Work and Wise Up, Before You Study

Regrets on wasted time, poor life choices and some lessons learned from a first-year failure

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

I’m not sure if I believe in ‘regret’ in the sense of ‘I wish that hadn’t happened at all’.

I like to think that every experience — no matter how shitty — adds Shrek-style layers to your character and moulds you into the (hopefully) well-rounded mammal that you are today.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing though —I now reflect on past missteps as I chart my course through school, study and work. I can’t help but wonder if just a few key decisions wouldn’t have made the whole messy saga of my 20’s smoother. Or less wastefully expensive.

I see these decisions as my regrets — the kind of decisions that would have meant I got to where I am, but sooner and with a whole lot less dicking around, wasted time and effort.

So my biggest regret— not working before I studied as an undergrad.

Also, generally being an immature asshole with no work-ethic.

The unsurprising pitfalls of being a lazy shit

To be clear — I don’t regret my degree choice.

If you too are excited by the savage mating practices of cross-dressing, genital-biting honey bees, then you are probably a serial killer. Or you are well suited to a Biology degree.

I discovered at the age of 18 though, that doing a degree, even in a subject you love is a pretty lousy experience when you lack basic life experience and the drive and determination to manage your time and actually get shit done.

I discovered quickly that I had an inability or unwillingness to work in my substantial down time. Not working, driving around town listening to Metalcore, drinking Jagermeister and playing ‘Call of Duty 4’ were far more attractive leisure pursuits.

These activities, combined with heavy dose of ‘meh’ and shoulder-shrugging meant that my first-year contributions to the world of academia were laughable.

Who knew ‘X’ was a grade?

One essay I ‘completed’ in first year was so stupidly late that the staff were actually emptying the submission box for said essay.

I darted along the corridor, in and out of obstacles like Nathan Drake in Uncharted (in my head, at least). Just at the right moment, I stabbed my essay into the jenga-like stack. Before the staff could query who this asshole was with the late submission, I ran back off down the corridor, cacking to myself and thinking I was an evil genius.

A pretty pitiful performance, in hindsight.

However, that wasn’t even my most pathetic effort! Once, I didn’t even bother to submit anything at all. I handed in nothing, not a page or word.

Turns out, at University, nobody chases you for submissions, pushes you to make deadlines and mummy and daddy don’t get a phone call to kick or berate you into action.

Unsurprisingly, my grade was spectacularly poor:

I got a fucking ‘X’! I had no idea grades even went that low!

Too late, I started to realise that while studying, failure is all on you, and you alone.

Knowledge and theory are wonderful things but useless without the skills and work-ethic to set them to task. I was too immature and quickly failed my first year.

A year of my life down the shitter and more than a little spare change lost in the process.

Work before you study

In school, we were basically presented with two options:

  1. You are ‘smart’ . You can go to University!
  2. You are ‘dumb’. Off you go to work at 16. Forever.

Disgusting, right? Putting kids into boxes like that. I thought at the time, that was just how it was. I was in group one and so off to University I went. First ever in my family, what an achievement it felt like.

However, by spectacularly flunking first year, I learned that the commodity of ‘cleverness’ is pretty worthless without the basic skills to apply your knowledge in context: enthusiasm, drive, determination, effort, etc.

Generally wanting to be in lectures and caring enough to get shit handed in would have helped massively as well.

Lessons Learned…

1. Time-Management

I had no idea at University, compared to how I think now, that time is so insanely precious.

Those 4,5 or 6 hours you have to yourself between working and sleeping are fucking gold dust. Worth more than any wage.

Every minute is precious and should surely be put to good use.

Working would have forced me to learn how just how precious your free time actually is. I would have learned to use it better. To budget it, to ration it, for sure.

I might have actually learned to appreciate the sheer amount of time that some people work as well.

Working for a year or two in some shitty job would have also made me appreciate the future that my studies would have been helping work towards.

If I had worked before studying, I might have managed my time better overall and probably not pissed away a year of my life repeating all the same shit over again.

Lesson learned the hard way, I worked all through my second first year, and every year thereafter.

2. Determination

This is hard one to tie down to a particular word but I see this as the drive to get shit done, the ‘grit’ to see things done.

Force of will, if you like.

This was a skill I didn’t learn at school. It all came pretty easily to me at the time.

Working in a new context, doing something totally unfamiliar and different to school, would have developed that missing aspect of my character.

University in first year was challenging, messy — uncomfortable even. It was an easy choice just to ignore work and not try to do it.

Working in a full-time job would have forced me to throw myself into whatever I was working at with real consequences — unlike in school, if you suck in a job you get fired.

Learning to put in a little effort with the determination to succeed would have saved me a year of my life on repeat.

3. The Value of Money

My mother always used to say that I didn’t understand the value of money.

I then went and wasted a years student loan in one month on Jagermeister, video games, petrol and a fuck-tonne of fireworks. Not all at the same time.

Who would have thought mother knew best!

Working would have made be realise just how long and hard you need to work in some low-income jobs just to make a little cash to spend on things you like.

I would have appreciated what money I had earned and I certainly wouln’t have pissed away my student loan in spectacularly quick time, on pointless nonsense like fireworks.

Not wasting a year’s tuition fees would have helped either — that was a significant chunk of change.

Advice I would give to all but the most hard-working, well-rounded humans — work before you study and don’t make the same rookie asshole mistakes that I now look back on and regret.

Scottish Teacher and MSc student at Edinburgh Uni. All about Whisky, Beer, Board Gaming and Dogs. Getting back into writing after a long thesis grind.

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