Do it, don’t regret it

I’m in a reflective mood. As a member of the graduating Class of 2014, seeing a chapter of my life come to a close gives me pause to reflect.

Once you leave the confines of the University, there are no more modules, no more exams, no final grades, just a daily series of life assessments with no end. The day you graduate is the day you’re admitted into the postgraduate course of life, where as a working adult, you’re no longer given as many opportunities to make mistakes.

I believe that the working world is an opportunity to find greater meaning in life though, and I look forward to becoming a freshman in the “institution of life”.

What I want to focus on in this post is: regret. I don’t know why working people reminisce about the beauty of their university education, but I have a feeling it’s because they had more freedom then.

In an article in The Guardian, a palliative nurse describes the five most common regrets people have at the end of their lives. None of them are about worldly achievements:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

How does all this relate to your four years in university?

You’re at the tail end of your emerging adulthood, a concept first articulated by psychologist Prof Jeffery Arnett in 2000. Most of us do not have children, do not live in our own homes, do not make sufficient income to be financially independent and go through a phase of instability, self-exploration, self-focusing and feeling “in-between”. We are biologically adults but emotionally emerging from adolescence.

Don’t let self-doubt get in the way – don’t be afraid to try and fail. Take university as a place to learn and grow. For those of you still in university, make sure you do not regret your university life.

Are you true to yourself?

It’s common to be part of cliques. By joining social groups, we gain friendship and companionship. But one of the pitfalls of being too “in tune” with a social group is that you may be pressured into behaving in ways that are not true to yourself. Did you decide to go to Korea for an exchange instead of Turkey because your group mates decided the former was better? Did you force yourself to like things that you did not enjoy because everyone else in the group did? Be true to yourself.

Do you work too hard?

Working hard is important, working too hard isn’t. In my first two years at NTU, I was in a programme that required me to work very hard. I got my grades but I was not enjoying myself and I saw no meaning in what I was doing – I was just studying for exams and not for the love of learning. I took a chance by taking a module in a different field and found that it really fascinated me. I then made the decision to transfer to a different programme, which has given me many opportunities and a true education. Do you work so hard that you’ve forgotten why you’re learning?

Do you express your feelings?

Most people immediately assume that this is about being romantic, but it’s really about any situation. Many of us hold our tongues to keep the peace, because we don’t want to offend anybody. But expressing our feelings doesn’t mean being combative, it just means that we shouldn’t be afraid to hold onto our opinions and discuss things as adults. I attended a TedTalk in which the speaker introduced the 18-40-60 rule: At 18, we worry what people think of us, at 40 we decide we don’t care what people think of us, and at 60 we realise people didn’t really think about us to begin with. So the only person whose judgement really matters is yours. Have you held your tongue when you really felt the urge to speak up? I have (to my regret) and I now try to express my views diplomatically.

Do you stay in touch with your friends?

It’s possible that despite living and studying on a busy and beautiful campus, we’re only friends with people on a superficial level. For example, people who we work with on one module and never see again – are these friends or colleagues? Ask yourself if you’ve made real friends during your time at university; friends who will support you throughout your life, who will listen to you when you have problems, who will encourage you when you need an extra push. We may be here to study, but we do not have to do it alone. Make real friends and make the effort to stay in touch with them.

Do you let yourself be happy?

You can choose to be happy or choose to be sad. The Guardian article best summarises this point, which I think is worth sharing: “Many do not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

Whatever you decide to do at university, make sure that you make the most of your journey so you won’t have any regrets.

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