10 Lies College Tells You Before You Even Get There

College. There’s just nothing quite like it. You’re probably never going to have another four or so years with the same liberation, the same shoulder-shrug attitude to life. Eating cold pizza, passing out on your friend’s couch, forgetting arguably most of what you went there to learn. Ya….college….definitely just like the movies.

I’ve decided to write this blog to continue pumping the vein of my recent content. Why? Well, partly because I have the luxury/benefit/fear of being on the other side, staring back at my undergrad with an unwelcome hindsight. And if I’ve learned anything from my time on the gridiron, it’s that at first, most people really don’t know what they’re doing, then they think they know what they’re doing, then a year further on they wake up six weeks late to a lecture in someone else’s jeans and finally, they admit to themselves.

In college, nobody knows what they’re doing.

Perhaps the whole thing would run a lot smoother if we didn’t have so many damn preconceptions. Movies, television, friends. They all sell us a different college experience, most of them only half-shadows of the reality. But not all half-shadows are made the same; some fake news just sells better than others.

Here are the top 10 things I wish I’d never been told about college.

1. SUSI, be grand

This of course only applies to the Irish experience, but every country shares in the misery, the sad realisation that college, in fact, costs 1 x arm and 1 x leg.

You’d be forgiven for thinking you could do it all on the cheap. “Student Discount,” they said, waving fliers and free pens and a half-box of caramel Freddos. But in a world where that same chocolate now requires a tracker mortgage, you just can’t do college on a dime anymore.

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Outside of the obvious costs of fees, accommodation, travel and your course itself, the day-to-day expenses are what really grab you, stab you repeatedly in the stomach and mutter “For the Watch” under their breath (seriously, if you don’t want Game of Thrones spoilers, get on out of here!) A cup of coffee might cost you a kidney, a lunch out could do you for a heart, and a night out?

Have you got, like, a twin?

2. Everything from the course is relevant

If working a job in your relevant field during your degree does anything, it’s to remind you that, career-dependent, very little if any of your theory might be relevant. Most students quickly realise that literally no future employer ever is going to swing round the door of their office and say, “Hey Mike, can I get Maslow’s Pyramids of Needs on my desk by lunch? Thanks buddy. You know, you really are the mitochondria of this place. What’s a mitochondria?” *Grabs by the face* “IT’S THE POWERHOUSE OF THE CELL”.

*Cough* Ahem.

Sadly, other students aren’t exposed to the working world until, well, they leave college itself. And it’s only then, facing a swarm of angry customers, that they back into a corner, shaking, tears streaming down their face.

“Pluzz, just form a normal distribution.”

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3. Nothing from the course is relevant

On the flip side, some students prefer the cavalier approach of announcing from the very first lecture “Haha, but in the real world x is y not z. Who needs z?” You’ll probably notice they also talk a big game about “making connections” and “engaging with real businesses” (they may forget to mention their parents own one, two, maybe twenty of those same businesses).

Of course, they encourage you to have the same attitude, to just rock up to the roundabout of life in third gear in the wrong lane with no signal and oh God what’s that behind the wheel, is that a baby?

*Cough* Ahem.

Some 9 to 5’s actually share a good deal of crossover with their college counterparts, and while there’s always that one story of “that fella who never hires people who got 1.1s”, it stands to reason to not throw your grades off a cliff just because it’s funny to hear them scream on the way down.

4. The food is great

When I first stepped into college, I kinda imagined it would be a bit like Zoey 101, maybe just fewer scooters and without the same GREAT theme tune.

Unfortunately, I quickly learned that they didn’t have dacent sushi bars or foot golf or even that weird energy drink I’d been looking forward to. Instead, we kinda just got stuck with this weird alt-reality where all food came in roll format. Breakfast? Roll. Sausage? Roll. Chicken? *checks chart* Roll.

And at some point I realised that there was probably an Italian man sitting in the mountains above Milan, sipping wine at the pool, counting stacks of Pasta money.

“Ah Irish students, you make-a-me so happy.”

Is that racist? No, it’s Mario Kart. Mario Kart can’t be racist.

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5. The parties are awesome!

