Growing up, I never wanted to go to university. At first the idea terrified me. Choosing your own classes? Making new friends with strangers? Referencing? What even is referencing?!!!
A lot of these insecurities melted away as I got older, but the core of the issue still stood: I didn’t want to go to university.
But you would never have known this if you had seen me at school. I was studious. I was Hermione Granger 2.0. My motto was: Well, if I have to be here, then I might as well make it count. And I did. I picked subjects I was passionate about and my hard work nearly always paid off. From the outside I looked like the perfect candidate for uni. Except, of course, that I had no interest in going.
I knew from young that I wanted to write. Stories were my safe haven. I was always creating characters and watching scenarios play out in my head. But I was told by numerous adults that writing wasn’t a ‘proper job’ and that I should get a degree and write on the side. I heard this so often that I started to go along with it.
In 2015 I was accepted into what I thought was my dream uni. I cried in the newsagents when I found out. I had originally wanted to take a gap year but this was my DREAM UNI, so I decided to go for it.
I deferred after four weeks.
I took the year off. I didn’t travel as I had intended. I hardly worked. I had a constant feeling of guilt in the pit of my stomach.
You’re not at uni?
You’re not working?
What are you going to do?
I started to write. Here was my shot. (Insert Hamilton joke here.) I had an idea and wrote about 2,000 words. It flopped. I had another idea and was a bit more dedicated to it. I wrote 20,000 words before moving on again. The third time was a charm. I had my idea and I stuck with it. I wrote 60,000 words. It had a beginning, a middle, an end. I had accomplished a life-long goal. I had written a novel.
Now it was time to get serious. I had to go back to uni. Why? Because everyone else wanted me to, duh. I applied for some of the best creative writing courses. I got an interview for my first pick and was accepted. Even though I still didn’t want to go to uni, at least I would be studying something I was passionate about.
I lasted seven weeks—and they were the most miserable seven weeks of my life. I would wake up, and cry. Get ready for uni, and cry. Sit on the train, and cry. The course was great, the people were great. The concept of uni—of doing something I knew deep down wasn’t right for me—was awful. So I left. And this time, I wasn’t going back.
I went back to my novel. I restructured it and fleshed it out. Then I set about re-writing. I set myself harder deadlines. I became stricter with my time. I established ‘working hours’ and discovered the joy of turning off my phone to eliminate that distraction. I found my flow as a writer and also my confidence. It wasn’t all fun and games but my passion for storytelling blossomed. I knew what I wanted to do and better yet; I was doing it.
It has taken me two years to get over the guilt of not going to uni. I used to dread occasions where I would have to explain to people that I wasn’t at uni and that I wasn’t intending on going back.
“Why do you sound so guilty?” one lovely woman once asked me after I explained that I wasn’t at uni. “You don’t have to feel guilty about it.”
She was the first person to point this out to me—to assure me that what I was doing was perfectly okay. It opened my eyes. I now don’t sound ashamed when I tell people I’m not at uni. I’m proud of my accomplishments, despite the judgement passed by others.
Just the other day someone asked me what I was up to and if I was ‘keeping busy’. I smiled politely and said yes, explaining a little about my book. It was then that I realised: not being at uni is equivalent to not being busy. If I’m not working towards a degree then apparently I’m not working towards anything.
It’s frustrating having to justify not being at uni. But at the end of the day the only person who has to live with me, is me. And like that kind woman told me all those months ago; there is no reason for me to feel guilty for my choices.
Maybe I’ll go to uni one day. I don’t know how I’ll feel about it in ten years time. But at the moment I am happier than I have been in years, and it’s because I’m doing what I love—with absolutely no regrets.