How to persevere despite feeling alone

by Annelise Mitchell February 13, 2016

How to persevere despite feeling alone

“I feel so stressed!”

“No one understands what I am going through. I feel so alone.”

I have felt this way, and know all too much how it feels, and it feels dreadful.

All throughout my early experience of university, especially in my first year. It was hard, and did at-times lead to feelings of despair, and sometimes, in my darkest hours, a grey-cloud of depression would waft over me.

There was so much pressure, but it was not only from the university (I was studying law and it was high-stakes, with very competitive fellow students and a tough adversarial system to contend with, I felt like I was out of my depth). It was also from family and friends.

Family would say that I should take it easy, and be happy with just any job, as long as I was getting paid. After all, they argued, money is a necessary evil and we must work to get as much of it as we can, and who cares if we are happy at work, we can be happy when we buy things. Definitely not a long lasting recipe for happiness!

Friends, or who I thought were my friends, would say, you shouldn’t put yourself through this, or university is only for really smart people, and definitely hinting that I was not in that smart camp!

I strove forward anyway, struggling along the way, but receiving guidance from some great teachers that I attribute to where I am today.

At the end of my first year, I re-evaluated, and decided that I was going to study what I loved, rather than what I believed would be the most prestigious, and law, at the time, was the going thing.

Once in my second year, I felt so much more confident, not only because I felt like I was where I belonged, but because I found some fellow travellers, students that were going through similar experiences.

They didn’t just stare at me and appear to be sympathetic, but did genuinely know what it felt like to be there. Not all, but as it is with life, there are diamonds in the rough, and I found some true diamonds.

Why does university cause this level of stress?

Something that is often not discussed for first year students is the struggle that they can go through when faced with such high expectations and so many counter-demands on their time. Most challenging of all, is the lack of support from family and/or friends.

Many students, because of feelings of isolation, feel the demands of study (and life) too great, and can give up, feeling they have no choice, and that they need more support to continue.

This is very normal, and is very much a result of the pressures that studying can provide – endless assessments, all with deadlines that seem impossible. Complicated task sheets that are difficult to interpret, and grades that tell us how (un)worthy we are. All these compound to make us feel even less worthy, needing someone out there to say, hey, I’ve been there, and more importantly, HERE IS WHAT I DID TO SURVIVE!

What did I do? And, what can you do now?

What kept me going (despite my mother laughing at me and saying that I was not going to succeed because I had given up on so many things in the past), was a feeling that if I didn’t keep going, I would die from regret.

A quote from Henry David Thoreau, although I didn’t know it at the time, sums up what I felt.

“Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”

There was a deep sense of foreboding within my soul, that that was not going to be me. Since you are reading this post, it is a feeling that you can no doubt relate with.

Although all of my family had no university education, and were quite happy working at Woolworths and McDonald’s, I knew I could not. I had many different jobs, all not lasting more than two years, because I would quickly become bored, and yearned to be doing something more challenging and fulfilling.

As soon as I entered the university arena, I felt like I had come home. I didn’t know the obstacles I would face, but the feeling that I was destined for something greater is what helped me steer through, despite the whisperings of family, and the strains caused by friends that were not really concerned with what I was going through.

If anything, your journey will tell you who has the ball in your court, or at least still loves you in the end.

Here is a list of things that I did to survive, and although we are all different, I believe we must have these attributes if we are to prevail.

  1. Find like-minded people – this is the most important, and I cannot emphasise this enough. Remember, most of all, there are people out there that think like you, no matter how unlikely that may seem. Thankfully, there are like-minded souls who can say, hey, I know, and guess what, it is all going to be okay.
  2. Believe everything will turn in your favour – there needs to be an element of wishful thinking, and I’m not talking about the new-age type, I am talking about that feeling that things will work out, just because life has that uncanny way of sorting things out.
  3. Focus on the goal but enjoy the journey – keep your eyes focused on the goal, and it must be big. Mine was become a great teacher to inspire my learners to become their very best selves, but also ensure that I enjoyed what I was learning. If you are studying something that you are genuinely not interested in, get out of that course right now, and enrol into something that you really want to know about, there is no other way!
  4. Ignore the naysayers – there are going to be people all along your journey who have succumbed to the age-old narrative that one just has to tolerate their lot in life. Let it not be you. Regardless of what people may say, we have a choice in which direction we go, and if we choose to believe that we must stay as we are, we will remain as we are. There is no fairy godmother who will save us, as much as we may wish there were. We can only save ourselves.

Bossy, I know, but in countless scenarios, I have never seen or heard of anyone maintaining their momentum doing something they don’t love, or at least like.

Despite the lack of support that we may feel at times, it will be the reasons for doing what we do that will pull us through. If we don’t have a big enough reason, then what people say, or do not say will hold the weight of mountains.

With a big enough reason, we can endure anyhow, support or no support.

If you liked this post on the third barrier to learning – our lack of social support, see my other posts in a 6-part series on the Barriers to Learning.

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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