If I was let down by the food, then oh dear was I let down by the parties. That’s not to say those four years didn’t see memorable moments, but most weren’t the college dorm ragers I’d imagined. Often, they were nothing more than a few friends, five or six souls sharing a drink in the corner of a bar. A few close hearts wandering the empty backstreets or spread out under the stars, laughing at a joke they couldn’t remember. They certainly weren’t red cups and breakdancing and people swinging from the chandelier while Fallout Boy played in the kitchen.

The [insert college party at classmate’s house here] actually wore on me fairly fast. I’m probably an exception, but I think everyone would agree there comes a point three hours into the night where suddenly, collapsed in a chair, the walls start to look odd and you half-feel Stephen King is about to write you into a horror story. Everything in the house that’s supposed to have legs (chairs, tables, that room-mate who studies med) doesn’t while everything that shouldn’t just gets up and crawls off half way through the night.

You sort of transition from hearing the music to feeling it in your head to tasting it at the end of your drink.

*Spits* “Ughh. Why does Avicii taste like mouthwashed motor oil?”

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6. Study is easy. College is easy

I think after Leaving Cert most students feel they’ll never sit a real exam again. Just college ones. LOL. Hand me my A, teach!

Sadly, Leaving Cert sells you a lie. It promises you a world where there’s a limit, where you just have to learn to a certain point and then just hand it all back. In college, there’s no defined limit, just this vague space filled with a lecturer’s voice on repeat.

*Echoes* “How long is an essay? Well, how long is a piece of string?”

College correctors act as though nobody has anything better to do than to wait for Murray et al to drop their fire new lit review 2017. Reference something from over 5 years ago and you might as well hand up cave drawings in support of your answer. Give ’em anything not double-spaced and they’ll look at you as though you just tried to sacrifice them to the flames.

The harsh truth is that most people try for half the first term, give up for most of the middle, and then rush it all in at the end.

That’s weird. I just had this random urge to write the word Arsenal. Anyway.

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7. I’m going to make so many friends!

This is sadly the saddest of all sads that one learns through college. We all pass through those doors thinking we’ve just inherited a fortune. A fortune of FRIENDS that is.

*Sigh* I digress.

Most people I know agree that you definitely make friends, lots of them even, but they’re all just really hard to define. Some are lifelong, others are temporary, and some just sort of hang around long after their expiration date which, to be fair, is very college-esque of them. You could rename college “Acquaintance Land” and very few people would know the difference. Not that acquaintances are a bad thing, but for those who want more, you really just don’t have the time to sincerely commit yourself to 200 people. In fact, it’s not fair on you or those people to try. Choices will have to be made, but with luck, you’ll filter out the racists and the maybe-serial-killers and the ones who won’t participate in pizza at 3 am. Which brings me to my last point.

8. Participate

This is as true about life as it is about college. We’re all sold the idea that people just want to get involved, that they’re on the verge of it, that any moment now there’ll be a coffee morning or a flash mob. In reality, there is Netflix, and tea, and bed. Participating in anything at all requires effort, energy that could be better spent at home enjoying blankets and chocolate and Season 2 of Suits.

But the great thing is that sometimes you can share a pizza  buy two pizzas.

And that in itself is why it doesn’t matter what they tell you about college.

Because nobody talks to you about the times they fell asleep at house parties and missed the night out, or the times they slammed their head on the table in the library, or the times they just sat in a corner of college and watched the other people drift by. Because you just can’t sell those things.

And that makes me glad.

Because you can’t put a price on them either.

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. I lied, number 9 and 10 did not exist.

6 Things Learned After 6 Months Graduated

If you, like me, are recently graduated and work a 5-day week, you may find yourself spending Friday nights in the corner of the local, hand wrapped around a pint, looking for solace at the end of the glass. That sentiment might sound a tad worrying, maybe even a little problematic, especially if one night lasts a whole weekend. But it’s a ritual some adhere to all the same. Next time you find yourself there, take a sip of your drink and steal a quick glance around you. You may realise you’re not the only one in the real world.

Most likely you’re just the newest.

