I just finished my university degree. Just then. Like five minutes ago. How do I feel? Elated, I guess. Relieved. A maker of big rash decisions, booker of last-minute plane flights, Caitlin Creeper cut-and-run, I am proud I stuck to this one thing and saw it through for four years.
Given my time over, would I do it again?
No. I really don’t think so.
If I could reach back to my seventeen year old self in the hot, stuffy computer room at school sweating down the back of her school dress, selecting on the screen what course she wanted to study alongside my friends, I would say this. Don’t just select a course to legitimise your creative passions. You’re a damn good writer, and you’re on the right track in thinking this is the path you need to follow. Yes, writing is going to be your vocation.
But you’re not going to find a way to make that happen through a tertiary institution.
Firstly, university made me stressed, anxious and a tad (a lot) narcissistic to be around when deadlines were choking me. It made me feel like every second I wasn’t being productive was a moment wasted… Which paradoxically is the fastest killer of inspiration and creativity. It made me compare myself to my peers, now talented journalists on TV, and despair that because I wasn’t like them, I wasn’t doing it right. Some of my tutors were progressive and inspiring, but university largely to me, felt like all these boxes I kept trying to squeeze into but couldn’t.
My tutors were bewildered by me. More than once I heard the ‘I wish you could have applied yourself more this semester’ as I scraped average grades. But I didn’t want to apply myself more to the news reporting pyramid or covering the new public transport development in Perth. I wanted to get to the crux of the issues women face every day, express the chaos in my head that I knew lay deep in the recesses of other people’s souls, too. How do you even define that, let alone learn how to do it from a professor standing at the front of the lecture hall with his PowerPoint presentation? And so I found myself trying to figure this out for myself on the wrong side of 3am most nights, the only time I had, for niche publications with Australia-wide readerships. I applied myself. Just not in the arena where your worth gets measured. And so for a long time I thought myself a bit of a drop kick.
I admire my mother for going back to university at fifty five and I admire my best friend who just pumped her way through a 22,000 word thesis. But I equally admire my boss who walked out of her degree and my boyfriend who did the same. Because all of these people were true to themselves. I was not.
I know what attaining a university degree means for some people but what I regret is not truly listening to what it meant for me. Because what it meant for me was not following my instincts, not having the bravery to deviate from the expected path all those years ago. For this reason I will not be attending my graduation ceremony. Putting on the gown and hat to celebrate a nostalgia I don’t feel.
What I wanted was something solid to hold onto. Having a creative passion is so indescribable and intangible, something that comes part from your soul and part from your heart and part from your logic and part from your memory and part from your role models and part from this other place that doesn’t exactly have a name but contains an entire universe. With ingredients like that, passionate and intangible, its hard to make the pillars of that creativity stand up straight in a society that values productivity, that leaves ‘success’ like a buzzword that tastes bad in your mouth, taints every decision you make about your life. I did not see what was in my head reflected around me, so I went to the closest thing I could find, a Bachelor of Arts.
Liz Gilbert says she thinks we get little flashbacks from the future sometimes, to be like “this is what your future looks like, now what are you going to do to get us there”.
What I didn’t realize is the reason I couldn’t see myself reflected anywhere was because I needed to help make this reality. I needed to be one of the people building it.
It’s a dark time for journalism as the world once knew it. One of my favourite tutors just got informed his contract isn’t being renewed next year. When I was in his class I strangely got invited to Italy, mid semester, in a complete stroke of luck. He told me if I was to go overseas in the middle of the semester I a) would not get good grades and b) I would be doing the right thing. Proving grades aren’t everything. I went to Italy, I got terrible grades, just scraping a pass. A while later he read some of my online articles and informed me he saw I had a bright future ahead of me.
The same tutor who gave me a 50% mark said I had a bright future.
My point is this. In pursuing a creative career, university isn’t necessarily the ticket.
Being comfortable with deviating from the pack, and a whole lot of hustle and self belief, is.