By JESSICA LAZARUK
Telling university students that their time in university is the easiest time of their lives is like telling high school students that they should wait for real life to start. Both statements are disrespectful, condescending, and wildly inaccurate.
Young people in school, those in high school and university, are constantly told by everyone that knows they are in school, that their current life stage is the easiest their life is ever going to get. They are told that it must be nice to freeload off of their parents because if you’re living at home, your parents cook three square meals a day for you and do your laundry. They are told that nothing is actually as hard as they say it is and they just need to get to work.
Finally, my personal favourite, they’re told that they should just wait for real life to start. Now I understand that people who make such statements may not know what it is like to be in university or finish high school, or they may have just forgotten. So let me take this opportunity to educate you on why all of the above statements, should never be spoken again.
What is this mythical real life that all young people in school are supposed to wait for? Well, life is the constant battle between balancing your desires and your responsibilities. It’s about working towards goals like wanting to go on vacation. Then worrying about money, and trying to figure out how many hours you need to work to afford your vacation. It’s about being excited about your new promotion and then learning that your promotion bumps you into the next tax bracket, so you are actually making more money but get to take less of it home with you. It’s about wanting to exercise, eat well, sleep eight hours a night, go out with friends, and still keep the house clean, finish laundry, and water the plants. It’s difficult. Every life stage has challenges, and just because someone faces different challenges than you, in a different stage of life, doesn’t make their problems less challenging. It’s simply a different kind of difficult.
When you’re in high school, you constantly battle to balance what you want to do, and what you have to do. You strive to graduate in June and go on with your life. To do that you have to make choices. For example, you want to take chemistry, but you have to take a second math course because you need it as a prerequisite for a university class. You want to just focus on school work and volunteering for school groups, but you have to work at least 20 hours a week to save for university or trade school. You want to go out with friends, but you have to pull an 80% minimum in French class to get a scholarship, so you stay in and study.
When you’re in university every day is a battle to balance your desires and your responsibilities except the stakes are higher because everything costs you money: courses, books, supplies, parking passes, bus passes, etc. You strive to graduate with a degree that will get you a job which pays more than minimum wage. To get there, you make a series of decisions. You want to take a course with your friend, but you have to figure out which courses you need for your degree. You might find it easier to just focus on school for eight months and then work in the summer but can you actually afford to do that? If you can – great, but if not, how much will your grades slip if you work 20 hours a week with a full course load? You want to go out with friends when classes are done, but if you are writing three finals in a 36-hour span, it’s probably better to study.
Young people in school understand, to a daunting degree, how the decisions they make today affect their future. They get that choosing the wrong courses this semester can lengthen their degree, costing them in time and money. They know that if they don’t like the courses in their degree, they will be unhappy in a job for their entire career. They understand that spending money on a car now means not moving out for a few years because they simply can’t work enough to afford it.
The issue is not whether young people in school are making the right or wrong choices or if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing in their current life stage. The issue is the disrespect, condescension, and ignorance shown by people who aren’t young people in school, towards those who are. Young people in school are doing the best they can to be productive members of society. It is difficult to do that when everyone tells them that it is supposed to be easy. It belittles the stress and frustration young people have when jumping through the hoops institutions, like universities, lay out for them.
It’s not all bad being a young person in school. Sometimes you get to take courses you care about, make memories with friends that you will one day tell your kids about, and meet all sorts of people in the many jobs you take on to pay for your life. It can be a joyous time, the best time of your life I’m told. However, the challenges are real, and when those challenges are acknowledged by others, they don’t seem so daunting because you see that others have survived them. When others deny them, well, that’s a whole other story.
Next time you feel the urge to tell young people in school that their current stage of life is the easiest it’s ever going to get, remember this article, and acknowledge their challenges as opposed to bashing them.
Jessica Lazaruk is a co-op student at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business, majoring in Marketing and Leadership & Organizations.