The reason I’m opening this blog post in the drunk-warm comfort of a pub is because that’s where the idea for it came from. Over the last few weeks, talk at the bar always seems to turn to finishing college, moving on, growing up. Life (the adult mode at least), feels a lot like the big city, that promised land at the end of the highway. It’s a world of car horns and neon lights and ears ringing at 2 a.m. Paradise, sort of.

Yet all we think about are the broken fences and the dry grasses and the dust coughing in our engine as we pull out of that small town called home.

But we’re graduated, and since so many friends asked for it, here are the biggest changes I’ve noticed since I too packed up and left for the big city.

1.You die for the weekdays

I always wondered about this “live for the weekend” hype I saw in Hollywood movies and television and the lives of every other human around me. Newly graduated, youth on my side (ish), I decided this wouldn’t be me. So for the first few weeks I grabbed dinner with friends, stayed up late, went out on a Wednesday night. Then the workiness of work (which is surprisingly high) hit me like a freight train. There really are some nights where you just come home, collapse onto the couch, and wait for hunger to move you. It’s not that work is tiring per se, but there’s just so much of it, and it keeps coming, and it never seems to be done. You cut down one work and six take its place. Makes you feel like Hercules fighting a hydra except you’re not Greek and the only things you lift are pizzas out of the oven. When you were a child, you’d be fully awake by 9, battery life of about twelve hours. Now you’re an IPhone 4 that’s changed hands a couple times. You might be functional by midday. By five o’clock, screen’s gone cold.

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With such little energy, meeting friends becomes difficult, leaving only the dark side of the weekend (the part where you’re not passed out in bed) for some semblance of a social life. Which brings me onto my next point….

2.”Is there anybody alive out there? Can anyone hear me?”

Haha, lol. Yes, that’s a Titanic quote. But come back and laugh a year after graduation when a boat full of friends floats by and you dump your responsibilities in the Atlantic (sorry Jack, should have got on the door) so you can blow a whistle and hope somebody sees you. Ya, that’s pretty much your standard group chat.

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The scariest thing about finishing college is that you realise how most of your friendships lived off convenience. Now, cut off from their supply, those same friendships go cold turkey and you don’t see your xox besto for six months at a time. When you do, they’re as you expect, rabid and living in the gutter  awkward if you strike up a conversation at all. Think of it this way, for the last four or so years your top 50, 100, maybe even 200 friends were all contained daily within a square mile radius. Now, someone puts them in a cannon and fires them all over the world. I have friends in London, the United States, even a few in the Midlands (I mean seriously, is that even on the map??).

Sadly, you quickly realise you don’t have time to keep up with everyone. Even if you do, they’re most likely not free. And so quietly, and without much fuss, you sort of just lose a few people, a bit like your social life dying of old age. By the time you take stock of the situation, you probably have two groups left, one from home and one from college. If possible, merge them. Safety in numbers. It’s dark out there in the real world.

3.Free time is actually v. expensive no joke

Now that you’ve rounded up the survivors of your life before the apocalypse, you realise the world is crawling with zombies. And you have to pay for them to eat you.

Honestly, nothing is as gut-checking as earning more money than you ever have before, yet still coming up empty. It’s as if you work 40 or so hours a week just to enjoy the thrill of handing out as much money as possible in the four hours after you get paid. And everyone is nudging each other out of the way to get to you first. Since when does coffee cost half an hour of work? Why does the car have such expensive taste?

4.If it’s applicable, it matters. If it ain’t? *shrugs*

A lot of graduates are shocked to find out nobody gives a flying fuck about the time they organised a coffee morning for AdoptATiger.com. Why? Because your boss sells insurance to young, mostly not-tiger, Irish people. Unless evidence surfaces that dwindling tiger numbers are related to road traffic accidents (Ahh, I can’t take it. Such a majestic animal *turns wheel sharply*), then you’d best leave your little token charity points at the door. That goes for, well, most extracurriculars really. If you can relate your love of volleyball back to your work in a call centre, then by all means spike Seamus from the Finance Department to your heart’s content. If you can’t, don’t think selling it in your interview is going to wow employers as though the concept of hobbies is simply beyond them.

