Self-Development

How to Stay Cool after Graduating University

Originally posted on Medium.

They don’t tell you how hard it can be.

Disclaimer: This is very much just a personal laundry list. I’m in no shape or form qualified to give anyone advice. My story, just like everyone else’s, is very personal and unique. There are many people who do not feel these things at all and have it all figured and planned, but I am certain there are many, many that do.

1. After you graduate, you’ll realize that there’s nothing but emotional sentimentality that ties you to your alma mater. This realization will be coupled with the realization that you can finally cut relationships and label it “moving on.” I really hate ending things, I’m sure I’ll even be sad when Rogers finally frees me of their binding contract. Apart from the monthly shocking statement, there was tons of memories in the years of texts and phone calls. As a graduate, you no longer have that freedom of “catching up before class with coffee” or “I’ll see you at that event” or “let’s study together.” The relationships that are meant to be are the ones that are independent of your student lifestyle. And that’s really great, really — trimming the fat is wonderful.

2. You have to have some sort of a life plan. It really doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or grand, but it has to be something realistically possible. It has to be something that’s challenging but not to the point where it becomes crippling. If you can have a life plan that’s longer than a year, kudos. The plan is the only thing that will give you a sense of purpose, something to wake up and do when there is no structure.

3. You have to get your family on board with your plan (or like, really really good friends who will pick up the phone right away). They have to absolutely 100% support your choices and like, still love you. There will be days where you wake up and question all your life choices. There will also be days when you can’t sleep and you just need to hear their voices. If you don’t have them to list all the reasons you’re not a complete failure, you really won’t make it. Also, the more tough love, the better. This is because you’ll want to do really ridicoulous things with your life and they have to step in and tell you that it’s not a good idea in the best way possible. A good support system will also remind you of your capabilities and competences, which is necessary….because you forget.

4. You will actually forget about your skills and your past experiences through the mind-boggling, humbling process that everyone goes through at some point or the other: Job Searching. It’s the most brutal, life sucking thing and I’d honestly rather just go back to school and do exams. But, I think it means truly accepting that it’s supposed to be this hard. And also, having faith in all the gods that you don’t believe in that eventually, eventually, things will have to work out. A comment like, “you’re trying, you really are. you are the definition of auto-pilot motivation” will keep you going for days.

5. If you’re playing the waiting game — waiting back from interviews, waiting from graduate schools, waiting to hear back about this or that oppurtunity, you have to make lists to decrease anxiety. The lists can be about everything and anything under the sun that interest you. You don’t even have to write it down, because this really isn’t homework. I made lists of places I want to visit before I die, lists of artsy craftsy things to make that I actually won’t, recipes that look easy enough to attempt. I made playlists of my favourite summer tunes, lists of book recommendation that I’d eventually get to. My more complex lists were of careers that I could envision myself doing — I thought about everything from nursing to web development.

6. You have to have a hobby — nothing is more important during a quarter life crises or periodic existential crises than a hobby. Although reading has been a pretty consistent hobby in my life, I picked up drawing/sketching again. Reading allowed me to get perspective about the bigger picture. It is an exercise in gratitude to remember all that you have going for you. But in general, there is something beautiful about losing track of time when you have a lot of time. I also started writing again because I have a lot of unexpressed emotions that needed to get expressed.

7. Similar to the last one, you have to keep busy. When your main task is just to apply for things, it’s easy to drown in a pool of Netflix and a diet of Ritz crackers and pop. I’ve gone through cycles of introversion and extroversion, and I’ve learnt to embrace that (not always very elegantly). There are some days you just won’t want to be home and want to catch up with everyone. Then, there are others were the thought of making small talk will bring you more anxiety than deemed possible.

8. You have to be the master of faking happiness. You have to master the art of lying to yourself about how happy you are. I know it seems really twisted, but I believe that when you truly believe you’re super happy, you’ll be bouncing with positivity. And let’s be real — you only get anything done when you’re in a positive mindset. Although fooling yourself is incentive enough, no matter how much your friends/family love you, nobody really likes a joykill and so master the art to maintain your relationships.

9. You have to laugh at yourself because really, what else is there to do? If you keep thinking about your past choices, you’ll drive yourself insane because you really can’t move backwards in time. If you constantly think about the future, you stop living in the present. If you stop living in the present…that’s…that’s….just silly.

