In the lexicon of a student “stress” over “happiness” or “satisfaction” or “success” is one of the most-used words; it isn’t just an emotion, it’s a way of life, it is who we are. But this year, I am eschewing that yoke, I will be burdened by it no longer! Why should the stereotypical student be a sad figure in a hoodie hunched over a large coffee and a laptop? This is supposed to be the fun part of our lives isn’t it? Cynicism is made for the people who wish they could be us but instead have mortgages and insurance and daycare fees. Let’s not run too quickly toward real life.
Doing an engineering degree at Waterloo is a highly unique experience. I’ve been able to travel all over the country, work in different sectors for several different kinds of companies and government bodies, and I’m only just starting my fourth year! The reactions I have from people when I tell them I have had six co-ops always makes me realize what an advantage we have here; when everyone around you is talking about Cali or Bust for co-op four it’s easy to lose perspective.
Engineering isn’t all co-op though, and it’s the school terms that can often be more difficult even if you’re not in a new city or learning how to fit into a new company. Classes and projects and assignments can take up a ton of time, and when you’re apart four months at a time it can be hard to make real, close friendships with the people in your class. Friendship does happen though, and by fourth year you’ve spent so much time with these people you can’t help but be close with them, but in the first few terms you might find yourself very lonely in a city full of students having more fun than you.
Then, on top of school you may have extra-curriculars, volunteering, part-time jobs, sports, social events, and before long you’re behind on assignments or other things get neglected like your sleep. It’s only a matter of time between arriving at your apartment in Waterloo and the first time you say “I’m so stressed”. And I have had it. I have paid my dues to the gods of school, I have slaved at the alter of academic success and watched people around me do the same without much reward. I have spent so much of my life STRESSED about school, the last ten years of my life have been highlighted by stress over something and I don’t need that anymore.
It was during last term as I was anxiously wondering why I was so miserable that I realized the problem – I cared way too much about school. It hit me that the promise I had made to myself as an 18-year-old starting first year to have all the fun I hadn’t had in high school hadn’t played out. I wasn’t having fun, I wasn’t enjoying university as much as I had before, and I couldn’t snap out of it. I was trying to get satisfaction from test scores and essay grades and I was instead giving myself anxiety.
This year things are different. This year I’m prioritizing the things that make me happy. If someone asks me to go climbing, I’m saying yes. If there’s a concert to go to, I’m there. If someone wants to go camping, I’m already packing. If I want to join a club I’ve looked at for four years but haven’t had time for, I’m going to do it. Of course we are all here for school, I don’t plan to fail my fourth year here, but I’m not going to say no to pub crawl or a Tuesday at Molly’s to do work I know I can get done when I might otherwise have watched Youtube. I have been developing my study techniques for the last eight years of my life and right now I’m pretty confident in my abilities to pass. And I am also saying yes to counselling, something I have been terrified of for years, because I don’t want to hate my time at this institution; I’ve made way too many happy memories and I have way too many more still to make.
I may fall off the wagon, promises to yourself are hard to keep, I may say the word “stress” a few times and feel the weight of it crush my spine a little further. But if I do, if any of us do, I plan to do my best to try getting back on again with maybe more help than before, and I hope you do too. None of us deserve stress, not flossing is shortening our lifespans enough as it is – and let’s face it, not a single one of us has enough time to floss.