Do you have a love of learning……?

If you're about to embark on university for the first time, or returning to university after the summer break, it’s likely you may have some apprehensions about what the year holds. Excitement and anxiety are sibling emotions; the main difference is whether you perceive the situation to be a positive one and/or a worthwhile challenge, or else see it as something negative where you fear what might happen and whether you will be able to cope, e.g. being away from home for the first time, or feel out of you depth (plenty of people do, you are not alone).

But it is likely that your perception will be influenced by how you approach your studies; are you doing a subject you’re interested in and can enjoy or are you doing it just to get a qualification that you think will get you into a well-paid job and on a route to ‘success’?

The key to enjoying your time at university is to enjoy the process of learning, of discovery, of fascination for a subject you have a genuine interest in; that you love. Develop a love of learning as soon as possible, because it will sustain you forever. Studying something mechanically - or something you believe you should study - just in order to get a good result won’t provide you with the motivation to keep going when things get tough. If you’re not enjoying your subject ask yourself the serious question of whether you are doing the right course. If the answer is no, or maybe not, ask “So, why am I doing this?” What’s really important to you? Who are you doing this for? Could you perhaps look to transfer to a different course in the same department, university or even somewhere else - to a subject you might actually be interested in? It’s OK to learn from mistakes (like discovering you’re doing the wrong course for you) - that’s how we learn.

Secondary education leading up to university has, unfortunately, become dominated by a fixation on outcomes - results - as if that is all that matters . Schools care because results dictate their position in league tables; parents care because they believe good results = success in life = happiness. But they don’t - in fact plenty of people have very successful careers without succeeding academically. So following through an approach to study from ‘A’ levels (or equivalent) to university sets you up for problems; university learning is, and should be, different.

If you get stressed by always feeling you have to over-perform (perfectionism), or are constantly comparing yourself to others and consequently feel inadequate, that does not lead to success or happiness. However, if you enjoy your subject - and have a love of learning - you will enjoy the process of studying, and be able to sell your skills so much better to future employers because you will believe in what you are doing. And you can take advantage of all the other opportunities available at university to network, acquire other social and practical skills that employers value, besides ticking the box of having studied a particular course at a particular university. And have a balanced life, while building a strong social support network of close friendships that will last a lifetime.

Your time at university is a journey, that becomes the most formative years of your life. So aim to get the most out of it, enjoy learning and living. If you study purely with a focus on the outcome the chances are you will miss so many life enhancing opportunities because you will never have been truly in the present moment, which is the only reality. You will have been stuck worrying about the future - your results - which means you miss the present and a connection to all that is going on around you. That is not living in reality.

Bill Sheate, 2 September 2019