Growing up sucks. It doesn’t matter if you ask a 10-year-old or a 40-year-old- most will agree when you ask them about it.
It’s a never ending process that involves confronting your limitations. I can’t think of a more fitting analogy than birds learning to fly. It might sound uplifting, but it’s also scary as hell.
Growing up is a painful necessity. But it can become easier if you get an idea of what to expect.
If you are experiencing some of the problems I discuss here, then you have come to the right place. Not because I know how to handle them right- far from it, actually.
This article is more me saying, ‘hey it’s okay that you are freaking out, because I freaked out a lot too!’ Freaking out together can get the frustration out of your system quicker. And then, maybe, things will start to make sense. For many of us that probably won’t happen, but let’s keep hoping it will.
Studies Suck, but Running Away from Them isn’t the Answer
It goes without saying that you need to jump through a lot of hoops to get good grades in university. To achieve this constantly, you need two things:
- You have to want good grades really, really badly. You have to want it bad enough to sacrifice parts of you wholesale. These may include exploring your interests as much as you would have liked, socializing with your friends and your sleep. Also, a good chunk of your sanity.
- You need the discipline and persistence to work on your studies every day. That means working on every single component that contributes to your grades. For instance, every faculty is different, and understanding what he/she likes and tailoring your output to that preference requires a lot of effort as well.
In hindsight, I didn’t have either of those things for the most part of my university life. I wish I cared half as much about my grades as some do about getting just that extra mark. Being a chronic procrastinator also did wonders for my discipline, as you can imagine. Days of studying eventually shrunk down to hours of last-minute cramming.
Good, Not Great
I don’t regret exploring my interests and work opportunities as much as I did in these last four years. However, a lot of it was motivated by an aversion to studies that grew over time. There was a point where I hated studying with a passion. I felt that it just ate up my time. It held me back from doing other things in life that are actually important and interesting.
Studying can be an intensely frustrating experience, especially in the context of higher education in Bangladesh. However, it can be instrumental in determining your future. It’s not really something you can run away from.
I still have a decent CGPA despite making some pretty stupid mistakes, but it’s not as good as I would have liked it to be. I am aiming for a MBA from a good business school in a couple of years. Before that, I will be entering the job market pretty soon, too. Better grades definitely would have made making my case easier in both of these scenarios.
Until recently, a lot of my self-esteem was tied up in living up to the demanding standards I set for myself. Realizing that I was a B+ player when it comes to studies stung a lot. I am trying to make things better in this last semester. I still don’t like studies, but at the very least I can respect it.
Burying Yourself in Work Doesn’t Help, Either
Around this time last year, I was going all cylinders. I was determined to make the best of any opportunity that came my way. I learnt new things with every project and met some amazing people in the process. Every time I completed a project, I could feel the impact it would have, as though it were tangible. It was a stark contrast to how I felt about studies, then.
I prided myself on my work ethic. I hated the total slob I was before. Hard work was the crucible in which I was going forge myself as a better person. Someone who was in control, who always delivered when it counted.
Falling off the Rails
Somewhere down the line, all-nighters became harder to pull off. Trying to keep up with competition became a chore- there’s always someone who’s hungrier and/or more talented than you. The stress became all consuming. I started missing deadlines and was in a constant state of sleep deprivation and irritation.
Clearly, killing myself for work was unsustainable. I had to step back and give myself a breather.
Looking back, I realize that working all the time for that long was foolhardy. At one point I probably believed that the harder I worked, the faster I would see the results. But there’s no a quick route to success, really. You have to build your dream house brick by brick.
Trying to constantly measure up to ever increasing standards also made me miserable. I hated myself every time I fell short. I was also a shittier person when I was busy all the time. I looked down on those who weren’t working as hard and those who weren’t as good. Holding that much contempt for yourself and others isn’t a healthy way to live.
Not being stressed all the time has not only made me healthier, but also sharper. I have all this freed up energy and mental resources I can use to read up on my interests all the time. It allows me to put more emphasis on having spirited, meaningful conversations with people I value. And of course, I get to devote more time to introspection and self-growth.
Maybe You Don’t Know What Love is
This isn’t just about platonic love. It’s about loving people in general, and having the strength to love yourself.
A lot of people approach love as a conditional relationship. They place more value on something an individual does, possesses or is similar to than the person himself. This strings-attached mentality is often instilled from birth.
Most parents in Bangladesh often use their children’s grades, looks and other achievements or attributes as social currency. Some of them are not willing to accept their children as they truly are, warts and all. Even if they are, they don’t always do a good job of showing it.
It would be ridiculous to place all the blame on our parents, however. This is a problem that’s endemic to our society. A lot of us grow up believing that we are only appreciated for the benefits we provide. It’s part of the reason why I worked so hard in the first place. I sought validation from others through my work.