10. You have to reach out to all your friends who have graduated and have adult lives and listen to everything they say. They have been through this and now afford rent. Their lives are magical and they tell you ridiculous things like, “it’ll all work out.” Older friends also have great networks and will connect you to amazing people and their resources. They are a standing and breathing ovation to the fact that job searching for x number of days isn’t the end of the world.

11. You have to remember to do all the things that are necessary to living such as eating, sleeping and excercise. Even though you have no where to go and perhaps no routine, your body still needs it’s basic requirements. These are all challenging things when you don’t know what you’re meant to be doing and that you’re just wasting time…. but, yeah.

12. You have to read the news, everyday to remind yourself how small you are in the grand scheme of the world. You have to read the news everyday to remain humble and practise gratitude. You have to read the news to participate in the bigger picture of humanity, perhaps take a stance, have a perspective, understand the issue. You have to remember how small you really are. You have to remember how small your problems are not just within the grand scheme of things, but even within your lifetime.

13. A mentor of mine told me that it’s hard because for many of us, it’s the first time we don’t have a plan. For the first 18 years in your life, you (or I did, anyway) spend every waking moment doing whatever it takes to get to university. You volunteer, study hard, do standardized tests, etc. When you go to university, you became wrapped in student life — figuring out majors, figuring out classes, finding your community and your people. Your main goal is to graduate. Once you do, it’s only natural that you feel this sense of loss because you haven’t quite figured out the next step (in my case, anyway).

Please write to me if you have any thing to add to this or have any personal anectodes. I will happily include and reference you. There will also be the added benefit of being friends and such.

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Rambles

This Thing I Lack

I often am up at three in the morning. The quietness and the darkness that comes with the night gives me such clarity. When all you can hear is your own breathing and the voices in your head, the world seems like it makes much more sense. At three in the morning, I feel this sense of belonging, in my bed, wherever I am. I feel safe, and warm, and that I have a place and my own space. I can read, write, do anything. Think about nothing, think about everything.

I didn’t like getting up in the morning, at university. It takes me a few seconds to realize where I am. It takes me a minute or two to realize who I am and what I need to be doing. It takes me over an hour some days to start the day more enthusiastically.

People keep saying that university is the best years of your life. I was excited to start my best years of my life, three years ago. I had grown up so sheltered and had a very comfortable life. Even though I had no freedom, I was always provided and looked after. My house was a place of sanctuary and relief, and I didn’t mind being there. Leaving home, I never felt that way till I returned. Even though I had freedom and the ability to make choices, I’d never felt alone. I craved this feeling so much. I wanted this sense of belonging, a sense of self, a place of comfort, of stability and assurance.

There were so many evening when I’d come to my apartment after classes. All I wanted to do was get in bed, eat cheap chinese, and watch Netflix. There was more than just disparity in the air. There was always the sense that, if I died, nobody would know. How long would it take for someone to realize?

It’s weird because I’m certain that people see me differently. I’m cheerful, upbeat. I’m motivated and driven. I’m very involved in the community and always have something going on. I have more friends than I really have the time to get to know. I always have weekend plans. And yet, when I get back to my bedroom, I used to feel so alone.

I thought being in a relationship would change things. I thought that was the missing ingredient in my life. The person I would be excited to tell things to. The person I’d celebrate and do things with. Maybe it was the wrong person, but the charade got old. I felt more alone than him. I felt like I barely still knew him, after months. Worse, I felt like I didn’t know myself either.

When the cravings got too hard to manage, and I couldn’t bear it anymore, when I felt it even when I was outside, even whilst I was happily holding a conversation, or incredibly interested in class…when nothing I did would make it go away, I got drunk. I would drink for the sake of drinking. At the beginning, I would try to gather friends to make into a night out. But, eventually, I called it for what it was, and would drink an entire bottle of wine, by myself. The feelings of floating would take away this thing I lacked.

