Yes… I’m Still Here

Yes… I’m Still Here

It’s early September 2016. I have just moved into my stifling hot residence room, met everyone on my floor, eaten an aggressively mediocre dinner in Ban Righ, and was getting ready to hear the Chainsmokers’ hot new banger “Closer” pouring out of every house party on University Avenue. I, among four thousand other undergraduates, was gearing up for what could become the most formative years for my career, and the best four years of my personal life as I entered the Queen’s University Class of 2020. 

I was seventeen years old when I moved into room 307, my economy double room in Brockington House in 2016. I was entering university right out of high school, riding the high from graduating in the top percentile of my class, and I was excited to start my university education. Entering university, I had a rigid plan to study philosophy, attend law school, and ultimately have a legal career where I would be advocating for sexual assault survivors. Every choice I made in my first and second years of university were in service of my career aspirations. My philosophy major– a concentration I had chosen before even entering university– was a strategic measure I had made after learning that most successful law school applicants had concentrated in philosophy during their undergrad, and further that the critical thinking skills that developed over the course of my degree would give me a competitive edge when completing my LSAT exams. I gave myself no room for experimentation for finding new interests; every extracurricular activity I pursued– whether it was tutoring low-income high school students, or half-heartedly following along with events held by the Queen’s Pre Law Society–  I pursued with the intention of applying it later to a legal career.

It would not surprise you to learn that I eventually realized that the career aspirations I held at 17 years old did not end up being something I ultimately found would make me happy about halfway through my undergrad. Throughout my second year, I found myself constantly anxious and overwhelmed by the pressure to excel in all of my courses to ensure my admission into law school. The clubs I had pursued in honour of my career aspirations were not clubs I found myself enjoying.  My pursuits, at that point of my university career, were nothing but merely means to ends, and I was struggling to enjoy the journey that I thought would lead me to a successful career. Despite this struggle, I still continued to force myself to focus on my ambitions, and brushing all my disenchanted feelings to the side. 

The onset of my third year of university was cataclysmic for me in terms of me questioning my aspirations, overall career trajectory, and whether my accomplishments over a mere four years of undergrad would be sufficient in allowing me to succeed in any post-grad endeavours. A spur-of-the-moment brought me to apply and become a contributor for Her Campus at Queen’s U, a student-run online magazine as a means to explore my long-neglected creative side. While the first few articles I wrote were merely fun and creative means to distract myself from stress imposed on me by my academics, I was surprised to find that I was quickly becoming passionate about writing. I loved seeing my name appear under new headlines on my publishing dates, and I found myself striving to make each article better than the last. 

Despite my newfound excitement about writing, the anxiety I had started to feel in second year from the pressure to excel had followed into my third year. Though I had been accepted to go on exchange at the University of Manchester for the Winter 2019 semester, I frequently had panic attacks that my grades were not good enough to get accepted to law school, I felt like I hadn’t learned anything from the few clubs I had pursued in my first and second year, and the thought of having to prepare to take the LSAT exam filled me with even more dread. As I continued to feel consumed by anxiety as the semester progressed, I was forced to acknowledge the thought that my pursuit of a legal career was not something I felt fulfilled by, and further, was something that had significantly restricted my own ability to pursue different areas of personal interest. My semester culminated with me making one of the most difficult decisions of my life: to decline my exchange offer at the last possible minute, and to spend a semester away from classes. After finally confronting my previously unyielding career aspirations and entering my fourth year of university a full semester behind in school, the prospect of taking a fifth year had become a reality. 

Though the thought of completing undergrad in five years instead of four years can be comforting to some students, my initial decision to remain at Queen’s past April of 2020 gave me a lot of anxiety. I was entering my fourth year of school excited to return to Her Campus, continue to foster my passion for writing, and pursue the creative avenues I dismissed as a first and second year student, yet now, I no longer seemed to be progressing in my career at the same rate as my peers, and was suddenly excluded from the milestones I was supposed to celebrate alongside my friends. While students around me would be enrolling in competitive graduate programs and starting jobs upon graduation, my own grad school applications to philosophy and journalism programs would not be submitted for another year. 

As April of 2020 came and went, and I witnessed several classmates announce the graduate programs they had been accepted to, or the exciting new jobs they would be starting– I couldn’t help but feel inadequate in comparison. I was no longer sharing the same last day of undergrad with my classmates and would not move out of the university home I had grown to love at the same time as my housemates. While my classmates were moving on, I was remaining in a Kingston that appeared to be a shell of the former symbol of hope it represented to me on my first day of university. I had attached notions of success to the individuals who were pursuing new things immediately after finishing their undergrads, and consequently associated feelings of failure and shortcoming to myself, since I did not see myself to be progressing at the same rate. 

Despite this initial mourning and overall feeling of being left behind while I watch my connections around me update their LinkedIn networks, I do look forward to my extra year of undergrad. While I may not be graduating with my closest friends and the year sewn on my jacket sleeve will not match the year on my degree, my fifth year will allow me to further foster the passions I had not realized I had upon entering school. Although I’m proud and excited for those from the Class of 2020 who have left Queen’s to pursue new ventures they are excited about, I’m also proud of myself for recognizing that by graduating from Queen’s as a member of the Class of 2021, I’m easing my own unrealistic expectations on myself. Though I’ve now chosen to pursue a career in journalism, I’ve learned not to limit myself to one fixed career path, and am allowing myself to continue to further cultivate my passion for writing in an environment where I’m also able to continue to experiment and grow. 

Though the girl who slept on the top bunk in Brock 307 was convinced she would be in and out of undergrad in four years and immediately off to bigger things, I’m proud of myself for recognizing that the avenue I so stubbornly adhered was not for me. Yes, I’m still here, but I’m more confident in myself than ever.

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Francesco Zorzi – https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/11/616900580/back-off-how-to-get-out-of-the-high-pressure-parenting-trap

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