Stress and the City

LUCY ALDOUS confronts her stress about life after Cambridge, and asks, was it all worth it?

Al Alvarez Bristol cloud coffee Dido Graduates job limited shades stress Sylvia Plath third year

The poet and writer Al Alvarez’s take on University life is as follows:

‘You get three years reading books, when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, and there’s no pressure on you’.

And I can’t help but think…Cambridge in 2010…no pressure? No way.

I don’t know about you, but I feel pressure on me all the time here, and I’m positive that I’m not the only one who has ever desperately wondered: ‘Is it worth it?’  Your average Cambridge student seems to direct more plays, sit on more committees, play more sports, sing more, dance more, write more and generally DO more than any other student in the UK. And I wonder what it is that really motivates that crazy individual each year to take on the task of organizing a May Ball, or running for JCR President? Why do we all feel this need to do just a little bit more when we are trying to also succeed at some of the hardest degrees in the UK?

 ‘A lot of time at University is spend schmoozing and drinking coffee, and finding out about other people, about who you are and what you want’. (Alvarez)

Schmoozing, check. Coffee, check.  People, yes… But, ‘Who you are and what you want’.  Do you feel like Cambridge has taught you this? Yes, a degree from Cambridge has certainly given you the leg up you might have wanted into the world of employment.  Most of us will be able to walk right out of here and up to the doors of the nearest Bank or Consultancy firm if we really want, but I can’t help but feel that in Lent term of my third year at Cambridge I still haven’t really worked out who I am or what I want.  When I was in sixth form I wanted to go to Cambridge, and I did.  But now I’m here, what do I want to do next?  Was it worth it? Could I have gone to Bristol and really found myself, you know? Been happier, been a bit less stressed, suffered fewer mental breakdowns?

Here’s Sylvia Plath on the tricky matter of happiness:
‘I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.’

WANT.  You should want to be rich, and pretty, and in the best drinking societies, on the most committees, playing the most sports and getting the highest firsts; this is what Cambridge teaches us.  Very rarely do we stop to appreciate the things which make us the most happy, the people around us, the places we go and the things we see.  Milton finished his time here and wrote Paradise Lost, Darwin The Origin of the Species and Marlowe Dido, Queen of Carthage; I don’t think these people worried too much about how many times they did the ‘double Cindies’ or how many networking opportunities they could cram into each day.

More graduates than ever are unemployed.  40,000 graduates from 2009 are without work at the moment and the figure is set to be sizeable again this year.  And more than ever we are being forced to question the real value of our degree.  I want to argue (and I don’t feel like I have very coherently thus far) that it is the richness, diversity and the ‘mental and physical experiences’ available to us at University which are ‘worth it’ without a doubt.  As tuition fees rise and the more unfortunate than ourselves are squeezed out of Higher Education, we should all take a moment to realise how lucky we are to be here.

I asked a group of my third year chums whether the late nights, coffee addictions and random tearful moments in the library during exam term had all been worth it.  The result? 100% YES.  We will have a degree from the UK’s second best university (Times Good Univeristy Guide 2010), we’ve done so much, we’ve come so far and, hopefully, we’ve had a bloody good time along the way.

So, without sounding preachy I’d like to suggest a few New Year’s Resolutions (a bit late) for all those 3rd years stressing about their city lives ahead. Perhaps for now it’s best to just drink a little more, dance a lot, maybe even miss a lecture or two.  And most importantly, have fun.  I hate this dark cloud which descends over Cambridge each year while everyone tries to figure out which path in life will get them the furthest the quickest.  Sometimes it really is about the journey.  And the journey is definitely worth it.