Not a College Student

When I started this year at McGill, I knew there would be bumps in the road. I had a complicated personal life and huge unruly ambitions that I was unwilling to tame. I wanted to do more than be a college student, so I knew that defining myself as such would mean that my life would revolve around school, instead of the opposite.

I’m not a college student. I have chosen to enroll at a university with the intention of making it fit into what I want my life to look like for the next three years. I wanted to move somewhere else and experience different climates. I wanted to have a part-time job in alternative education. I wanted to continue my side projects. I wanted to exercise and keep my mind and body healthy. School had to fit into all of that.

I worked tirelessly this semester, making university fit into my life. I asked for a lot of exceptions and did the work to make sure I got them. McGill has been great, but only because I showed that I was on top of my game and willing to do anything to get some flexibility for my program.

I realized that it would be impossible for me to be a defined as a college student, because adapting the lifestyle of a typical student would mean that all of my other dreams would fade away.

To people that do define themselves as college students, it’s an accurate description. University is a big part of their life for three to five years. I don’t think I could say the same. I work on school just about as much as I work on other things in my life. I do not have a 4.0 GPA like I did in high school, but I don’t need one anymore. Keeping my GPA above average is more than enough for me to feel successful, especially with everything else I have on my plate.

So labeling myself as a college student wouldn’t have ever really worked for me. It would have been a strategy that got in the way of my ambitions and goals. I knew that to be taken seriously inside and out of the academic world, I would have to show that I was on par with my professors and the entrepreneurs I wanted to work with. I don’t know if I have quite reached that level, but I have made every effort to show the strides I’m making to get there.

University fit in with my life because I made it so. I’m more proud of myself now with a 3.25 GPA and an amazing life outside of school than I ever was as the valedictorian in high school. Having priorities outside of academia have helped me to appreciate my classes more, but they’ve also forced me to drill down on my time management and define what is really important to me.

You can go to school and work on your career while doing so. It’s been difficult, but it’s been a good time for growth and self-improvement. I love school now that it is not the sun that I orbit. I’ve realized that I cannot exist with one priority, but that I thrive off of a diverse set of projects. It’s an unorthodox strategy, but I am learning that those tend to be the most successful.

Eloragh

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Take Every Achievement

I haven’t been sick since early February. I am not surprised that I caught a cold the weekend before my last week of term. Whether it’s karma for pushing myself so hard in March, or my own fault for refusing to wait to ask my sick professor a question, it’s here.

Yesterday, I ordered takeout. I like UberEats, but I’ve found that there are only a few restaurants that I really enjoy. The one I ordered from yesterday was just ok, but definitely not worth the $30 it cost me. I refused to order again today and forced myself to the grocery store.

Just the effort of balancing my body on the metro exhausted me. The grocery store I go to is small and always busy, so I felt a little claustrophobic and guilty for going to such a public place while sick. I did my best to keep my mouth covered and not cough. I got out as fast as possible.

There have been days during this term that have been downright miserable, but there have also been days where I felt like I could take on the world. I have pushed myself far, but it’s been worth it. I’m stronger mentally and physically and my performance in classes has gone up. I knew that my hard work would pay off, but stressing my mind and body always comes with consequences.

I take the big achievements with the small ones. My acceptance to UNC as an exchange student was a big achievement. Going to the grocery story today was a small one. Both made me happy and added something to my life, like not having to order expensive, crappy take out again.

We should take what we can get. There will always be opportunities for bigger and better things on the horizon. If you body or mind is telling you to slow down for a moment, acknowledge it. You don’t have to rest forever, but you do have to rest eventually.

Eloragh

The Desire to Be Busy

I used to think I was really cool when I would send all of my friends Google Calendar invites for movie or coffee dates. Productivity apps like Scheduly, Asana, Slack, etc. used to make me feel like my day to day life had more importance that I needed to assign to it. I had an intense desire to always be busy.

In reality, I look back on the time that I unnecessarily used Google Calendar and yearn for it. These days, if I don’t put something on my Calendar, there is a very high chance I will just forget about it. I had to put two alerts for every notification, one that reminded me two hours before an event and one that reminded me 30 minutes before an event, because sometimes two hours would pass and I would forget.