“By drinking together we prove we have nothing to hide.” – Nick Flynn

I saw a therapist and a depression support group. I told them both everything, about issues in the past that may explain this void. I told them about both my friends who had died, about being bullied, about having a relatively severe blood disorder and its constant fatigue. I told them about my house being flooded, my parents moving. Everything. And although the confessions brought some sense of catharsis, and the hope for change and an improvement, nothing really happened. The hype and the excitement of it died, and so I stopped that charade too.

A part of me believed that I hadn’t found the right person who understood me. I honestly believed that once someone knew everything, not just the facts, but the feelings associated with it, and the deep comprehension of sadness that would come with it – I would be free. As I grew older, the cynicism made me realize that this person didn’t have to be the love of my life, but just someone in it. And I do think I’ve met many people like that, who know parts of me. Many know the facts, many know the feelings, and many know the combination. Through the different habits and rituals I maintained with each friendship, a different part of me was satiated, for a time. And I would reach out to whoever satisfied that particular void, which I couldn’t articulate, at that current time.

As a pragmatic, problem-solving oriented person, I was more than frustrated with this thing I lacked. I wanted to name it, to address it, and to treat it. I wanted to stop crying wondering whether it’d ever go away. Many days I convinced myself that everybody feels this way, and that it is all part of the human existence. Some days, I tempted myself with the thought of suicide. But, I wanted to know how Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and a whole other series of show s would end. And what other songs Lana Del Ray releases, and what my brother is like older. And I want to travel some places. And eat yummy things.

“I beg to differ. Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.” – Tyrion Lannister

I still have no fix. I still feel this way. Being home, like home “home”, in my parent’s home, I feel it a lot less. I’m scared to go back to life when university starts. I’m scared that this is the rest of my life. I feel guilt, all the time, about being so ungrateful, so miserable, so utterly cranky all the time. Sarcasm, Netflix, Coffee, Conversations are the way I cope – but I wonder, will it ever be enough?

 

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I Tried to Love You.

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“So, I’ll see you on Monday, yeah?”

“What’s happening on Monday?”

“We’re going out.”

I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do. I loved that you were so confident. Later, in retrospect, I realized you had mistaken my harmless flirtations out of boredom as intent. But at that time, your self-assurance swept me away. We’d barely had two conversations and I wondered why you were interested. Being the self-acclaimed neurotic, I immediately said no, because that confidence only meant you asked out people regularly. And I didn’t want to waste my time with someone like that. I was a lot more sensitive and not as easy going as I may seem. But you laughed, refusing to take a no for an answer, and I had no choice.

But, I was glad that I went.

I hadn’t been on a first date, ever. I was 20 years old. I changed a few times because I wanted to feel sexy and confident. I wanted to impress you, even though I wasn’t eager about being in a relationship. I tried to stop thinking, tried to reassure myself that this was a fun, normal experience. That it was all part of growing up, and it wasn’t serious, that it didn’t mean anything. We got confused about where we were going to meet, but you finally figured where I was waiting, and came to me. You hugged me, and I remember feeling so awkward. We walked to your car. You teased me about having two jobs, that I was secretly a single mother. I laughed because I didn’t expect you to be so witty.

The first place you took me was to your apartment. Well, your parent’s condo in one of the most expensive real estate areas in one of the most expensive cities in the world. The elevator made me nervous, since it showed right away that we did not view money the same way. I was also nervous because I didn’t know you, and you were taking me to your apartment. But, you just wanted to change. Later, during dinner, I was glad you did. You wore a maroon shirt, with a blazer. I was wearing jeans with a fancy top.

I remembered thinking that I’d waited so long for a guy who treated me this well. That it was finally my turn at love – where I didn’t wait by the phone to get a message, where I kept wondering whether you liked me. No, you made it all so easy. You were upfront and such a gentleman. You picked me up, dropped me back home, took me to your favourite restaurant by the harbour. Later, we walked by the harbour and I wanted to kiss you, but I didn’t. I barely knew you.

Also, I was going home for the holidays and didn’t want to feel anything. That didn’t happen. All I thought about was you, and how you seemed so perfect. Not perfect, but perfect for me. You were smart, you kept the conversation going, you were charismatic, appeared to be traditional. I looked at everything that we shared in common and convinced myself that I liked you. I had fantasized versions of you in my head, and was falling in love with every one of them.

