By the end of the university year, I was entirely burnt out: not sure what I was doing, why I was doing it, and whether I had any purpose other than chasing deadlines for a degree I didn’t think I was good enough for. I sought something to console the lost feeling I had adopted over the year, and while the expected reassurance from my parents was certainly appreciated, I found the most relief in a 12 minute speech by the comedian and artist Tim Minchin. He managed to sum up the pressures put on us lazy, blessed, but increasingly stressed students with a charming and intelligent wit, changing my entire outlook on how I had begun to view my university years. With second year and all that comes with university life just on the doorstop, I thought it a good time to remind myself of his “9 Rules to Live By” and why they are so universally applicable.
1. You don’t have to have a dream
When I was at school, the HR department, prone to overspending, began a campaign titled ‘What’s your spark’, which the Head led vigorously. ‘Everyone has a spark’, she declared, while I sat hunched in morning assembly, thinking - “Fuck, what on earth is mine.” I enjoyed school, especially my chosen subjects, and in sixth form I would go as far as saying I was a little bit fascinated by the world and what it had to offer. Oh, how naive I was to believe that such a stance was enough to get me through UCAS meetings and council interviews. What is my spark, I heard again and again, my dream? Hindsight has led me to believe that this vehicle of propaganda, that we all have a spark, is actually quite a dangerous and pressurising philosophy. How are we supposed to know what our life purpose is when we have hardly lived? If anything, surely it would lead you to make more of the wrong choices in order to prove this ‘spark’ we are adamantly demanded of. How many times have you been asked at a family dinner what the ‘plan’ is after university, nonchalantly, as if an answer was carefully prepared for you years ago. This is where Tim slides in with a soothing sigh - ‘Most of those who have their life sorted by 20 are having their midlife crises now. You don’t have to have a dream.’
2. Don’t seek happiness
This is definitely one of my favourite quotes from Minchin’s speech: ‘Don’t seek happiness. Like an orgasm, if you think about it too much it goes away.’ This is so, so relatable when all we ever hear is how our university years are the best years of our life, and how everything after will crumble and burn. Yep, fair enough, being surrounded by your pals in a new and perpetually exciting city can be the best thing ever; and I often think to myself, wow - I’m so very lucky. Equally, there are times when you’re scared - not just because of your ridiculous antics the night before, but because you know that in a few years you will not be protected by the Meadows bubble. The future is frightening and forever moving closer, but this isn’t a lazy limbo stage (if we don’t make so). From Minchin’s point of view, we should take every day as it comes on this crazy thing that is life - sometimes we’re happy, sometimes we’re crying in a onesie with some Ben and Jerry’s you definitely can’t afford - and that’s okay too.
3. Define yourself by what you love
We all do it - bond over things, ideas, even people that we mutually dislike. It’s often a fun way to get to know one another, and definitely not the worst byproduct of social norms. However, Minchin points out the ‘sub-culture’ where we define ourselves in opposition to something, rather than in favour. It’s an incentive for the growth of negativity, and in a world where no one can remember anything positive ever said on the 10 o’clock news, that’s not quite a constructive growth. While it’s fun to complain and absolutely necessary to criticise lying politicians or the behaviour of a certain reality TV star, it’s much more important and worthwhile to spend that time celebrating something you love instead. It’s undeniably infectious, and chances are you’ll find someone (a love interest, a best friend, even your ex’s grandma) who loves what you do too. It’s vital that in our university years and beyond we surround ourselves with positive people, those that will help us into the people we want to be. So, essentially, let’s be pro-stuff! (Most of the time.)
These were my favourite 3 rules, but Minchin speaks of 6 other significant things to remember: the inverse correlation between exercise and depression, the importance of teaching, and the inherent gratitude we should feel for being in the position of university students, to name a few. Principally, life is long and tiring - making it impossible to feel content all the time. Instead, we must aim to fill it with the things and people we love, and that’s all we can really do.
*Illustration by Phoebe Langham*