My high school desire to be busy has come true, but I am fully aware that I should have been much more careful in what I wished for. This week is probably the busiest week I will experience this year at McGill. Instead of meticulously planning my studying, exercise, and sleep schedules, I actually find myself pencilling in time to read books that I’m almost done with and get tea with friends.

It seems incredibly counterintuitive. I have three quizzes, an essay, class questions, and a midterm exam all between Monday and Friday. Despite being aware that these should be and are my first priorities, I no longer find myself glorifying late nights spent in the library or canceled plans with friends. I find myself basking in leaving my laptop at home, going to strange new places with my friends, and indulging every self-loving piece of advice I’ve ever heard.

Being busy is not something I should have ever desired in the first place. A good life is not one created by jam packing our schedules to prove our professional or academic worth. It’s a life created by flexibility and balance. I have yet to find those two things since beginning my education at McGill, but I think this blog will bring me one step further.

I only get to be 19 for a year. I can’t allow myself to feel guilty for not going out with friends or not studying enough or not getting enough sleep or missing too many classes or, in general, not pleasing other people.

I was foolish to glamorize a busy life. I am learning to savor the slow moments where my calendar is empty and my to-do list is complete or non existent. I don’t blame my younger self, but I do appreciate that I am now able to recognize and learn from the mistakes I made in the past. I know now that I never wanted a “busy” life in the true sense of the word, but a more meaningful one.

Make your to-do list one item shorter tomorrow. Go do something fun instead.

Best,

Eloragh

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When You Find Yourself Between Two Worlds

When I was about halfway through high school, I started to question what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t that I felt what I had been doing up until that moment was meaningless, but it was that I recognized that it would become meaningless if I didn’t find a passion that did more than pass the time.

I specifically remember a Ted talk called “Why some of us don’t have one true calling” triggering this thought process. All throughout school, I had been good at everything. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but toot-toot I was pretty damn smart. I maybe struggled in history sometimes, but that was mainly because I found they way it taught to be exceedingly boring. When I began to study history on my own through alternative methods of learning, I found that there are much more interesting ways to learn about the past.

So there was my struggle: I liked everything I did in school. All of the subjects I studied offered me different puzzles and challenges of connections. Even today, I love to find ways that bring in outside ideas such as science, quantum mechanics, anthropology, communications, philosophy, etc. into every paper I write. Every day I solve at least one new puzzle and connect it to another. It’s a game of learning that I am sure many are familiar with.

I have found that this game has never ceased to play out in my mind. As much as I would like to “turn off my brain,” the act of not thinking does not relax me. The problem I face now is that these puzzles are not only connecting to each other, but opening doors to opportunities. For the first time in my life, I’ve realized that just because I might succeed in every door I step through doesn’t mean I can step through them all. 

It was somewhat heartbreaking when I fell in love with philosophy at the same time I fell in love with entrepreneurship. Both concepts are puzzles and I find them to be deeply intertwined. However, my desire to study philosophy at university has impaired my ability to be entrepreneurial or gain experience in the work force and vice-versa.

I have written a good amount about my unhappiness with the McGill administration and organization and I will not take anything I said back. I am still not satisfied with the internal workings of the university. However, what I’ve begun to understand is that my education at McGill has offered me a lot of confidence in my abilities. When I attended a philosophy conference and proudly stated my views on determinism to a professor, I didn’t feel constrained by the hierarchy within academia, I felt disconnected from it. Free from it. Free to exist within it without participating in it.

Now I must decide what to do as I have found myself caught between two worlds. In both spheres, I am not the same as the people that exist within them. In academia, I am cast doubtful looks as I mention my desire to abandon school and pursue something made only out of my own will. In the alternative world, I know I am one of the few who do not hold a contempt or doubt for academia. I don’t blame those who do see university systems in such a way. It’s just not a view I can maintain truthfully.

The answer is that I don’t have to chose, but completing both will take more time than just choosing one. Despite this, I know I am up for the task. I would rather take more time to do everything I want than wake up one day regretting a lost opportunity because I was worried about time. I have far too many years before me to even consider allowing such a tragedy to occur. 

This may be a case of “hurry up and wait” but at least I know the next few years of my life won’t be boring. 

Eloragh 

The End of Term is The Hardest Part

I’m going to assume that everyone reading this has been to school or is currently in school. Right now, you’re either incredibly excited for Christmas coming up around the corner, or you’re incredibly excited for the end of term. I tend to fall in the latter of those categories.

