16 For ’16

2016 crept up too quickly and discretely for me to really notice – I barely registered Christmas, and now here I am a month into the new year still unsure of what I’m really doing, two weeks into the new (and my final!) semester having barely touched a book. And having already missed a class. One thing about growing up is that the holidays and related celebrations begin to look a little more like inconvenient but mandatory pauses on a life that feels like it’s already moving at 3000mph as you dangle on by the fingernails. While it’s nice to let go of that sense of living between annual milestones and recognise that real substance is what happens while we’re all kicking around waiting for something exciting to happen, that sadly doesn’t alleviate the pressure to reflect at this time of year (well, a month ago, but as with everything else I have procrastinated on this task too). And I’ve been doing a lot of it lately, after a particularly transformative year and ahead of the biggest, bleakest wall of uncertainty I have been forced to confront in my 21 years: graduation.

And so, these are my hopes and goals for 2016. We always write end-of-year lists; albums, gigs, places we visited, general overviews saturated with disingenuous optimism for the future. I didn’t do that this time around, and this will be my first ever attempt at setting out how I want to develop over the next 12 (11) months – perhaps an indication of my uncharacteristically hopeful headspace. And I know that as I write this, I’ll be speaking on behalf of many of my close friends, and perhaps a lot of my peers too. It’s a funny time, those early 20s. I will present this in list form, because I am a millennial who spends an hour before bed obsessively reading Thought Catalog articles and thinking ‘God, I hate Thought Catalog’ every time.

  1. Let’s get the obvious out the way – I’d like to make it through the semester with some degree of success, and make it to graduation with an actual degree.
  2. Hold onto my sanity in doing so. I’m already having to bat away dissertation-related anxiety if I ever want to sleep before 6am, and god knows I need a little stress to motivate myself into much productivity, but an English Language degree is not worth making myself miserable over. I’m getting a little better at balancing the competing aspects of my life, but the next five months will certainly be the toughest test yet.
  3. Somewhat related, I want to take the time to look after myself. A whirlwind four and a half years after moving to Glasgow and I realise how easily taking care of little old me became the first thing to go on the back burner as I attempted to build a life for myself – in a lot of ways, but in this instance I mean physically. Some ongoing health problems and some hospital visits had me give up pretty quickly but now that my self esteem is back up (self care and self image are related! Who’d’ve thunk!) I plan on doing something about it. I don’t sleep enough, I don’t eat enough, I’m not active enough, and I fall asleep with my make up still on more often than I would admit even to my most trusted soul sisters. My skin deserves better, damnit.
  4. Be more assertive. I know for a fact that this has been a shared goal among a few of us for a while but it’s something I struggle with to the point that I often worry that it defines me. 90% of my brain is frantically trying to process the possible reactions of the other person to what is about to come out of my mouth before I’ve even said it, and this makes me more useless when answering ‘what do you want to do?’ than the placement of Travelodge plug sockets. I need to believe in the validity of my thoughts and then my voice will be louder.
  5. See the uncertainty of post-graduation life as exciting rather than inevitably hopeless and without structure. I’m already making some progress on this one: a few months ago I would’ve told you that I was almost definitely going to do some sort of postgrad study, purely to stay in the comfort of the academic bubble as I’m the closest to the real world I’ve ever been and currently never been less sure of what place I want to hold in it. Now, I realise that come June I can do anything. It’s scary, absolutely, but throwing myself into whatever is out there is filled with so much more potential than another year of not knowing how to take a book out of the uni library.
  6. Do more things that scare me. Someone asked me recently what the last risk I took was that paid off, and I couldn’t come up with anything that wasn’t a risk purely due to the social anxiety gremlin that sits on my chest. I believe that feeling I haven’t achieved anything since high school comes down to the fact that the last big risk I took was moving to Glasgow for university when I was 17.
  7. Give myself room to fail. I have a terrible habit of worrying that I’m wasting my time and panicking if things aren’t going perfectly in the minimum amount of time possible. In six months’ time, I don’t want to fall into a self-loathing slump if I don’t figure things out on the first go, and I don’t want to feel that I have to drop off my robes, waltz straight down University Avenue and right into my dream career. I need to be earning money, but nothing about it has to be permanent – nor does it have to fulfill the bloody annoying need I have to always feel like I’m saving the world just a little bit.
  8. Stop worrying about what my dream career is. You are 21, Hannah. You are but a baby. (Although, upon the publication of this blog, maybe rethink the writing thing).
  9. Keep my friends close. I believe that who someone surrounds them self with is a reflection of who they are, and so one thing that always keeps my spirits up is how wonderful and varied a circle of friends I have (and have had for as long as I can remember). I have very few complaints when it comes to my pals and I reckon we do a decent enough job of keeping in touch even when life gets hectic, so my main concern is keeping that together as so much changes this year.
  10. Grow a thicker skin when it comes to how others treat and perceive me. I’ve grown a little better at this – learning to like myself in 2015 gave me a hell of a lot more backbone than I imagined possible – but I do have a tendency to let the opinions of others re: me override my own. My sensitivity is both something I value and something that can really bring me down so I need more of a handle on it.
  11. Learn to like myself even more. If nothing else, a proven pattern in my life appears to be that good things happen to me when I’m feeling good about me.
  12. Blog more. Get this thing actually up-and-running, and not just for self-indulgent lists when you’ve left it too long for that album you were going to review to be relevant.
  13. Be less self deprecating – I hear it’s irritating, and if you tell someone that you suck enough times they’ll start to believe it – but not too much. What the hell kind of sense of humour does anyone have if they can’t be the butt of the joke?
  14. Give people less of myself/be less of a doormat in the name of being a good friend. I love being someone people feel they can talk to and have no desire for that to change, but I don’t think everyone realises that taking on their problems drains me too and leaves me wondering what I am other than a collector of aggro. I want to be able to take a step back when I need to without worrying that I’m being selfish or unkind.
  15. Be better with money. Current plan: get high paying job. #15 isn’t looking hopeful.
  16. Put my trust in time and really mean it. 2015 had some of my lowest lows which I truly never thought would get better, but the things time can do while you grit your teeth and wait for the worst to blow over are unparalleled.