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I sat on maybe a dozen committees in my undergrad, but unlike a solid half of other students, I did it because I enjoyed it, not as some sort of promo video for my CV. Of course, relevant extracurriculars do look great, but as the old saying goes: “If you’re actually full of shit, you will be found out in the end (probs :P)”.

5.Success just ain’t what it used to be

By age 22 or so, you probably thought you had success all figured out. Maybe thought you had it placed in a nice little box, wrapped with a neat purple bow. But you haven’t. Success, much like a Games of Thrones character, is very grey, and just when you think you’ve grasped it, it’s gonna turn around and stab Robb Stark in the stomach (spoiler?).

In school and in college, we’re all pitted against each other, ranked on some sort of scale, given a tasty treat if we sit when we’re told to. In life, there are no such Pedigree Jumbones. There are way too many variables to ever truly know who made it and who ended up crying in their car outside work because their boss called them “the new girl” again after SIXTEEN YEARS. Ahem, anyway, success in the adult world is something that just can’t be defined. LinkedIn would want you to believe so, but everyone is a freak on LinkedIn (me included). I mean for Christ’s sake, Colm, you work as a network engineer in Meath. Why are you adding me?!?

In the end, only you can truly define your own success, your happiness, your satisfaction with your career and personal life. If you have a passion, you should probably chase it, unless it’s like, illegal, in which case you should just take up scrapbooking or something.

And it’s on such a note I leave you….

6.Hope

Leaving undergrad is a weird experience. It’s not quite “Naww you were in sixth class now you’re a little first year”, more “You used to eat chicken rolls daily now you genuinely laugh when your colleague says ‘Is it Friday yet?'”

But it’s not a bad change. Just a change. And like all transitions, you just have to roll with it, hope things level out and that you’ll be able to afford healthcare.

I leave you with a quote by a talentless hack hopeful writer.

A single, honest, familiar-face choice. That’s all there ever is. That’s all there ever will be, and it’s as easy as who you are.

The words I spoke to Autumn

Autumn, without any great effort, is my favourite time of the year.

It has taken me twenty-three years on this earth to decide that, but more than any other season I look forward to these modest few months, watching as the heavy scream of summer fades and the blasted fury of winter takes hold. By comparison, autumn is relatively quiet-happy to talk to you of course, but only if you’d take a few moments to listen.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the colour of autumn’s skin. Indeed, it is perhaps the only thing about the season that’s celebrated. Deep red, burning orange and matted yellow; it’s a palette nature strangely reserves for rotting and death. Even the boldest purples, whites and greens of re-birth in spring are jaded by the subtlety of autumn’s beauty. And they should be.

For all the love I have for summer, there is something unsettling about its perfection, as though silver light would perhaps be easier to live with if only it would allow itself grey from time to time. Summer is an ideal, not a reality, and while we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t pretty, there is in a way a grander beauty about something scarred. Maybe true beauty is revealed by adversity, showing stronger with the shadow of death yawning over it. And that is what autumn is after all; it’s one last breath before the great shroud of winter comes down, an empty word of defiance. Somehow, even that empty word holds more weight than all the idle ones spent in the summer, which is, in many ways, ignorant of how it lets itself slip by. Buoyed by the ferocity of life in spring, it’s all too happy to continue the dance as though the music will never stop playing. Who am I to blame it? Nobody ever thinks it’s the last song until it’s over.

For me, autumn is dancing even after the music has stopped. It knows full well that the swift hand of winter approaches, and yet it puts on its finest and shows up all the same. Autumn might be quiet, but there’s a hidden resolve there I’ve come to admire. It doesn’t go down without a fight; it perhaps just knows that it’s not a contest that it can win. How brave of it to keep swinging anyway, even as we look on with indifference.

I think it’s safe to say I’ve finally arrived in autumn. The last few posts here were, in many respects, the setting sun of summer. They still had that damn innocence of thinking youth was something immortal, that we’d only come to look at winter’s void for fun and not as a means to prepare. And though I might move with the breeze of summer, I have felt the fresh autumn chill, pricking the hairs of my skin with its warning.

“Youth is not wasted on the young,” it says. “It is the young who are wasted on youth.”

