Student/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

The guilt of a perpetual student

I was on the phone to one of my friends a few months ago and and she sounded exhausted. She confirmed my suspicions – she was, in fact, shattered – and proceeded to fill me in on all the antics that had gone on during her twelve-hour day working in a lab. As a social science student with six hours of contact time a week, I struggled to relate.

She told me, “I have just been on my feet all day. Experiment after experiment with the occasional meeting sandwiched in between. I almost feel like I need to be in two places at once.”

I listened, making the appropriate sympathetic noises. After a while, she turned the conversation onto me.

“So, how are you doing? What’s it been like for you?”

There was a long pause.

What had it been like for me? I knew the truthful answer. All I had to complain about was the amount of festering I had achieved in between my lectures. I felt ashamed. I’ve spent all this money to sit in my university accommodation feeling sorry for myself whilst the rest of my family and friends worked their hardest in order to pay their bills and survive the mundanity of working life. I answered her question generically and moved the conversation on. After our conversation had ended, I put the phone down and sat on my bed thinking. Why did I feel so low but have absolutely nothing ‘stressful’ going on to justify that feeling?

But then I realised that there were reasons why I had been feeling low.


I had too much time on my hands.

Like most humanity and social science students, my timetable was sparse. I have always been one to busy myself with work even if that meant completing things three weeks before the deadline or reading seminar material long before the class was due. However, these techniques landed me with even more time. More time than I knew what to do with. More time to ruminate over negative thoughts.

I’ve found that the best way to get over these thoughts is first by asking myself why I was at university in the first place. I remember a friend once telling me that there were two types of people that go to university. There’s the student that wants their degree for the sake of having a degree, and there’s the student who is there to learn.

This heavily resonated with me and I always classed myself as the latter. A person who was there to learn. I suddenly realised that this learning did not necessarily have to be directly linked to my subject of study but rather be used to broaden my horizons. The surplus time I had, rather than be treated with pessimism, should be seen as a blessing, something that I will no doubt be short of after my time at university. Not being busy all the time was not necessarily something to be fearful of.

This realisation called for a plan of action: a structure to make sure I got out of bed at the same time each day, exercised regularly and most importantly kept myself busy improving and perfecting my writing skills.


I lacked a direction.

As a final-year student, the outside world still felt very intimidating and with nothing solid waiting for me, I felt hopeless, restless and anxious. I had what my mother would describe as a “defeatist attitude”. What was the point of anything if I didn’t have anything to strive for?

Looking back, I had fallen into what many would describe as a rut. A rut from which I would not allow myself to escape because I didn’t think there was a reason to escape in the first place or a direction to escape to. This is where I was wrong.

My fear was of the unknown. I started to tackle my fear by researching, a tool that would help me discover what I didn’t already know. I set up a spreadsheet for myself so I could keep track of all the places I had looked at for potential career opportunities. I then delegated a certain amount of time each week that I would spend researching these future opportunities. I spoke to friends and family, who were already in “the outside world” and expressed my concerns, letting their opinions calm and reassure me as they gave me more of an insight of what was to come. Eventually, I started to embrace my lack of direction. Rather than see it as a dismal abyss, I learnt to see the positives. I had already begun to uncover my next steps and the excitement of not knowing and the endless possibilities had to be appreciated.


I felt that the grass was greener on the other side.

I was the only one of my friendship group left at university. I was the only perpetual student. They had all graduated and most were working in the busy city of London. I will hold my hands up now and say that I was envious of their regimented routines which made them seem so productive and useful to society. This is not to mention their ability to earn their own money and support themselves, something that I was eager to achieve. I often compared my life to theirs which only ended up perpetuating my feelings of guilt at not being able to contribute to society in the ways that I would have liked to.

But just because I am not being financially productive or working a set number of hours each day, that does not mean I am not being productive. Self-determination and self-motivation are key remedies for this feeling of guilt and with this new routine in place, my guilt as a student lacking direction has begun to cease.


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