I put my pen down and closed my book, my hand cramping after cramming as much information as I could within the allotted 4 hour time period. I packed up my highlighters, my pencil and spare pen which were strewn across my desk and quietly pushed my chair out against the wooden floor. I walked to the front of the class and handed in my four exam books to the invigilator, I signed my name off on the list, picked up my bag and walked out closing the door gently behind me.
30th October 2015, 1:00pm. I was finished. Done. 13 years of school and studies and I was finally finished. I had imagined what this moment would feel like for months prior, how free I would feel, how relieved I would be. Every minute when I was behind my desk with my blinds drawn and my windows closed in an attempt to block out the sunlight and horrid cries of joy coming from the kids outside, those free little buggers squealing with happiness as they walked down to the beach, the stench of freedom wafting in underneath my sliding door, but there I was feeling sorry for myself studying and stressing about whether or not I knew enough to get by in my final exam. I would reward myself for daydreaming every 15 minutes by taking a cheeky glance at my phone. It felt like every Instagram post that I saw was of girls traveling the far corners of the globe, every YouTube video I watched was of my friends having the best time and I would think ‘soon that will be me’. And soon it was me, but like most moments that we replay over and over again in our minds, the moment didn’t quite go as anticipated.
I sat outside the exam venue waiting for the rest of my friends to finish so that we could all furiously compare our answers and talk about how crap the paper was. Slowly, everyone started drifting out the venue with a few hints of smiles and a few faces close to tears. I had pictured how we would all hug each other and scream with joy, but instead we all stood in stunned silence with the occasional, ‘guys, we’re finished studying forever’, being muttered before swiftly heading over to the nearby bar for 2 for 1 cocktails. I don’t want to downplay the moment, I felt great because after all it was a momentous occasion for myself and my peers but I was proud & I was scared, I was happy and I was sad but most of all I was excited for what was next.
I’ve always enjoyed school and university. I’ve always been able to put my head down and work when I needed to, often very close to a deadline and somehow always get it done on time and done well. For those of you who don’t know my fairly recent studying history, let me quickly fill you in. After I finished my final year of studying in an all-girls school in Cape Town, I packed up my suitcase and left to go on a gap year to work at a boarding school in England in the hopes of being able to clear my head and decide on what I wanted to study when I returned back home, but when December came and I had to board the plane, I was even more confused than when I left. In January 2012 I started my first year of my undergraduate degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Psychology and Environmental & Geographical Sciences, two subjects which deeply interested me however I had little desire of pursuing either as a career. After a pretty great three years of university, I found myself being called up in front of a sea of people receiving a rolled up piece of paper and a handshake, which meant that I had graduated. I might have been a graduate but I was still confused.
I had had enough of studying by this stage but found myself in a bit of an awkward position. I was in a cross-roads between taking the year off and attempting to get things going on the traveling side of things, however if I found that that wasn’t my thing, I didn’t really have much of a back-up plan to fall onto. I knew that studying an extra year after traveling would not be an option and in South Africa, qualifications are sought after in the business world, of which my current degree didn’t look very promising especially as I didn’t want to pursue it. I tried to persuade my parents to let me travel and do my own thing, however was strongly ‘advised’ to look into completing an honours degree in branding, something which realistically seemed to be a lot closer to the line of work that I wanted to head into.
After dreading the start of this year, I was picturing how this would be the worst year of my life, hindering and pulling me away from my ideas of traveling the globe. The year got off to a slow start and although my class mates were awesome, I had a very negative attitude towards my course and the rest of the year. Before I knew it, I was into the second semester of my studies and we jumped head on into something called brand challenge, whereby you are allocated a team of 8 or so students mixed from second year to honours and each group gets a brief from a brand to work on over a period of 5 weeks, after which each team then delivers back to the brand. I absolutely thrived in this competitive environment and although it was long hours spent indoors, meeting harsh deadlines, getting up before the sun rose and getting home after it set, I loved it. Slowly my perspective changed and I realised how my negative attitude had caused me to be closed-minded and stubborn, instead of embracing this wonderful opportunity. The rest of the second semester went well and before I knew it I was walking out of that exam venue door, a scene that I had imagined for the duration of the year.
On the drive home I was in high spirits jamming and jiving in my car, tunes blaring, singing out loud, cracking a little boogie in the driver’s seat and feeling larger than life. I got home and my parents were there as always waiting with wide grins and open arms and a whole lot of head pats. Without these two magical beings nudging, supporting and catching me when things got unsteady, I most definitely would not be where I am. After a celebratory dinner with my family I headed home for my first night of unemployment. Naturally, I watched David Attenborough’s ‘Madagascar’ documentary which inspired me more than ever to go and seek out tales and sights from nature. But as I lay in bed that night, my head was spinning and my thoughts kept taking me back to: ‘What now?’.
That’s the scariest thought of them all, what do I do now? What’s the next step? I was already stressing about my depressing bank balance which I could no longer blame on ‘being a student’, the most satisfying excuse of them all and I was stressing about my lack of plans. But this is what I had dreamed of for so long wasn’t it? This new found freedom is awesome I won’t lie, it means that I can finally sit down without any distractions and plan my travels and my future content which is what I am incredibly excited for.
But I guess in a very roundabout and indirect way, what I am trying to say is don’t wish away the different phases of your life no matter how green you think the grass is on the other side, always be in the moment and use the future as a way of striving to succeed to get you closer as opposed to a hindrance or distraction. Use it as motivation, as a source of power and energy to make you work harder so that you can attain your future goals and most importantly, stop and take it all in. I’m usually very good with being able to stop myself and take life in, but during the first half of this year I was so determined on what my life would be like after I finished my studies that I didn’t stop once to realise how lucky I am to be surrounded by friends that have my back no matter what, I have a privileged life and I live in a beautiful place surrounded by ocean to allowed me to pursue my greatest passion being surfing and on top of that all, I had an amazing opportunity regarding attaining an honours degree.
But now my friends it must be said that I am extremely stoked to close that amazing chapter of my life and begin scribbling down the first few pages of my new chapter, of which I have no idea what it entails. For those of you still studying, don’t be jealous of mine, or Ben’s or anyone else’s life because like you we worked to get we are in life, like you I sat behind my desk wishing to be somewhere else when scrolling through social media, but my advice would be to rather use this content as motivation to work harder at what you’re doing instead of wishing you were elsewhere, because trust me, sitting behind your desk taking in vital knowledge is not the worst thing in the world. In fact it is great, it is an opportunity some people can only dream of and the world needs you, we need you, to keep on learning 🙂