It is peculiar to find yourself trying to make a difference in the world when you feel like a lamb in the spring. This time in my life and in the lives of my friends is an awkward transition from contributing to only your growth to furthering the growth of the world as we find it. Most of us have spent the last twenty or so years focused on getting by at school, playing in the evening and more recently, organising the next night out. It’s the great party of summer. Now, on the threshold of autumn, we are asked what exactly we’re going to give to the world. The world wants to know our price, our ability, our plan. Most of us haven’t seen it coming; most of us look unprepared.

At least, that is if we believe we’re still the flowers of summer.

Nobody wants to call time on being young. We think of it like rust biting into us, making us ugly and corroded. But rust is not underneath metal; it’s a layer that has grown on top of it. It’s a sign of our time in the world-a testament to our braving the elements. Eventually, we’ll all crumble, but that doesn’t mean we’ve always been winter.

Autumn is a time of learning and a time of preparation, and that is the greatest thing we do not appreciate. We sense the quiet October air and think that nothing is happening, even as all around us life takes stock and begins to make moves to defend itself. Summer is arrogant about being idle; autumn says barely a word about keeping itself busy. But now us summer flowers have arrived in autumn, I think it’s time we join in the good fight.

There’s a world out there that is changing, changing like the growth in the fall. It’s a world we can contribute to, but that means realising that summer is over. It isn’t quite accepting the words of House Stark, who warn us that Winter is coming, but it does allow us to ready ourselves for when those winds first try knock us from the branches.

That is why autumn is my favourite time of the year. With very little said, it continues to work, to go on and to look beautiful. It prepares, it perseveres and it regards the winter with a shake of the head, embracing change with gentle laughter.

And all the while it continues its fight-a fight it thinks it can’t win.

It’s funny. I haven’t told it yet, but a part of me thinks that it can.

autumn

 

 

 

Late one evening in the city

What makes a raindrop hold to a line?

I stood this evening in my back garden, feeling the mist come down all around me. A million drops slipped right by the wires of my clothes line, content to go down to the darkness below. A small few didn’t, hanging on to the grey wire like light bulbs, making it sag in the chill autumn air. Bathed in yellow porch-light, they were a thousand captured stars-a great testament to the sad beauty of holding on, of refusing to let go like the rest did.

In life, we all fall from the sky, drifting from the clouds in a haze. Our destiny-our doom-is that at some stage we’ll all hit the floor. We can’t decide what we’ll meet along the way, but we can choose what we hold onto. A chimney, a branch, the clean wires of an empty clothes line. No two things in this world reach out to us the same. Small wonder that when we fall, we scatter, grabbing hold of what a thousand others pass by, cherishing the everyday as though it were perfect. In truth, it’s hard to find anything more perfect than the thing so blatantly not so.

I often wonder about choice and the implications it has. I once wrote that the concept of finality is scary, and months later I still feel the same. After all, in life we’d all like to believe we can circle back, returning to moments where we made the wrong decision with the surety of hindsight. But we can’t; it’s simply not the nature of falling. For the most part, you have a half-second to grab onto something before it disappears into the night, fading away into the distance behind you to become a haunting memory. That is, if you let it.

Bad decisions are as much a part of life and learning as good ones are. In fact, I’d wager they are even bigger, considering no raindrop ever wet anything without first getting shaken itself.

And so, you really have to ask yourself whether holding on is brave or stupid or just another way to stop yourself falling. In some ways it’s all of them, and in many ways that’s okay, but you should ask yourself the question all the same. Because while there is a safety in holding on, there is a fault in not moving forward. There will come a time-a time five seconds before you hit the cold stone with a pat, and when all you can do is look back on the journey behind you, you’ll want to see that the things you held onto were worth it. You’ll want to know that you clung onto the clothes lines that mattered.

Perhaps the hardest part of letting go is wondering whether something ahead is going to catch you. It’s a sort of top-of-rollercoaster-moment, where edging over the crest you pray to see the tracks line up underneath. You look me in the eye and tell me you’ve never once considered them not being there. But they always have been, and so maybe it’s time you trust yourself to open your grip.

