Jack Anderson, Leeds University

The Successful Student: How do we win a losing battle?

Being a student is difficult
– particularly in 2022.

Torn between being a carefree, alcohol-fuelled, liberal party animal in his prime and an extremely ambitious, motivated, and well- educated young man yearning to make his mark on the world; life can get confusing.

To the majority of society, I am pigeon-holed in with the other 2.66 million UK students as nothing but a bone-headed hedonist adding nothing valuable to society. To the government, I am nothing but a statistic and a form of (insanely over-inflated) income. To me, there has to be more.

I am a strong believer in the idea that we, as humans, can do anything we set our minds to – we just have to want it and work for it.

In a moment of ambition and self-belief motivated by this idea, I was recently inspired to venture into my own startup; noextrasource.com – a digital hub for writers of all abilities from across the world to refine their content creation skills, share their work with friends & family, and gain valuable, pro-active work experience to state on their CV.

When I envisioned the possibilities of my project, I saw a platform that could act as a stepping stone into the industry for the new generation of language-lovers, a chance to be seen in a sea of homogeneous students, and an experience valued highly by employers. No Extra Source would be a unique, hybrid brand combining the formality of historical journalistic outlets with the freshness of social media and multi-modality – it seemed a novel entrepreneurial opportunity just waiting to be seized.

With a healthy bank of experience, a disciplined work ethic, and a driving hunger for success, I seem the perfect candidate to seize this opportunity – you know, carpe diem and all that.

And yet, as I navigate the winding walls of the maze that is life, I find the path to such success morphing into more of an obstacle course: £30,000+ of crippling debt; a heavily stigmatised student demographic; a losing war on mental health around me, and not to mention the constant weight of society’s negativity on our shoulders, rivaling the drag of gravity. So as I stand, shadowed by the towering walls, with graduation looming, I ask myself: where do I fit in this world?

I like to think that there are two answers to this question: the first is that I fit in where society tells me to. The second?:

Wherever the hell I want.

With little guidance on how to distinguish between the two, I can’t be the only 21-year-old feeling this confusing inhibition. While societal norms and expectations often tell us that students are little more than the aforementioned, useless, party animals, I choose to be more.

Luckily for our generation, I am not extraordinarily unique; there are plenty of students with this same awareness, motivation, and willpower to succeed.

And yet, this is not necessarily the norm, nor the standard mentality ingrained in the minds of our upcoming generations; somewhere along the line, we started to believe that those childhood dreams were nothing more than exactly that: dreams. Why is it that only a small portion of humanity find themselves where they would like to be, in a job they love, and living as a person that the childhood version of themselves would be happy to aspire to?

A life-time of fulfilled dreams, success, and euphoria is but a fantasy for many, or a goal achieved after years of struggle for the fraction that manage it; settling for unfulfillment in life has become the norm.

Our childhood aspirations are gradually replaced by the damning pressures expelled by society; ‘it’s not realistic’; ‘get a real job and a steady income’; ‘do your part’.

To overcome these pressures, we face a life-long battle with the obstacle course to happiness and success. To give up on this obstacle course would be to sit back and settle in the comfort of the self-fulfilling prophecy whispered in our ear by the devious lips of society.

 

 

Go through education. Get a 9-5. Forget your dreams. Settle down. Reproduce. Repeat.

For me as a student, this kind of pressure and impending homogony is ubiquitous. Go to university. Pay the same extortionate fee as everyone else, regardless of your intelligence or quality of education. Graduate. Get a job and slot in at the very bottom of the chain, just like every other young, naïve and lethargic student – just another one of the cogs in the ever-turning social machine, headed straight toward breaking point.

This is not to say, however, that you cannot or should not be happy in a 9-5, or with a simple family life; we all aspire to different goals and means of happiness, of course. My point is that we should chase our own idea of success and what makes us happy, not just accept the same life as everyone else because that’s ‘the norm’.

So, as my time at university is coming to an inevitable end, with a life-time of settling for mediocrity set out in front of me, a crossroad presents itself.

To my left sits what society tells me to do; settle in, become one of the cogs, do my part. But to my right? To my right is a path of fulfilment; of success; of happiness – a place where I make my dreams a reality. Of course, there’s no sunshine and rainbows just yet – the path is a twisting and challenging one, but a path nonetheless.

Employment and graduate opportunities surround me, lurking in that grey area of mediocrity, but also in the promising landscape of dreams – where will I go?

The truth is: I don’t know – I can’t possibly know everything I want to do or be for the rest of my life at the ripe age of 21 – that’s a big ask. I think I speak for all students and people of my age, however, when I say this:

Whether I want to party like the wolf of goddamn Wall street, slot into a comfy 9-5, or reinvent myself as the next Elon Musk at age 21; I’d really like for society to believe that I can be whatever the hell I want.

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