Looking back, I often compare my time at university with how young people of the same age in the 1800s most likely spent theirs; walking back from the market, hunched, carrying big bags of potatoes on their backs to their mothers. By now, you can probably deduce how much fun I had. I didn't carry a bag stuffed with books to college every day but, when I came home and could kick it into a corner, it did feel like I was throwing off a large bag of potatoes. Little did I know that that extra weight was just a heavy load of expectations. And like a bag with a hole in it, it took some time, but the inside managed to ooze out in the end. It took no more than four to five months, after receiving my titles in a kind of sad ceremony, to shed all those expectations that I had harbored during my studies.
There were those that had set into my mind due to some recurring remark by members of my family. An aunt would ask me: “What are your options after graduating?” or “you must want to do this or that after college, now that you’ve studied so hard for it”. Actually I never studied hard. Like a true member of my generation; highly critical and a free thinker, I classified the teachers and what they were trying to tell us into some low category. I spent more time thinking about which would be the best moment to shave that week than about some dogmatic article they made me read. When teachers show their political preferences, when you can sense where they are on the spectrum, when they cannot contribute to your knowledge without giving a side remark you don’t really care about, they end up giving you that feeling a flat tire gives you: a moment of annoyance, then resignation.
Other expectations came out of what I found cool, because I probably saw it in a movie and thought it would suit me, that it would give me status, or women, or lots of money. I see it with my friends, many of whom take it slow and don’t study very hard: they don’t know what the hell they are doing, or what they are doing it for. But, like that heavy bag I was carrying through college, they are stressed out because of the same expectations. From inside the bubble of college, you can look at what is outside, you can touch it, live it through the stories of others more settled and aware than you. But you cannot experience it in the way that would help my friends the best; trying something and loving it, without the expectations that encircle your brain during college, like seagulls that hover around fishing boats.
The sight of young children or even people that are only a couple of years younger than me often gives me a feeling that is a little bit sad. I imagine their futures, and my own past. The road of life can be quite hard, and it is a single lane road. You have to walk it by yourself. Getting older and wiser comes with overcoming hurdles and setbacks. It comes with giving up or changing expectations along the way and shaking off bad and negative influences in your life. The shell that is you gets thinner and thinner, until what you are left with is the real you, when you finally find that which will make you happy. Having found that, you lose at least three other shells. Most likely, you acquired these during college, and they have encircled you for years, shooting their little missiles at you.
After college, that is when your life starts. Or so they say. For me, it felt like I was floating around in the universe like some smashed Russian satellite; a whole lot of emptiness, quite black, quite bleak, with little glimmers of hope far, far away. You could see them, sense them beaming at you from a distance, but could not imagine how long it would take to get there, how to get there, or if that little star could be the right one. Maybe another one would suit you better? Should I move in this direction, or is there more hope around that corner, beyond that giant black hole which is your booze vacation to the Spanish coast? Although I did not actually go to the Spanish coast, as I am more of a city tripper, and with tripping I don’t mean doing lots of drugs, because that is just the Dutch expression.
I did manage to reach a couple of those stars, but that whole journey caused me a lot of headaches. It took a long time and I put way more effort into it than I realized was necessary, compounded by the fact that upon arrival it was not what I expected. The wrong star, the wrong direction, go find another. I did this a few times, until those engines that were pushing me ran out of fuel. I ran out of energy and ideas. I was floating around, doing nothing and achieving nothing.
Having been there and done that, the advice that I can give to those that will experience the same, those that stand in line behind me, is this: latch on to something. In space-talk: a rocket, preferably a highly sophisticated one, like one from Nasa. That would give you the biggest chance of arriving at your point of destination. I found mine eventually because I never gave up. And I was lucky. But that luck was well deserved.