The Need to Impress
Validation drives a lot of our interactions with people. Often we put on a front- being nice, funny, confident, whatever your pick- and do things hoping that maybe they will like us for it. In return, we expect to see those kind of attributes and behaviors in others we associate with. When we don’t find these things, we often put others down and dismiss them without a second thought.It’s a shitty way to treat not only your closed ones, but yourself as well. You can’t always be what you want to be. That need for validation means that you can’t say no to people, even if you regret it later on.
Before, I often used to think ‘is this person good for me?’. Now I just think ‘is this a good person? Is he/she least trying to be one?’.
Now, I am trying to accept people as they are. I have been very lucky to have people in my life I genuinely enjoy being around. At times I feel I could do anything for them. Few things compare to the feeling you get from making those you love feel happy. If they do nothing in return however, it’s okay. I would love them all the same.
Besides, the people I am talking about are awesome and kind, and they mean well, so it’s a moot point!
As for that other kind of love, that’s a different journey altogether. But it’s one that, I think, starts with being able to love yourself. That’s something I am still working on.
Do What Drives You
There’s so much motivation literature out there that pursuing your passion almost sounds cliché. Nevertheless, it’s a timeless truism that applies to almost everyone.
Finding your passion is tricky. It’s not something that simply interests you, or something that you are naturally good at. Only after you have discovered your limitations and what you really like, can you understand what your passion is.
What is Passion?
Your passion is something that, if you don’t do it, it eats away at your soul. It becomes an ingrained part of who you are. You probably grew up around it. And you have probably engaged with it more than most people consider normal.
What stops most people in their tracks is not discovering their passion. It’s acknowledging it, prioritizing it and, finally, committing to it. It’s those last two steps which are the hardest.
We come up with all these excuses:
- It’s not realistic
- It doesn’t earn money
- My parents will kill me if I pursue this
Now, you can accept these excuses at face value and keep marching to others’ drums. However, one day they aren’t going to be good enough anymore. One day, you are going to wake up, old with aching bones and creaking joints, full of regrets about ‘what-ifs’.
One day, you will wake up to find that your passion’s still there. It’s a withered husk of what it once was, but it’s there all the same. It’s been there all this time, but where the hell were you?
This is what I realized after taking time off from work. I have been thinking about stories for as long as I can remember. At this point, content creation practically runs the whole spectrum of my areas of interest. I enjoy marketing, market research and visual design because they all are, to varying degrees, about understanding your audience and creating compelling narratives for them.
Committing to Your Passion is a Journey
Being a storyteller may not sound all that impressive. It probably isn’t going to earn me a lot of money, but then, does it have to? I can work full-time and pursue my passion on my free time. There’s a variety of side gigs I can tap into to augment my income.
Committing to your passion isn’t easy. The highs are higher, but then the lows are lower too.
I try to write every day. Most of those days are nondescript. Some don’t go so well. I stick to writing not because it makes me feel good all over. I do it because not writing is no longer an option.
If you feel that strongly about anything, that’s your passion. Ignore it at your own peril.
You Can’t Go Back Home Again
So I have around 3 months left before I finish my undergraduate studies. Obviously, nearing the end of university life brings out all kinds of emotions.
Ideally, university life is like a cocoon. Over the course of these four years, you metamorphose from a caterpillar to a butterfly, ready for whatever life throws at you. You could look at the ideal undergrad experience this way:
As you near the end, you start to wonder if you ticked off all those boxes. You probably didn’t manage to nail all of those things. That might bring you down for a while. So might the creeping realization that you are about to enter real life and handle actual responsibilities.
As time keeps running out, however, you look at everything differently. You develop- or rediscover- a fondness for your soon-to-be alma mater.
Did you know that alma mater is Latin for nourishing mother, by the way?
Learning to Let Go
I was around some of the best and brightest people I have ever met for these last four years. I didn’t truly appreciate this until I realized that I won’t be seeing most of them after I graduate.
As much as I enjoy interacting with some of them, I know it wouldn’t be the same after graduation. Other priorities will take precedence. Pretty soon, most of us will get together only on weddings and reunions.
Then there’s the campus itself. I was part of something bigger than myself. It’s like swimming in this massive school of fish. Leaving it behind is going to be hard.
I suppose I will come back every once in a while. There will be lots of new faces and some familiar ones in between. But it’s not going to be the same. You can never go back home again. Once you leave, both you and the place move on.
As much as I look forward to and plan for the future, I am learning to appreciate moments more as they come. I still have regrets and frustrations about a variety of things. But I am trying to take the good with the bad.
Were these the best years of my life? I don’t know. But they were as good as they come.