A Message to Graduating Students and Students Who are Struggling

You’re already rushed this morning. No time to eat breakfast and you’re throwing clothes on your cold body as you check the weather for today. More snow, more cold. Great…

You already don’t feel like going to class you are also running a tad bit late, it wouldn’t hurt to miss this one. Right?

How many of you end up in a situation similar to this? Or maybe, my friend is in class and can pass on the notes. If you’re anything like me, you might sometimes fall victim to the anxiety filled, crippling fear that is unexplained. Well, you could explain it but don’t always know why and don’t know how to tell others.

It’s easy to get trapped in a cyclical motion during University. Go to class, study, drink, repeat, and, if you’re feeling really ambitious, you might add volunteer opportunities or even a gym routine. If you fall off the wagon or find yourself in a rut, it can be very challenging to find the motivation to feel normal again.

Over my time at University, I have experienced the ups and downs, have been through the highs and low, and sometimes I get stuck in the lows. This is not uncommon and many people struggle in University dealing with the pressure of finding their identity. You are still going through a time in which your brain is growing and changing, so cut yourself some slack. Also, remind yourself that this could be situational and it is normal to have bad days. There were two periods during University that I went through an exceptionally hard time. Unfortunately, the most recent was before second semester of my last year.

I was on track to graduate with a degree in Kinesiology. I attended classes and was a regular at events and well known throughout my program. I was also involved in a host of other activities that made me known throughout campus and the community. I was always very reserved and kept the majority of my struggles to myself. By doing so, no one could help me when I was failing two required courses…in my last year…in my last semester.

What could I do?

As you now know, I was a fourth year Kinesiology student last year who unfortunately failed two required courses which halted my graduation. After getting over the initial shock, regret and shame, a new emotion took it’s place and I was offered incredible perspective.  A question immediately popped into my mind: “what now”? It continued to plague me and I had to change my attitude towards it because this is something that is probably going through your mind as you think about the future. That being said, this question will continue to show up as you are constantly reassessing and changing in accordance to life. So what now? What can you expect from this article? Well, I’ve written it in a letter format of inspiration…I hope.

I never thought I would be in this position. I was on track to graduate in my four years but sometimes life happens. For some reason, I didn’t take any graduation pictures, get a ring or do any of the typical things graduating students did. What I did do however, was apply to graduate and I was ready for that day in May. It was the end of April when I officially found out I wouldn’t be graduating, although in my heart, I knew this would be the case earlier. I didn’t let on how I was struggling to anyone. I never talked about it and just kept on pretending that I was on the right track. Humour is a good way to distract people from the truth. This is a deflecting method that can help allow people to relate to your situation but it is always better to be honest with yourself and those around you. I didn’t tell my professors and I sometimes felt like I was doing everything right, I hired a tutor and would try and go to class. But I wouldn’t be able to finish my school work or stay on top of what I had already started.  Heck, my parents were so sure I was graduating that they already got me a computer as a graduation gift! Whoops.

And to make matters worse, I had no idea what I was going to do next. The different options would pop in my head and I would veraciously change my career path every day. I was super passionate about each one until another one came along. To be honest, most of my future plans didn’t have a lot to do with my undergrad degree of Kinesiology. For those of you who have yet to know what you want to “be”. Here is a list of possible occupations I have considered over my four years.

  • Teacher
  • Coach
  • Professor
  • Neuroscientist/Psychologist
  • Lawyer
  • Social worker
  • Politician
  • Minister
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Addictions Counsellor
  • Forces
  • Sport management
  • Stripper (just kidding)
  • Business/entrepreneurship
  • Peace Corps
  • Massage therapist
  • Chiropractor

And last but not least,

  • Mayor of Wolfville (I’m not kidding, I legitimately considered this and even wrote my acceptance speech).

Going through all the possibilities is a important thing to do. That being said, the way we view jobs is typically as a lifelong career…that is not always the case. It wasn’t until my fourth year that I truly felt as if I was coming into my own. I started to become more confident with who I was as a person and what I stood for. I felt accomplished with my skills and that gave me this incredible feeling that I will be ok. When you realize this, a lot of pressure and stress comes off your shoulders. There is no point worrying too much about the future. Everyone has a different path and no matter how roundabout it may be, you will get to where you want to go, even if you don’t know that yet. My confidence in my skill set, and by skill set I don’t necessarily mean my ability to name all the muscles in the body or the force it will take a high jumper to get over blah blah blah biomechanics. Some of you will excel in these areas and that is awesome! I, however, always had an affinity for people and trying to connect and build relationships with them. In my third year, I had the opportunity to travel abroad. I went to Scotland and I learned so much from that experience. I value things like that so much because I find it is in those times of uncertainty and adventure where we have the most growth. I am also speaking subjectively. Everyone will have a different experience and values different things. That is what makes us unique and wonderful. But, there we can always learn from others and what I have to say will hopefully resonate with some of you. These experiences I will always be grateful for because it gave me this new found confidence in my future. I felt secure. I knew that I would be successful no matter what I did.

That being said, you might find it ironic that I am writing about success, when I failed and did not graduate successfully last year. Success is not defined by failure, rather, it is defined by the ability to grow from failure.

