Four years ago I started my first year of university at Ryerson. The elephant in the room is that Ryerson clearly did not work out, seeing as I’m writing this from my student house in Kingston. Since 2017 I thought that going to Ryerson was a mistake, a waste of time, and something that just generally threw me off course and set me a year behind all of my friends. One afternoon in September, I finally accepted that my mental health was really nowhere near where it should be, and that my mistake of going to Ryerson was affecting me more than I could handle. I called my mom as I walked around the downtown campus, eventually pouring my heart out to her as I layed alone in a park. I remember finally admitting that I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and that as much as I’d always fantasized about living in a city, working in creative industries, and following a career path that I thought I was passionate about, I finally came to terms with the fact that I was lost. Everything I had wanted to fall in love with actually ended up only further sending me in a downwards spiral, my mom talked me down on the phone as she reminded me that it’s okay not to know what you want to go to school for, and not know what you want to do with your life. We talked over some options from ground zero, reminiscing about what truly brings me happiness, what jobs I’ve enjoyed doing the most, and what I thought needed to change. As much as it scared me to admit, what really needed to change, was everything. 

After that phone call things moved pretty quickly, I went from being enrolled at Ryerson to living at home all in the matter of about a week. While there were certainly other factors that were impacting my mental health, I’ve never felt such a sense of relief than when I had papers signed saying that I was allowed to leave Ryerson. After a year of working at home and re-applying to university, I finally found myself at Queen’s in 2018, both literally and metaphorically. Ryerson exists in my mind as pretty much nothing but a blur, a time in my life that left me reconsidering everything I’d come to know about myself, and a time that left me feeling like I was thrown off course and set-back in life. 

Since moving to Kingston, the past three years have challenged me in ways I know I probably would never have experienced had I always been at Queen’s since day one. The majority of my friends here are a year ahead of me, making housing choices initially daunting, friendships challenging, and the end of their fourth year bittersweet as I watch the ones who helped me find myself move-out of the houses that have become my home away from home. While I know watching them drive away will definitely bring some tears, it feels really good to know that they’ll be tears shed from fond memories and happiness, and finally not ones shed over regret or self-loathing for being a year behind. I’ve realized that the saying “everything happens for a reason” might honestly have some truth to it. Had I not gone to Ryerson, I probably would have never found such joy in Queen’s, let alone would I find a career path that interests me, new friends, and opportunities to push myself outside of the bubble that I’d previously been so confined to.

While sometimes it can be tricky having the “yeah I’m actually still only in third year” conversation, I’m finally at a place where that sentence doesn’t come with feelings of shame. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that I understand now more than ever that university does not have to follow the traditional four year timeline. It can look like time off, it can be extra semesters, extra courses, another year, the best time of your life, the worst time of your life, a switch in degrees, or a change in location. It can feel like confusion, happiness, relief, uncertainty, worry, and it can still leave you a little lost even after graduation. To all my friends who still have no idea what they’re doing next, who don’t want to go to post-grad, who feel like they’re wasting time taking time off, or who don’t feel worthy because they’re taking a break, my advice is this: 

  1. Not everybody has it together as much as we might think. 
  2. Having no idea of what you’re doing means that the opportunities are endless. Your lack of direction means you can take any direction. 
  3. There is no reason why university has to take four years.Take as long or as short as you want. 
  4. It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your degree (if you want to do anything with it at all). More people are in the same boat than you think. 
  5. Take your time, if my experience at Ryerson has taught me anything it’s that there is no point rushing into making a decision if you don’t truly think it’s going to make you happy. While I know Ryerson is what got me to Queen’s, I would have saved a lot of time, money, energy, and tears had I taken my time to really consider what I wanted from university. 
  6. You are not “less-than”, you aren’t “a year behind”, you’re not “set-back” for taking a “non-traditional” timeline to university. Do your best to resist that “traditional timeline”, I personally think it’s fake anyways. 
  7. What even does “a year behind” mean? Why does it matter? It’s all relative anyways, when I’m done, my friends could be in their eighth year of school, would I suddenly be ahead of them? Are they now “behind” me? When you think about it, the whole concept makes pretty minimal sense. 
  8. You are valued and worthy, no matter if you’re in school, out of school, taking time off, deciding you’ve had enough, changing your life plan, etc. 
  9. Treat yourself the way you’d treat your friends. Do not beat yourself up for not wanting to go to grad school, be kind to yourself if you need an extra semester, listen to yourself if your happiness is at risk. Mindfulness is really hard, but it matters.

I think a lot of what used to make me so scared of “being a year behind” comes from the idea that, while my friends are out in the real world, I’ll still be stuck in school, held back from plans that will be made without me and the phase of life that I’m “supposed to be in”. While I haven’t totally overcome my fear of missing out, I definitely have fine-tuned another piece of that: my obsession with hustle culture.

I think I, like many others my age, have become so obsessed with the grind that I, for a long time, started to associate my success, value, and purpose solely with work and school. I personally have an extremely hard time feeling like I’ve actually accomplished anything if I don’t get school work done in a day, however, I also have a hard time taking breaks when I’m working. I always feel like there is something I should be doing when I take a break, I feel guilty for doing nothing. A lot of young people are obsessed with working hard, and while we might have next to no interest in pursuing a higher-education, I think a lot of us do so because we are hyper-dedicated to working, to the point of burnout, where we feel helpless or useless if were not participating in the hustle. When work becomes life, many of us feel starved of meaning, as though we lack purpose, and we long for some sense of identity that can ground us. For me, I was so accustomed to the idea that school was a golden ticket to purpose and value, that when I didn’t have school, I felt like I had nothing.

What makes this picture of success more tricky for young folks is the fact that social media drives hustle culture. When I took my year off after Ryerson, I was constantly reminded that I did not adhere to the same approval or praise that was generated for those who were experiencing a traditional and perfect year at university. My peers who were hustling, being put on a pedestal, and following the normative pathway to success constantly boosted their self-image on Instagram, posting pictures of a seemingly perfect lifestyle with all the downsides and difficulties brushed under the carpet. With this being the time of year for graduations, acceptances, job-offerings, and new houses, I really hope that anyone who might be feeling pressured by our society’s obsession with work, gaining purpose and justification through the hustle culture can be reminded that:

  1. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do simply to feel justified. True happiness, feelings of peace, and comfort will come – don’t be afraid to take a non-traditional route to get there and take your time to get there if you need.
  2. Social media is fake. 
  3. Hustle culture is detrimental for well-being, you do not have to buy into the notion that self-worth or success is determined by how burnt out you are.

I guess my point in this article is simply that school does not have to adhere to any specific formula, being confused is okay, not everyone knows what’s going on – even if they act like it, and that being lost and starting fresh is scary, but for me, it was worth it. To whoever is reading this, whether you’re in first year, graduating, accepting a new school offer, or anywhere in between, I hope that this article can provide a sense of comfort that you are not alone in being a little lost. I hope you can look at my story of Ryerson and know that change is okay, you will find comfort, and that not conforming to the typical timeline for a university undergrad is literally so fine. I am finally happy to admit that I am living proof that self-worth is not determined by whether you’re a year behind people your age, and I really hope you are soon too.

From one confused girl to another, you’re doing amazing sweetie.



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