We decided I’d arrange the second date. I took you to a bar, because I wanted it to be more casual. I learnt that you have a really low tolerance for alcohol. I realized I wanted you to see my casual side, that I’m not someone who is high-maintainance. We got so drunk, and took the bus to your place. I remember how obnoxious we were, talking loud enough so that everyone could hear. I sat next to the window, you blocking me from the rest of the world. You laughed at my jokes, and I did to yours. You gave me pyjamas to wear. They didn’t really go with my navy blue satin shirt, but it didn’t matter. I gasped as I saw the view from your parent’s apartment. I wondered how much they paid for it. I wondered whether you cleaned it or whether you had help. I wondered if you cooked or if you ordered take-out.

I remember sweating on your bed. It was so hot. And then, I opened the window, with you on top of me, kissing me. I wanted you to stop, because you didn’t know how to kiss. I had mixed feelings – relief that you weren’t a player, realizing you were more inexperienced than I’d anticipated. However, I let you continue, because I hadn’t felt any physical touch in so long. I tried to imagine being in a fantasy, in which there was much more intimacy, because that’s all I craved. Finally, I had to tell you to stop three times, before you did.

At that point, I was truly scared. I wondered if I would become the kind of story I loved reading about. But, you finally listened. Later, I tried to convince myself that you were just to turned on to stop. In the morning, you jokingly called me a tease, that you would be frustrated all day. I told you that there were solutions, that your release wasn’t my problem.

Already, I had started to like you less.

But, it was only date two. I knew I was too picky. I liked being adored, the centre of your attention. So, I decided that these things needed time to grow. Besides, you made me laugh. You understood that I was difficult. You understood that my playful teasing and hating only showed home much I liked you.

The next few months were a blur. We went to a movie with friends, where all you wanted to do was smell my neck, and kiss me, and I actually wanted to watch, that I was too shy to make out in front our friends. We went for wings and beer, and you watched these guys check me out, before you held my hand publicly. You drove me home when I got drunk with my friends, and then dropped all my friends home too. You brought me oranges when I was sick, when I didn’t want you to see me sick and ugly. You picked me up after my midterm on Valentine’s day, to take me to your favourite restaurant, where you’d taken me for our first date.

You came to my small birthday dinner. I had been so upset that night because people had cancelled and my own family hadn’t wished me. I broke down on the bus on the way, but didn’t tell you about it. But, you stuck there all night, trying to get to know all my friends. We shared a plate, and you didn’t drink because you had to drive. When I went to the washroom, you paid, like you had done once before. I let you take me to your place. You held me all night, and I liked your hand on my waist, my stomach. You made me breakfast in the morning, and walked me to class.

Once, I had to get a blood transfusion. We’d only been dating a month, and I didn’t want to tell you. But, we were supposed to do something, and I couldn’t lie. I told you not to come because I was depressed, because I’d been crying. I wanted to be alone and miserable and lonely. But, you came, just before I was released at midnight. You had researched places that were still open and took me, knowing I’d be starving. It was the coziest, most romantic little place, few blocks from the waterfront. I had a glass of wine, and stared at you from the light of a single candle. You told me I was beautiful, although before then, I had been to repulsed from my skin. You walked me to my apartment, making sure I was home safe. I wanted to cry because nobody (except my parents, and they don’t count) had ever cared about me like that. You texted me good night and good morning, asking if I needed anything, how I was feeling. For the first time, I felt like my disorder wouldn’t completely destroy a future of normalcy. That, I could find someone someday who would accept me, low hemoglobin count, pale skin, fatigue and all.

Once, we met a mutual coworker in the movies, holding hands. She had stood there not hiding her shock. And, I had told her how pretty her eye-make was because I had nothing else to say. Later, she asked me if we had had sex yet. We laughed and bitched at and about her for hours. She really wasn’t a very nice person. A few weeks later, you had told another mutual coworker about us. He was someone I considered an older brother, and he told me in our common language how happy he was for me.

And then we started spending hours in the backseat of your car, making out. With your mom visiting, and my roommate and incredibly thin walls, there was nowhere else to go. You were so eager for any permission I gave, as if I had just made you rich, that I was comfortable with you. I was comfortable as myself, not drunk, not as a one night stand. When I was spent, and you weren’t, I called it a night and told you to text me when you got home.