And though while reading this you may picture a particular line that you hang to, the truth is that you hang to a thousand wires a day. And each time you fall, letting go only gets easier, until all you know is the uncertainty of empty sky-the great unknown you were convinced to be scared of.

Tonight, you too hang on a clothes line in a quiet garden in suburbia, weighing up the risk of letting go, calculating it as though it’ll make sense.

But it won’t.

And like everything imperfect, that’s what makes it so beautiful.

Sometimes we hold on. Sometimes we let go, and if the latter, we may remind ourselves of the peculiar thrill of falling.

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The gate on the edge of town

“You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying”- Tyrion Lannister

In life, we are all members of the great audience. Every single person reading this has at one time or another acted as a witness. We don’t acknowledge it of course, not really, but it’s still happening every second of the day.

A first kiss, a failed exam, an accident on the road: all are part of the ongoing show. And of course, it’s actually quite easy to imagine your role in the audience. What is perhaps slightly less clear is where you fit in the overall spectacle. Who has seen you at your worst? Who has watched you at your best? More importantly, could they tell the difference?

Memories are a funny thing, constantly changing depending on how we feel, and never sitting still for long enough to be truly appreciated. We all remember, let’s say, opening our Leaving Cert results. But do we really? To me, everything that was ever anything is in many ways a serving of blur with a little dash of clarity.

Both of these concepts, witnesses and memories, have been whirling around in my head since I finished college. There was after all a moment where suddenly it all ended, and overwhelmed by emotion I doubt I was thinking “take a breath and appreciate this little snapshot; it’s a picture you’ll only take once.” But that is the truth of it nonetheless. This was the end, and I can’t just go back and ask for a little more time there now.

Putting my pen down, closing the exam booklet and walking out of that last exam are all part of my story, but who knows who was secretly watching? Those who care, those who don’t, or those indifferent. My story, but their spectacle.

Trapped in the little bubble of college, not sharp to the world moving around me, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought much about being in the spectacle. In a crowded library you can be lost in your own notes, but looking up now and again you realise everything is getting on without you. Now, there are no more notes, and it’s time to join the ranks of those making the world go round.

In that respect college is a bit like your bedroom. There are an infinite number of things you can accomplish there, but outside those walls other things are in motion the scale of which you can’t start to imagine cooked up in there. It’s not that you’re out of touch, more so you’re kept within the confines of something measurable. It’s all happening in a lecture theatre, in a library, on campus etc.

And so now that I’m leaving, the outside world feels a little alien again. It’s very much in the title of this blog. There’s a gate at the edge of town, and inside it you know everything and everyone. You’ve been to the gate of course. I mean, you can even tell me what it’s made of and what it feels like to run your hand over. But you’ve never been outside it. Sometimes at dusk, you’ve sat on it for hours and thought about the fields beyond or the next town over. And never once did you really believe that the day was coming when you’d finally pass through it. That was a dream-a notion. Notions weren’t tolerated in this town.

And yet, that day does come. You feel about a stone lighter, and rather than skip up to the gate like you usually do you sort of wander there half in a haze of your own thoughts and emotions. The sun is going down in the west but there’s enough light to see the first few steps on the road. And then quite suddenly there is the moment, and before you’ve even thought to mark it you’re on the other side. And then there’s a panic and the sudden want to turn round. It isn’t a desire to go back, and even if it is you’ve long resigned yourself to the fact that that isn’t happening. You just realise you wanted it to be memorable though, and a part of you isn’t sure that it was.

Should’t there have been someone there to say goodbye, or give a little cheer as you passed over the threshold?

And yet maybe there was, and not turning to see their face you press on with your journey.

After all, they are the witness, and right there and then you were at either your best or worst. Perhaps they know the difference.

 

Here now, at the fork in the road

Robert Frost, the great American poet, lived through an interesting time. He was witness to the turn of the century, two world wars, the Wall Street crash and the Great Depression, the flight of the first airplane and just before he went out, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Somewhere in there, he must have sat down, turned a phrase over in his mind and wrote

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

It’s a pretty simple phrase, but effective nonetheless, as the “fork in the road” exists for just about everyone. After all, life is a journey, and the damn road is littered with choices. Some of these “forks” are easy. Going right is much the same as going left, in terms of destination at least. Yes, what happens along the way might be different, but at some point the woods thin out and you find the paths join up again. And a part of you will think back to that choice in the road and surmise it never really mattered, while another part will look back along “the road not taken” and wonder what might have been, for better or for worse. Yet still, these are the routine decisions, and finding yourself exactly where you thought you’d be, your journey goes on.

