Surviving with your youth intact

How to keep that zest alive when you’re told to grow up

Keeping your youthful zest alive through university is all about the balancing act.

How to keep that zest alive when you’re told to grow up

As a kid, I spent my summers at a camp in the Okanagan with friends, sun and texturized vegetable protein. It was a simpler time. We still had VHS players. I didn’t have an internet dependence yet. And I could still carry a juice box through airport security. Flash forward to today, where I’ve graduated university with an expensive piece of paper and an embarrassingly thorough knowledge of which childhood drinks mix best with what alcohols.

Although I’m only in my early 20s, I’ve lived enough to be able to reflect on my changes in perspective between the adolescence of the milk-stache and Decembeard. I realized this last month when I took a job at my old summer camp in the Okanagan as an in-house photographer.

I spent my days snapping pictures of kids as they learned things for the first time — the first experience of mild independence, learning about themselves as individuals outside of their parents’ eyes, and discovering girls.

Then I realized there is a real parallel between that experience and the one you receive as a university freshman, moving into residents for the first time and learning how to pretend to be an adult.

You need to know how to have fun, while keeping in mind the reason you’re there in the first place.

Now that I’ve graduated, I’ve been able to look back and assess what works and what doesn’t. I’ve had friends who were horrible students in high school excel in post-secondary. But I’ve also had friends who were at the top of my class drop out and replace education with substance abuse.

The trick to university is finding that perfect medium between the library and the bar.

The thing that I took out of the first two years of university was time-management skills. It’s probably the most important thing you can teach yourself.

It’s all about settling into a routine and sticking to it. So you have class from 10:30am to 1pm, and then an hour gap between your next two hours of class? Spend that time studying or working while grabbing a bite to eat. You will be tired after your next block of classes and will be less motivated to do that work. Take some time off, go home, relax a bit, and come back to it after dinner.

The second important thing I learned is finding a place where you can actually do work without distraction. For some, it’s in your bed. For others, it’s on the kitchen table. But for the rest of us who are likely to be distracted by the slightest stimuli, the library is the safest bet. Bury yourself in the basement or a distant corner on the top floor, grab some headphones, and dig into your work.

As distracting as your social life can be, you have to make time to put it out of your mind and concentrate on your studies. Grab a coffee and a muffin. Leave Facebook on in the background if you need to. Find some relaxing instrumental music and let it be the soundtrack to your intellectual enlightenment. It’s a lot easier than you think if you apply yourself to it.

Lastly, don’t stress out. That sounds like a stupid thing to say, seeing as university is the place where many mental illnesses surface, but it’s important not to take your studies too seriously. I’ve had friends start to grey or lose hair due to school. Remember — all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. By the time most people start university, they’re 18-19 years old. They’re still young, invincible, and naïve. It’s important to take advantage of those things to learn about yourself.

Like the kids I worked with at the summer camp, your first year at university is a completely new and life-changing experience. Homework is no longer just writing between the lines, and you’re finally starting to realize that your favourite childhood pop songs are completely inappropriate for your age group. You’re expected to start acting like an adult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun in the process. Enjoy yourself, but don’t overdo it. Concentrate on school, but don’t lose sleep over it.

These are the three principles that got me through university. It may sound too simple to be true, but it really is that straight forward. These skills allow you to create time for yourself and to concentrate on why you’re there in the first place.

Professors always told us to look at our post-secondary studies like a full-time job, encouraging us to spend 40 hours a week on our studies. Realistically, very few people do that. Including myself. In reality, it’s all about finding a balance that works for you.

Some people spend their whole day in the library. Some people don’t even know where the library is. You find what works for you, and you stick to it.

Have fun. Don’t overdo it. Wear a rubber. M

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