It is hard to look at perceived failures and turn them into positives. Perspective is difficult to come by but can be a skill that is nurtured with practice. I’m terribly indecisive, as you might have been able to tell by the list of possible professions, and this is something that causes me a lot of grief. By changing my perspective on decision-making, I have been able to make more confident decisions as well as deal with the repercussion. Over these past years, I have learned many lessons in perspective that have always left me stronger and wiser for it. I gained perspective when I blew out my knee and needed major reconstructive surgery- costing me a year of rugby. I felt like I would never be able to look at that moment and benefit from it. Now, I can look on that day and I feel proud I endured the pain and lengthy rehab. I can get overwhelmed just by thinking of the progress I’ve made. I never thought I’d be able to move like this again. I gained more perspective when I travelled to Scotland, learning to be more independent and find pride in thing other than my athletic ability. And, I gained perspective when I failed my first course. Failing courses is not abnormal. In fact, I always looked to my older sister as the epitome of intelligence. Anything Annie did or accomplish, was the gold standard in my mind. It turns out, she failed two classes in her first two years but managed to graduate in four, with honours and is working towards her masters now. Unfortunately, I failed my courses in my last year, last semester and they were required. Little bit of advice, if you have to fail a class, try and make sure it’s not one of your core classes.

If you ever find yourself in the situation I was, don’t panic. Ask for help immediately. You can’t wait for others to notice you’re struggling. Take matters into your own hands. Be proactive. Schedule check-ups with your professors so they know you’re on the right track- and follow through with those meetings. It’s never too late to turn it around. If you put in the effort and time, you will be able to succeed. Do your work. That being said, if all else finds. Don’t wallow in self-pity or think degrading thoughts. Instead, find that perspective. What have you learned? What can you improve on? What do you know for the next time? Whatever you are dealing with, you can overcome. If you are worried about finances, parents, grades, anything…there is always a way you can manage. Humans are made to be adaptable and if you are willing to be open, you can adapt to any situation or environment to help you succeed. Just as I did when I went back to rugby 18 months after surgery, and couldn’t believe how far I came, that same feeling will hit me when I walk down the stage at graduation. Another lesson, I took from my knee, was that it may not be the way it was, but this is my new normal.

Adaptable humans are meant to change and be changed. Growth, success, failure, perspective, adversity and a whole host of other adjectives are the nature of change. Find your “new normal” with every opportunity. Appreciate what you have and what you are in control of.

I want to leave you with a list of things of what I have learned at Acadia. This is all life skills that I value. Education is so much more than material, you are learning about yourself and the world around you. Never stop learning. I would sometimes think about how I wish I knew or understood this stuff sooner. I am a kinetic learning and have to do things a couple times to really let it sit in. My mom hates it, she has to tell me something five times before I really listen to her right advice. I hate that she’s usually always right.

So you may be wondering what I’m doing next. The answer to my “what now”? Well, that remains to be seen. I’m keeping my options open and will take any opportunity that comes my way. I’ve applied for my BEd as well as sports management. I’m also looking into other programs in colleges and will even take a full time job if one’s offered. There is no rush. My father, who I think is the wisest man I’ve ever meant, would always tell me when I got stressed: “Micheala, life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon and regardless of the race and who chooses which event, everyone reaches the finish line”.

I love to be inspired and motivated. I love hearing people’s personal stories about overcoming adversity or achieving their dreams. I also benefit from advice. I have done a lot of reflection over my years, and I have always been told I’m an “old soul” which i interpret as wise, so listen up! Here is a collection of things I would recommend.

  • People are way more forgiving than you think/give them credit.
  • It’s never too late, too early, or the wrong time to ask for help.
  • Don’t be embarrassed or scared to share some of the things that make you feel vulnerable. Everyone is flawed, it is our perceived imperfections that make us a perfect.
  • Be grateful and take the time to say thank you especially if you REALLY mean it (a hand written note goes a long way).
  • A little kindness never hurts.
  • The people around you, especially at Acadia are here to help you succeed and they actually care about you. Take advantage of the resources offered and ask if there is something that can be done to help you out. It’s not selfish to ask.
  • It’s better to be late than not showing up at all. Punctuality is a sign of respect. It shows maturity, that you’re professional, dependable and the list goes on. That being said, sometimes things happen that make you late. How many of you are running late for class and either get too embarrassed to walk in late or figure you can get notes from a friend and don’t even bother. Don’t do that. Suck it up, most people won’t care because it is your education at risk and for those who do mind, you get called out and life moves on.
  • Own your mistakes. Reassess and see what you can do differently.
  • Ask for feedback, self-reflect and continue to keep asking questions.
  • Be proud of failure because it means you’re trying.

Thank you for reading (if you made it this far, congrats!) and for being open to what I have to say. I love meeting new people, sharing stories and talking. If I could ever offer anyone help, it would be a privilege for me to help you sort through anything!

Thank you again and please don’t stress. I wish you all the best in the future, I already know you’ll do great things, just because you will be an Acadia alumni. See you at graduation (and if I don’t, I’ll see you doing great things in the future).

All my best,

Michaela

Email: [email protected]

 

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