The more difficult “forks” are the ones for which we cannot see beyond the first few steps on either road. Out there in the mist, only one thing is certain; these paths will never cross again.

No matter how confident you are in a choice, that fact can still haunt you. The concept of finality is daunting, but for most people it only becomes an issue when we feel it’s going to throw us off track. We all have a journey’s end in mind, a kind of hidden cottage, and though we’re happy to enjoy whatever the road has to offer us along the way, at some point we all want to turn a corner, see little puffs of smoke rising over the treetop and realize “I made it”.

Luckily for us, we have a rough map to guide us. Tracing our fingers over it, we can see a fork at age five, a fork at age twelve, a big fork at age eighteen and somewhere further along, a fork at twenty-two.

That last fork, the end of my college years, is where I find myself now. I think back to some smug lecturer saying “these years will fly”and now I, only one week away from finishing lectures, sigh and admit they were right. It’s like coming upon a crossroads long before the map says it was due. Now it’s there, and regardless of what that piece of paper says, you’re going to have to pick a lot sooner than you’d imagined.

In these situations us travellers often find comfort in “making camp for the night”, which is to say, sitting down with a decision and thinking about it. It’s a fairly good call. Taking the wrong road is bad; taking it in the dark is another matter entirely.

Unfortunately, the dawn waits for nobody, and soon we have to get up, put out our fires, throw on our packs and take that first wobbly step in what we hope is the right direction.

This particular fork, which I long thought of as nothing more than “that bit before my pre-reg year” is shaping up to be more climactic than I’d given it credit for. After all, it’s not often you move job, finish education, sit exams, say somewhat of a goodbye to friends and try figure out where you’re going all in one month. Taken one by one, these are all fairly benign. It’s together that they start to weigh more, and feel like one of those transition periods where you kind of watch yourself from the outside hoping you don’t fuck up.

And quite likely I, or you a person reading this in a similar situation, will fuck up. That’s not the end of the world, and it definitely isn’t the end to the journey.

What is perhaps more disturbing for me than the notion of failure is, as I’ve alluded to, the concept of finality. I’d like to think if I had a few shots at the start of what is basically my adult life that at least one time things would turn out like I want them to. But I definitely don’t have a “few shots”. This isn’t a Thursday for God’s sake.

And so the time I spend “making camp” over these next few months is likely going to be very important. The next year of my life is there for the taking, in so much as its routine contents are fairly set in stone and all I have to do is turn up and keep breathing. After that, the tent is going to have to come down, and I’m going to have to step out onto the road. A part of me sees myself back in UCC, edging forward into the vast forest of a PhD and taking comfort in the fact that though the road is long and arduous, it is still on the map. Depending on what day you ask me I might also muse that UCC isn’t the only college known to man, and though I’m a Cork City boy at heart, there’s a wide world about us. That would certainly be uncharted territory, where many a brave or foolhardy traveller has been lured by the promise of treasure.

Quite plainly, this next year might also stray me from the path, into a part of the profession I’ve always admired but never imagined myself at home. Community pharmacy isn’t where I see myself, but Christ knows I never saw myself learning about drugs when I was fifteen either.

Lastly, arguably least importantly, but most selfishly, I wonder about where this journey takes my writing. It will be a long night staring into the dying embers of the fire, and before the sun comes up this may be the only question I answer, or the only one that I don’t. However, if four years of college have thought me anything, it’s that at some point, I’ll have to answer it.

You can set up camp, but the dark is only fleeting.

You can stop to rest, but you are young, and you have no need of it.

You can dither, dawdle, pause and even doubt, but you cannot turn back.

The Journey’s End is far away yet, and there are many things on the road you have to see if you’re to reach it.

Many people, myself included, know that in many ways the journey is what matters, but though I can afford to get lost in it, I can’t forget that out there little puffs of smoke rise over the treetop.

