a bit of soul-searching, looking back at the past year and looking ahead. Whether you have opened lots of doors for yourself or feel a lot remain closed, someone will be there to help you.
You are not expected to work this all out for yourself. I have spoken to enough people to know it is quite ordinary to feel a bit lost, and asking for help should not be frowned upon.
Do not lock yourself away in this respect. You can easily prevent a lot of anxiety and confusion by nipping it in the bud now and reaching out.
4. You have done bloody brilliantly
Have faith in yourself. You might not think you have done much during your time at university, but you can certainly look back and realise that you have – surviving, for a start.
Every experience can be turned into a positive, and you can break down your strengths and ability to work out problems by looking back over these. A good technique they use in police interviews is the STAR system – Situation, Task, Action, Result.
Essentially, what happened? What had to be done? What did you do? What was the result? When you look back at the odd jobs you have done, or the things you did in your university clubs and societies, you can find these STAR examples everywhere.
You just have to believe. I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.
As I said, this is a tough time, and it is scary. I felt very afraid coming to university, and if you are an incoming university student, you are not alone there. These apply to you as well.
Mental health is paramount, so try to be as prepared as possible for this time because you know you can get through it.