So someone asked me what I wish I’d known in year thirteen. Of course there are many practical things that would have saved me expensive mistakes – managing money and learning to budget and save, learning to cook, making sure I was meeting the prerequisites for my chosen degree in year twelve and thirteen, asking for help when I need it, learning to reference and getting familiar with my classes and campus before class starts, and that having one consistent hobby outside of uni is one of the best things you can do.

But on a deeper level, here are some of the things I’ve learned since year thirteen which will hopefully make you look forward to university, especially if high school wasn’t your favourite time.

1 – Many of the things that mattered a lot then barely matter at all (this is great).

  • I found that my values changed and put more important things into focus. Living in a small town made it much easier to be absorbed in my own world. At university you are confronted with the worldviews of people – it is hard but necessary to rub against, and put yourself in the shoes of other people with centres of consciousness like our own, but different.

2 – Being new to something is a good thing  

  • It’s very easy to feel like you have nothing to contribute when you are only starting out in a discipline where there are so many experts. But remember that being novel to something others are experts in means you don’t have the same blind spots. You also bring a capacity for awe and wonder, and an open-mindedness others may not have.
  • I met a man who told me that his many mistakes were worth it, because they led to this conclusion: starting over from scratch isn’t a failure. The minute you’re too comfortable, you have to get out. He periodically started anew, moving to a new country, starting something he had no skills in, deliberately choosing what made him feel like a fish out of water. Being new to something is where there’s the most opportunity for learning.

3 –  First year or second year may not be representative of your university experience

  • Each semester brings a new tide of people in tutorials and classes. The more people you meet, and the more time goes by, the less shy people are and the more willing they are to get to know their cohort. Great friendships take time to build up, especially when they’re not forced. My best advice is to go to uni – the more you are seen around, the more you end up chatting very organically to your peers.

4 – New situations will force you to discover what you’re capable of

5 – You will fail by some measures and succeed by others

6 – Expose yourself to as much as you can throughout high school

  • This applies at all stages of life. Learning from your surroundings, paying attention to who is around you, who is absent from the table, and the sort of things that capture your interest will develop a good attitude to have at university, where being open-minded is the best thing you can do. Being closed-minded at university can shut off entire pathways for your life that you may have loved but will never find out about. (So it’s a good idea to go to all those classes!)

7 – Identity is not biography and whatever you’ve lived up until now won’t define who you are. University might not either.

8 – There are very formative experiences that give you a strong sense of self distinct from the group.

  • Often you will find yourself in tutorials, in group situations, or being asked what your opinion is instead of being expected to go with the group opinion, or you will have the opportunity to share and contribute from your very unique experiences.

Ask Plutarch

To sum things up with a little philosophy:

One of my favourite questions is explored by Plutarch’s thought experiment of Theseus. In this myth, Theseus’ ship is preserved as a living trophy for a thousand years. Each year, it re-enacted the victorious voyage. But over time the ship deteriorated. Its parts were replaced one by one until no original piece remained. Plutarch asks if it is the same ship.

The myth is meant to embody the question of whether a core sense of self can exist, when our physical and social environments can shape us beyond recognition. Each part of life tests us and we think of ourselves from a few years back and can barely find a common thread of what we’ve grown from. The myth asks us what it is to remain an ‘I’ in this world.

Ultimately, each sphere – high school, university, work, etc, tests us and replaces the old for better use. Looked at from another angle, I have a friend who said to me that staying true to yourself isn’t the point. It’s how you’re improving.