It took me a month to break up with you.

I had to justify it to myself. I wanted a different sort of relationship, one filled with intellectual thoughts and ideas, not just playful nonsensical bantering. I wanted the kind of passion where I had to kiss you before I said hi, not the kind where I got bored during the kiss. I wanted a relationship where I couldn’t wait for everyone to meet you, not the kind where I had to keep wondering whether you’d fit in. I didn’t want to hold your hand all the time, and you looked like a lost puppy when I told you, which only pushed me away further. I kept telling you about the goals I was meeting, the goals I was working towards, and you didn’t seem to have that. Or if you did, you never shared. You were content with mediocrity, with your parents paying for your luxurious lifestyle, with not really working towards self-improvement.

Finally, I convinced myself that I could never love you.

Although, I still believe that to be true, being with you made me believe in things I never did before.

Being with you made me realize how a girl should always be treated, that honestly good guys exist.

I know I hurt you, but I would have hurt you more if I had stayed.

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Learner versus Student

I spent most of my academic life believing the two were the same. If you learnt everything, you should be able to ace everything, right? To put it more explicitly, if a person liked to learn a certain subject, they were a good “Learner”. They would be motivated to study it, and therefore they would do well on assessments (of all kinds). A good student on the other hand would do well on such assessments regardless of the their passion and dedication for the subject. In fact, they may even despise the subject entirely. However, they were “smart” enough to be well acquainted with the subject to understand it main concepts and ideas. They would then understand what are testable material and content, and focus on that. By doing this, they would spend less time studying and be able to get higher marks. Simply based on the fact that there was focus and goal to study was to get high marks. Not because they particularly had any love for the subject.

I then spent a good amount of time questioning my own intelligence because I had always assumed the two were the same. I questioned my intelligence, I questioned my genes. I firmly believed for a while that I didn’t have the full intellectual capacity to ever get to the level of what I considered a “good learner”. In a way, I gave up a little, because I wasn’t being positively reinforced due to my all the dedication and handwork I was putting in.

This is going to be super cheesy, and I cringe as I type, but it was CHEM 233 that was when I finally, finally realized the difference. Only after being thrown onto the floor, and dragged across the entire campus in its cold concreteness. I use this intense analogy to describe the physical pain of failing two midterms.

Each time, I entered the exam room with a sense of confidence and grasp of the material. Each time I left feeling as if someone had personally attacked me. It was as if the board of Chemistry profs had literally sat down together and plotted ways to kill my soul. I know I’m exaggerating beyond belief, but as a person who spent more than a decent amount of the best days of their lives on a subject, I believe my drama is justified. The same story goes for my Genetics Class, only slightly less dramatic.

Again, I’m going to do the dreadful and be incredibly cheesy, but it took a lot of talking to make me finally realize that no, it wasn’t me. This whole time. It wasn’t my intelligence or capabilities. It was the way I attempted to study. I know that this is incredibly obvious to most. Teachers, parents, college handbooks and workshops constantly say this – but I never really understood. Many don’t realize it at all because they do so naturally. For me, it just meant I was a good Learner but a bad Student. But, this can definitely be worked on while the reverse can’t necessarily be said.

It was only when I sat down to study thinking, how am I going to ace this, and not how am I going to know all the material, that I did better. To be extremely explicit, I had to sit down to study with the motivation to get high marks to get better. As a student, this brings me relief. For the future, I just need to spend a good amount of time in the beginning of a course learning how to study, learning what are the most efficient note taking skills, learning which source of information to rely on.

But as a learner, who actually wants to know how things work, for the dork and nerd in me – this is quite depressing.You don’t have to even learn or understand something completely to know why and how it works. I literally memorized Claisen Condensation reaction from a video, without even having to open my textbook. I learnt the entire chapter in a few hours, by literally focusing only on the course objectives. God forbid I get curious and try to learn more than I need to know.

I guess in University, you choose a major with the passion for it. But you stay within the major by being smart and objective about it. And I really wish I could take CHEM 233 and BIO 234 again because I know, I know I could do so much better the second time around just due to this realization. I’m not upset by this revelation per say. It has to be done to distinguish the good students from the bad. Maybe being a “learner” is only an advantage because it’ll drive me towards the academia road.

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