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Image: Unsplash

‘The best years of your life’: spending your twenties in education

Deciding to become a post-graduate was a hard choice. Throughout my undergraduate years, there were many ups and downs and sometimes it felt like the end would never come.

I often remember imagining what it would feel like to throw my graduation cap up in the air and smile for the camera as it recorded living proof that I had finally made it. I would finally be ready to walk out into the world armed with my invincible shiny new degree.

As the end drew closer my urge to leave university started to waver. I became doubtful of my purpose, desires and future in the outside world. I decided that even though part of me wanted to leave and start my life afresh, I wasn’t ready. After obtaining my degree, I still felt hungry for more.

It was hard not to let their eagerness to leave affect my decision to stay

I will admit that my friends, all of whom graduated and promptly left university without so much as a second glance, made my decision harder. Of course it wasn’t their fault, but it was hard not to feel like I was being left behind. At the time, I believed that they had ‘grown out’ of university and were all ready to take on the responsibilities of active working citizens. I felt awkward, guilty that I wasn’t doing my part.

On top of this, their excitement about moving out and moving on, dispersing themselves across the many vibrant and busy cities filled with opportunities was infectious. It was hard not to let their eagerness to leave affect my decision to stay.

“Your twenties are the best years of your life, make the most of it!”, they would say

New jobs, the first pay-cheque, first promotions, a first work trip abroad - all of which were things they looked forward to experiencing young. These were the things that supposedly made your twenties so spectacular.

They felt like they had rushed into things, so eager to graduate that they jumped at the first opportunities

Six months later, I caught up with a few of my friends over lunch and they bombarded me with questions about how my Master’s was going. Was I still enjoying it? What was it like still being at university when everyone else had left? When it got to my turn to ask the questions, the replies were short.

The excited tone that I predicted they would use to talk of their first job and living away from home was absent. Most of them shrugged – “work’s work.”

They mentioned a few people that were doing well, enjoying their bonuses and the perks of working the corporate life, but none of these were present at our table.

Some of my friends spoke wistfully. They advised me to take my time deciding on my next steps as they felt like they had rushed into things, so eager to graduate that they jumped at the first opportunities. Perhaps they had done this too soon. The things that they thought made up ‘the best years of your life’ were soon routine.

I had to start believing that I know what’s best for me 

I came away from the meet-up feeling sad. I felt sorry for some of them because they already looked fed up of working an eight or nine hour a day, having barely any time to themselves. I did also breath a small sigh of relief as their experiences taught me three things.

Firstly, don’t let your decisions get swayed by everyone else’s excitement. Thankfully, I managed to do this but I didn’t know at the time that I was making the right decisions. After this meet-up, I realised that I had to be more confident in myself. I had to start believing that I know what’s best for me and not to let other people’s excitement become my own.

Next, I asked myself – what’s the rush? I will eventually graduate from university. Whether that’s after my Master’s or even after a PhD, who knows, but I am well aware that I will inevitably become a cog in the machine like everyone else.

Whilst it has been lonely, tedious and exhausting at times, it has also come with some unexpected joys

You decide what the best years of your life are and don’t let others’ predictions or beliefs persuade you otherwise. It turned out that some of my friends were disappointed with what they thought would be the best years of their life. The things that they thought would give them an enormous amount of pleasure gave them short term joys which gradually fizzled out.

Staying on at university was a hard decision to make because I was afraid it would be the wrong one. While it has been lonely, tedious and exhausting at times, it has also come with some unexpected joys.

I have the ability to study something that I love , not to please someone else or to complete my targets but for me.

Perhaps hindsight will decide that the best years of my life were indeed in my twenties

I’ve got independence, something I felt like I never fully appreciated this at undergraduate level. Hearing about the hectic nine to five days, I feel very lucky to have the ability to choose how I delegate my time between my work, my friends and my writing.

I don’t know what the future holds and this is a good thing. Of course, this applies to my friends outside university but at university, it’s a different sort of adventure. It’s one where your thirst for knowledge is in control of the steering wheel. It has the potential to open doors, to find dead ends or even to find long open roads with no end in sight, keeping me guessing and searching.

Who knows? Perhaps hindsight will decide that the best years of my life were indeed in my twenties but at university among the ever-growing jungle of knowledge. Only time will tell.

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