Christmas is fantastic and every day leading up to the celebration is an excuse to spend time with family and those that you love. However, students will often tell you that the real present is being done with their first semester. It’s akin to four tons of weight being dropped from your shoulders all at once.

University classes are not fun, for the most part. There are a few courses that most colleges will intentionally try to make enjoyable and less soul-crushing, but those are rare and difficult to get in to. Majority of the time, college classes are difficult and unrewarding.

My last two days of classes are December 3rd and 4th. The sun sets incredibly early in Montreal, around 4pm these days. There is certainly a feeling of holiday coziness and warmth, but that feeling creates a desire for home, for comfort. The last week or two of term is the hardest part for both semesters. During the fall, you want to go home for Christmas. During the spring, you want to get out for summer. It’s a waiting game.

This holiday season is full of unknowns for me as I try to figure out how I want to spend the next few years of my life. It seems crazy to try to plan that far ahead, but I like to have some idea of what I want to do or where I want to go. Nothing is set in stone, but there is a picture in my mind of how the path may appear in front of me.

Merry First Day of December.

Eloragh 

Roommates

I’ve lived with strangers before. A few summer camps and school trips will get you used to having roommates. However, those situations were quite temporary. The longest I had a roommate was five weeks last summer. Now that I’m in a university, things are much different.

It can be weird living with new people, but I have found it to be a good experience thus far. I do have my own private room, but we all share a common space, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. We are already seeing that we will have to learn how to live with each other and how to communicate without seeming nosy or intrusive.

It will be an interesting year for me.

Eloragh

Doing Others Work

I spent the majority of my day creating three separate spreadsheets to organize the courses I’m allowed to take at my university. Yes, I took my time to sort them into terms, class days, registration numbers, and class times. I did this because the list of approved freshman courses had no options to filter through the classes, making registration – an already frustrating process – even worse.

I’ve already written about my initial struggles of registering for classes in my blog Registration, but I had no idea the depth of my problems when I wrote it. I have created at least four separate schedules that have all been disrupted due to classes filling up, teachers leaving, or other students taking priority. I decided to make these spreadsheets so I could create 10-12 possible schedules for both my fall and winter term. As a freshman, I have the last registration date, meaning that I will most likely get stuck with classes I am not incredibly happy with. I wanted to minimize my boredom and the amount of time I spend in classes, so I decided to take the majority of the process into my own hands.

However, I don’t think I should have had to make those spreadsheets. Every category I used to sort my courses could easily be converted into a filter system on the approved courses page. I sat there, wading through class after class, putting every single one into the schedule builder to find it’s code and times and days. I felt like an idiot. Ever since I enrolled at this school, I have done more work than ever before and have been paying to do it.

I thought a lot about how I would optimize my university’s website. Because of its range of students and degree options, it has a lot of different pages that students need to access. It’s great that the university has worked so hard to have all of the information available, but it is not easily accessible. I remember finding pages a few months ago that I cannot seem to find again. The maze of hyperlinks and PDF files that every new click takes me to is overwhelming. This lack of structure, organization, and efficiency has left me feeling disillusioned, yet again.

A lot of people have questioned my doubts about college, blaming them on “manipulative” friends, people I admire who I “could never be,” and “propaganda.” When I look at their concerns, I see legitimate care in the form of less caring remarks, but then again, I also see my time already being wasted by an institution of higher education that claims to be “different.” Just the fact that I have to make 10-12 backup schedules to make sure I get a course load I can live with is ridiculous. I have been shoved to the back of the priority line and told to be grateful for it.

So far, I am unimpressed. I can’t get over this idea of losing priority or being considered lower in comparison to more senior students. I worked for four years to achieve some level of respect, only to have it stripped away in the name of security. Security that doesn’t even exist anymore! No wonder college students are so depressed and weary. After dealing with borderline bureaucratic tasks such as registration for four years, all we will have to show for it is an insufficient degree, low wages, and student loans.

It’s becoming a lot harder to see my money and time being drained by a system that has made it clear they don’t care about me and won’t care about me until I’m a senior. I went through this once before, and I am less than eager to do so again. Maybe I’ll finally snap and leave college, or perhaps I’ll stick through it for four years and leave the burden of my student loans to people who are more than willing to pay for them. It will all come down to this fundamental question: how much is my sanity worth?

Eloragh