The End of Summer: Student Life and Anxiety for the Future

This post will be published at 10:00am Atlantic Time on Monday, September 7th. That means that exactly 24 hours after its release, I will be starting the first class of my third year at Mount Allison University. And as much as it pains me to admit, I’m a little worried.

I should say right off the bat that this post probably won’t follow my usual style and format. I’m not going to focus on making a case for a particular viewpoint or even presenting any evidence from outside sources.

Instead, I’ll be focusing on my personal experiences, though I might try and broaden the subject a little so that the post can be more accessible and applicable, because everyone obviously has a different background on this sort of issue. If this doesn’t sound like something you’re really interested in reading, that’s quite alright. I’ll be back to the regular format next Monday.

For now, though, I want to talk about the anxiety of getting back to school at a post-secondary institution, when graduation is closer than orientation and the future is more intimidating than the past.

Sounds cheerful, doesn’t it?

As I enter my third year of university and fully realize that I’m now more than halfway done my undergraduate degree, I find myself having to really think about life post-graduation. This, of course, is entirely to be expected, and I’ve actually been doing it in different forms since I enrolled in university and began picking out courses and programs. My choices weren’t exclusively governed by thoughts of the present; the future always demanded some level of consideration.

As the future draws closer and the real world looms just outside the campus, this effect becomes more and more pronounced. In the next two years (and sooner rather than later), I will have to decide if I want to pursue grad school or start a career. I will have to determine whether I want to stay where I’m living now or find a new place to call home. I will have to responsibly stock up on cleaning products and make a concerted effort to eat healthier food than turkey sandwiches and chicken wraps. In short, I will have to become a fully-functioning adult rather than the nascent adult/child hybrid that is the average university student.

That’s a lot to manage, and even the seemingly easy parts can be deceptively challenging. For example, in an effort to try eating healthier, I recently began investigating options for spinach and grilled chicken salads, only to conclude that I won’t consistently have the time, resources, or initiative to marinate and grill chicken in advance. I was defeated until I discovered pre-seasoned and pre-cooked strips of chicken breast in the grocery store and nearly shouted for joy right there in the aisle.

To contrast, I visited my parents for a couple weeks earlier this summer, and everything was much simpler. I didn’t have to worry about what to cook for dinner, sweeping the floor, or trying to find time and motivation to exercise. Really, all I had to worry about was making sure I got along with them. And then I left, and all of those concerns were waiting right where I left them.

Adulthood is the full-time job that our education systems don’t always prepare us for, and it’s one that we’ll be working 24/7 for the rest of our independent lives. Summer vacations will be a thing of the past, and weekends will just denote time to work on responsibilities for which we won’t be paid.

For the past week or so, that’s all I’ve been thinking about. To me, the future seemed bleak, overwhelming, and unavoidable. I felt certain that I was unprepared for the life of responsibility that lay ahead of me and I didn’t think that I could change that. To put it bluntly, I was scared.

But then I gave it some more thought and realized that I’ve been gradually taking on more responsibility for the past few years, often without even noticing it. I’ve been managing things that 15-year-old me would have balked at, to the point that they’ve just become a part of my routine.

For instance, I am now entirely preparing my own meals, and have been doing so for months. I know, I know, hold your applause, but it’s something I wasn’t doing five years ago, or even one year ago when I lived in a university residence and stayed with my parents over the summer. When the situation changed and the responsibility fell on my shoulders, I handled it.

Of course, as mentioned, I could probably be eating a little healthier, or at least injecting more variety into my menu. For now, though, I’m not starving, and I’m largely happy with what I eat, so that’s good enough for me. A time may come when I have to make the jump and start eating healthier food, but if and when it does, I’ll handle it.

Yes, adulthood is a full-time job, but it isn’t one enormous and indivisible war. It’s a series of tiny battles that you fight each and every day to live a stable, productive, and responsible life. It might seem intimidating right now, but when you’re faced with those battles, you’ll be able to win, and you’ll quickly get to the point where they’re so routine that you don’t even notice them anymore.

University students are probably the best demographic I can think of it when it comes to performing under pressure. After all, a necessary consequence of all that procrastinating we tend to do is the ability to pull things together when it counts. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again from my peers and even myself, and it’s not like we’ll just lose that skill the second we graduate.

So yes. We’ll move on from our undergrad degrees and we’ll be faced with a variety of challenges, many of which we may never have faced before, but I know we’ll pull through.

In closing, I recognize that this is a pretty shallow examination of the transition into adulthood, but it’s really meant as a sort of pep talk more than anything else (both for myself and anyone else who needs it). Each individual will face a different path and a different assortment of obstacles, and I don’t have the time, space, or knowledge to examine all of them here, but there are a multitude of resources available for any and all difficulties that young adults may be facing. For relatively basic practical concerns, I recommend the YouTube channel “How to Adult,” which provides helpful information on a lot of the questions or concerns young adults may have.

So if you’re feeling worried about the responsibilities of life after university — like I was — that’s understandable and entirely okay. But just remember that you’ve already made it this far, despite all of the difficulties that you’ve faced along the way. You’ll likely have to face some new and challenging situations in the future, but don’t worry. You can handle it.

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