 

What about you? What do my friends/foes/random dwellers of the interweb want to achieve this year? Now that we’ve nearly hit February, are you still quoting Weightless by All Time Low?

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In Defence of… The individual student experience

Originally published as part of my ‘In Defence of…’ column in the Glasgow Guardian, Jan 2016.
So now we’re halfway through academic year 2015-16 and the dust has most certainly settled. Maybe you’re in first year, coming face to face with your first set of university grades and being forced to accept the reality of another five months of 3am Murano fire alarms. You might be in your final year, attempting to balance your time between trying not to miss out on a degree at the final hurdle and entertaining your existential crisis over the looming wall of uncertainty casting a shadow over your calendar after graduation (just me? Nevermind). Regardless of which degree bookend you fall closer to, the only guarantee for the time in between is that it truly will fly by. This seems to be a bit of an uncomfortable truth, however, as it appears that the majority of us feel pressure to live up to a preconceived notion of what being a student is, particularly at a time when there is a growing collective feeling that our degrees are worth less and so the experience increases in importance. I speak both personally and from having broached the subject with plenty other degree hopefuls, past and present, and every single person could relate to the idea of some predetermined bucket list of typical university experiences which must be ticked off in order to validate us as fun-and-making-the-most-of-it.
Before ever learning what a Moodle is or why Vipers are a very real threat in the west end of Glasgow, most of us will fantasise about the adventures of our upcoming freedom and, like anything else, the reality is highly unlikely to match our ideals. Common portrayals of student life fail to mention near epidemic rates of loneliness, time spent without enough money in the bank to feed yourself, and the difficulties of figuring out who you are in your early 20s. Not to mention how much more difficult it can be for home students, for example, to really solidify their place in the student body, as well as students who have to work to support themselves so much that extracurriculars and social events become a rare luxury. Whether it be as a result of external forces or that really, we have only our insecurities to blame, it’s not easy to forget that these are supposed to be the best years of our lives. Apparently.
Even becoming involved in societies, the unions, or any other activities outside of classes, you will always be able to look around and find someone who looks like they are doing the student thing better than you are. People find safety in cliques, and you may find yourself on the fringe of one and watch inwardly wondering why you just don’t seem to be as much of a natural when it comes to campus life. The truth is that no one lives a montage of student debauchery, all cheap booze and hazy nights spent in tenement flats, and no one is unfamiliar with the sense of walking around campus feeling like you don’t belong. If you start to fear that you’re becoming a little more well acquainted with Netflix and its passive-aggressive questioning of the fact that you’re still watching than with your coursemates, well, absolutely feel free to do something about it – but don’t expect that you will necessarily look back on your time as a student with more fondness because you spent more time sitting in bars you don’t really like with people you don’t really know. Just do you and you can’t go wrong.