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This is the first September in 16 years that doesn’t mean back to school for me. I just can’t quite shake the feeling that I should be throwing on a backpack, shopping for pencils and binders, checking my class schedule. I woke up feeling kind of weird, almost guilty that I wasn’t entering my third school year at university like many of my friends.
I was able to rationalize the feeling away pretty quickly. After all, I’m on a co-op term, not gone forever. However, then I started to question why I felt so obligated to follow a black and white education path.
Many, many times, especially in my first year of university, I questioned whether I was in the right place- the program, the right university, whether I should be in university at all. In the end, I decided that I was in the right place. I’m an academic learner, I love reading, and I love what I study and where it will get me- through all the career options I considered, psychology was what I kept coming back to. So despite the difficulty of my classes or the pains of adjusting to a new city, I stayed put. However, it really made me think about why there is so much pressure to follow a traditional path.
I know many friends who chose to take a year (or a few) off in between high school and postsecondary. All of them unanimously express a feeling of guilt, of being behind. Many of them travelled to cool places, developed a clear idea of what they wanted to do, or even just worked to be able to afford tuition in that time. My question is- what’s wrong with that? Why do we look down on people who take an extra bit of time to enjoy their lives, or make clear career choices? The vast majority of university students switch their majors time and time again before they graduate- why not wait until you’re sure about it? Or gain some experiences before you jump into your career path, or save to graduate with less debt. In the grand scheme of things, it won’t matter if you graduate when you’re 22 or 24 or even 34.
On that note, college or university just isn’t the right choice for many people, and that’s okay too. I’ve met too many people in university who are absolutely miserable, but are there because they feel compelled to be. Whether they’re unhappy with their program, don’t respond well to the lecture system of learning, or find the work overwhelming, they’re there because they feel a societal obligation to be. I think it’s time to reduce the stigma about those who choose alternate life paths. Where’s the sense in struggling through for a job you know you won’t like, at the expense of your mental health? School is incredibly stressful, and particularly for those who struggle to find mental wellness, that stress can be extremely detrimental. There are so many reasons college or university might not be the best choice. Maybe you love working in retail. Maybe you want to start your own business. Maybe the traditional way of learning is just not working for you.
People are so diverse, and for that reason, so are the paths they choose to take. It’s a big wide world out there, and we need retail employees and artists and entrepreneurs just as much as we need doctors and lawyers. Most importantly, we need a generation of healthy, happy adults.
So this is a shout out to everyone who isn’t starting school this fall- whether you're on co-op, taking a break, or done for good. In the end, your life belongs to you. So take care of yourself, and choose what’s best for you- there’s no shame in that. Put away those September blues.
Rachel began her mindyourmind placement as Marketing and Innovation Assistant this September, and could not be more excited! As a Psychology and Business student at the University of Waterloo, she is a proud mental health advocate, and passionate about helping connect mental health resources with those who need them. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, baking and going outdoors.
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