So the borderline obligatory photo of you in your gown by the Jesus horse has been taken, your dad has returned to London (though he’s going to be back in Cambridge the next day because you decided to put your medication in the freezer instead of the fridge, rendering it unusable… but for now he’s gone), and you have embarrassed yourself in front of people you barely know at the first bop. Seven days later and you still feel as clueless as when you arrived. Freshers’ week was a frantic rush, equally enjoyable and stressful, sociable and isolating, and now you are stuck in your room, faced with your first essay of term and not really knowing what to do now that your life isn’t being scheduled for you by the student union.
If I had been able to talk to you, if your future self had been able to reach out across the gap in time, here is what I would have said.
Rather counter-intuitively perhaps, my advice for you can be broadly categorised as “care less”. Scary, I know. You’ve always really cared about your studies – that’s why you’re here. But, trust me, caring a little bit less can make you a lot happier. Cambridge isn’t the glittering golden ideal you’d envisioned, so stop putting pressure on yourself to be the perfect student you think you should be.
Reading lists are not exhaustive so stop panicking when it gets to mid-week and you haven’t read everything you thought you needed to. Read less but read better. Don’t be afraid to spend time thinking. Don’t be scared to experiment with new essay styles. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. Make the most of the amazing academic opportunities you worked so hard for. You spent the last four years jumping through GCSE and A level hoops – now is the time to think creatively again, to find what you’re studying exciting again. And don’t worry if you can’t get an essay in on time, your supervisors are more lenient than you think.
Have more fun. Don’t be afraid to go out one night due to the fear of being hungover the next day because, trust me, there are many more people at lectures hungover like you are (and that’s okay! Because having fun is okay!). And if you don’t want to go clubbing, take advantage of the other opportunities available to you. In second term you are going to see a really good play at the ADC, and you will enjoy the feeling of having had a night off work and leaving college, even if the theatre is only around the corner. Go to the Fitzwilliam Museum. Go to the Botanic Gardens. Join that band you want to join. Try football and rowing – no one is going to laugh at you for having a go so don’t let that fear prevent you from experiencing something new. Visit friends. Cook together. Spend less time worrying and more time relaxing. Don’t be afraid to prioritise your mental health. If you’re tired, don’t keep working. Sleep. If you’re anxious, don’t keep working. Find a way to calm down. If you’re down, don’t keep working. Take my advice – breathe, look around and worry a bit less.