6 Thoughts on School in the 6ix

Like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, exiting in-person day-to-day was far easier than returning.

My first year was simultaneously my first time really living on my own and getting back to a somewhat pre-pandemic style of living.

Gone were the days of cherry-picking when and with whom I would schedule catchups over Zoom. Instead, I found myself back in the throes of “normal life” — one filled with serendipitous encounters every time I left my apartment.

I left my apartment for everything.

Needed breakfast? Out the door.

Class? Don’t forget your glasses.

Out of coffee? Starbucks closes at 8 pm, better hurry (and boy, did I always hurry).

I had grown so used to living in a stockpile of things at home, something of a miniature Costco, that treating my apartment like a place where all I did was spend the night was both exciting and exhausting. It felt almost like booking a trip and picking the simplest hotel because you knew you’d spend only your nights there and the rest of your time out exploring, learning, and meeting people.

Suffice it to say, first year taught me a lot about myself and clarified for me why I chose to be at uni. Below are six of my observations from it all:

1. Maslow Was Right

One of the first “models” I learned in high school was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Wants. If you haven’t heard about it, the pyramid suggests our needs and wants, where each need/want can only be achieved if the ones before it have been achieved.

For example, you can’t fulfill your safety needs without first fulfilling your physiological needs.

Going to a university and entering a program where I knew no one taught me one thing very quickly -that I couldn’t expect to continue to be “self-actualized” or even be operating at the same level of productivity, happiness etc. without first building a support system.

It irked me that it took me so long to adjust — why couldn’t I just go back to doing well at school, working on side projects, taking care of myself, and making time for deepening relationships?

In hindsight, it’s probably because I hadn’t yet quite figured out how to continue to fulfill my belongingness needs with my entire support system suddenly scattered across the continent.

I wish I had cut myself some slack for taking the time to adjust and build a new circle — including adapting how I kept in touch with those who meant a lot to me but were now far away.

TLDR; building a support system in a new environment (i.e., uni) is essential to continue being the super-powered human that you are.

2. Learning 9 to 5

Oh, the difference campus-style makes!

I go to a university that has an open campus, meaning school-affiliated buildings and libraries are all built into the core of the city (I literally lived across the office of one of the Big Four).

The more I grew accustomed to city life, the more I realized how much it felt like a foray into “the real world” — that is, one not prescribed by the four walls of a closed campus.

Going to school in the city made it feel like I was living in an apartment downtown and “going to school 9 to 5” instead of a job — it felt like “practice conventional adulthood.”

Visiting friends and seeing some closed campuses this year really marked the difference between the two styles. The sense of community is different because the scope is so different. A closed campus definitely wins out on the “tight-knit” vibes.

I’ve grown to love “learning 9 to 5” and living the city school life — it keeps things exciting. The subway has become a second home, everything is open late, and there’s so much to explore.

People in industry and research that I admire are often passing through so living in the city allows me to meet them at a moment’s notice.

Some closed campus environments can feel a bit like high school — protected, small, and cozy. Personally, I’ve grown to love the open campus — though I do understand the appeal of the other.

3. Solo Dating

Doing things on your own feels like unlocking a hidden chest of toys; there are far too many things that you can enjoy on your own for you not to make time to explore them.

For me, this looked like going to a new café each month or reading a book by the lake.

It’s a tiny shift in behaviour, but, I think, profound.

Young adulthood is the time to nourish and develop relationships, yes, but also to discover who you are when you’re alone and in different contexts.

4. Peek Behind the Curtain

People want to connect and bond and experience things with you.

Not everyone will take action to make those things happen.

Maybe you’re one of those people who wait for other people to ask you to do things.

All I’ll say about this is that my most memorable moments and experiences from the past year happened because I initiated them.

Being nonchalant is lame. Show people, and the world, that you care.

Text the friend, go to the office hour, book the ticket. Life is too short not to.

5. Lift Imaginary Weights

Meditation is learning to control your thoughts. I have been meditating for about three years now.

Here are some questions/phrases that I found to be effective mental slaps in the face for me during the school year:

“Things could always be worse.” → counterintuitive but has helped me get to a really great baseline of near-constant gratitude

“What can I learn from this?” → especially helpful in contexts where something causes anxiety. I like to ask this as a means of figuring out what the hidden insecurity is

“Did I ask, or am I waiting to be asked?” → similar to the previous point about initiating things — if you ever find yourself feeling isolated or behind or overwhelmed, take a step back and notice whether you actually did anything to fix it, or if you just thought yourself into a hole

6. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes

This one has been the biggest game-changer for me as of late.

This is taking the “be the main character” mentality to the next level.

Life comes and goes in seasons.

Like a TV show.

The cast changes, the plotline changes, the main antagonist changes, the level of self-awareness changes etc.

The bottom line is that impermanence can be extremely comforting. Good times will pass, but so will tough times.

Learning to appreciate relationships and experiences and moments as they come frees you from expecting what will inevitably change, either for better or worse, to remain the same.

The beauty of it is that your show continues regardless of if it has a bad season (…the punchline to my heading here is that it is immune to bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes)

The cast, plotline, and setting all change — and so do you.

Autonomy can be a daunting pill to swallow — but a necessary one.

When you accept being in the driver’s seat, you open yourself up to taking responsibility for crashing — but also for deciding where you’re headed.

Let’s connect

Thanks for reading! I’m always down for a coffee chat — feel free to connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn :)

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Ruhani Walia

Ruhani Walia

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econ + statsci lover, curious writer, learner and emerging tech enthusiast.