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What working taught me about being a student

Myriam Robin

Thu Jan 12 2012


FOR the past five years of my life, I’ve only gotten up before 8am for one thing, and that was to catch a flight. Mind you, that was fine. I just hauled myself to the airport, got on the plane, pulled the tray-table down and went back to sleep. I didn’t have to think or anything.

All that changed when I landed a job.

I graduated last year, after no less than five years at university. I now get up at 6.30am, and most days don’t even have time to breakfast properly. A banana on the way out the door, bleary-eyed and dishevelled, I trudge to the other side of the city, grabbing a coffee as soon as I have a spare moment.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like my job. A lot. And I was very lucky to get it. But after so long of not really having to work very hard for anything, I now realise I have years, no, decades, of hard work ahead of me.

But there are upsides.

For one, I don’t ever have to do anything in the evening anymore. After 5pm, I watch reruns of shows I love, visit friends, spend hours in the kitchen chatting with my housemates, and that’s okay.

This is a big deal. I was shocked to discover that despite working more regularly than I ever have before, I’m not stressed about it.

It’s been my experience that the life of a university student consists of short periods of intense, impossible output, interspersed with days or weeks of sleeping too much, and just generally doing very little.

But it’s not like students ever entirely relax. Even when they don’t have a deadline, the guilt is always there.

Ever since I started working full-time, I’ve banished the guilt. And it’s nice.

But it made me realise – I could have done this years ago. If I had made myself do all my work before 5pm while I was a student, even if it meant going up to the university library and working by myself for hours, I’d have probably gotten better grades, and I would have enjoyed my evenings a whole lot more.

Looking back, university was, for me, full of regrets about not achieving my full potential. Not necessarily in grades, but in understanding. I’m still learning things now that I could have gotten down pat while I was a student. Imagine if I had taken up a language, or learnt to code or write in shorthand. I had the time – I just didn’t realise it. All I needed was to work hard, and consistently, during the day, instead of swimming in an unmanageable sea of unstructured time.

So what do I wish I’d done while at university? I wish I’d worked harder, but more importantly, smarter, and lived guilt-free during my holidays and evenings. I wished I hadn’t put things off – even though I always got them done in the end – because living with them hanging over me wasn’t worth it. And I wish I had travelled more – ’cause I doubt I’ll get a three-month summer break again.

But that’s okay. In making the transition to full-time work, I’ve gained more than I’ve lost. If nothing else, I’ve discovered that all it took to cure my procrastination habit was a little bit of structure. Which shows there’s hope for all of us.

Plus, I’m getting the hang of the early mornings. Yesterday, for the first time, I woke to sunlight coming through my window. Panicking, I checked my alarm. It was 6.27am. It was about to go off. And I wasn’t tired.