And that in itself is why the journey matters.

As Robert Frost once quoted

I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the customer isn’t always right

So, I’ve probably got away with not posting for a long time, and got away for an even further length of time with not posting about my own college course. As some may know, I’m now in my second year of Pharmacy at UCC. Recently I also started part time work in a pharmacy, and through both of these aspects of my life have come to one conclusion: the customer is rarely right in a community pharmacy setting. Now, before people jump to conclusions about that kind of statement, it has to be said I mean not that there is a complete lack of knowledge on the part of the customer, but that there is a perceived “same level of knowledge” in the mind of the patient.

Let’s face it, pharmacists are one of the most undervalued people in the health sector. 99% of people outside of the industry (and about 90% of those still inside) would consider the job nothing more than standing behind a counter all day counting manufactured pills and following the instructions of the all-powerful, all-knowing doctor to the letter. It takes about ten minutes work experience to realise that is rarely the case. On a fundamental level, the job exists to provide a link between a doctor’s diagnosis and the resulting therapy for the patient. The doctor can tell what is wrong with someone, and based on their own studies suggest a suitable course of treatment. How that treatment works however is an area that falls far outside of the expertise of a general practitioner. Why is that?

Because, well really, it is far too unfair to demand a doctor to not only be able to come up with the causation and symptoms of an illness, but to then also have to be able to provide accurate and sufficient information on how the agents used in treating the problem will come into action. From a patient safety point of view, it is far too risky to shoulder that much responsibility onto one person. The biological aspect of a disease takes enough of a toll on somebody’s skill set. Having to mix this in with the chemical and pharmacological terms of a treatment requires large amounts of study. An inherent fault in our health system is the split that occurs in identifying our problem and then working against it. That being said, a far more catastrophic approach would be to demand the two jobs out of one person. In any case, an ample solution is to have both pharmacist and doctor have a key understanding of their own field, while also having a working understanding of the others. In my own course, the touches I’ve made into the fields of physiology and anatomy would not rival a doctor’s, where as their own studies in terms of drug action would also be far different and more diffuse to my own.

The real issue then is not the merits of both occupations, but the viewpoints of each and how the wider world thinks both fit into the system. Patients tend to place a far greater emphasis on the role of the practitioner, while only seeing the pharmacist as the hand with the drugs at the other side. As a result, it follows on that any attempt by a pharmacist to try mesh both sections of the person’s care comes off as flaky, interfering and just meddling where their intellect clearly can’t succeed. Any reasonable doctor/pharmacist knows that neither betters the other, but both have to be complementary; the vitality of this increasing as the disease state becomes more serious in nature. However, based on a patient’s above attitude in select cases, the problem then can become that the patient places the doctor in prime position, and then in a strange twist of faith elevates their own expertise to that of the pharmacist. This has come about in a number of ways.

Primarily, pharmacists are more readily available than doctors, and most will go there first for treatment of an acute, non-threatening ailment. As only painkillers, flu remedies etc are purchases, eventually a point is reached where someone questions what really is the purpose of the pharmacist, if they only really serve to hand out drugs that most shopping centers now have in stock. This increase in drug availability adds to the in-and-out nature of buying OTC products to give an image that pharmacists in general have it easy.

As well as this, a more dangerous and under recognised cause is the emergence of the internet as the new port of call. Nowadays, people will happily buy their medication online. Not only that, but a large part of the population now find it imperative to evaluate their own illness themselves, leading to huge misinterpretations, drug purchase and worry. Over the last century the number of new chemical entities available to regular sales has skyrocketed. This give the customer a bigger pool of potential toxins, while diluting their own knowledge to the point where Ibuprofen and Nurofen are very, very different in their eyes. The self evaluation problem has made pharmacist consultations far more tricky, and it is only a matter of time before the same scenario is widespread in the offices of GPs.

It comes to a stage where the battle is fought on two fronts. Beyond all else, it is vastly important that the patient has as much knowledge about their disease, treatment, and the drugs in question. That being said, the healthcare sector is now fighting a losing battle to prevent people sucking up as much misguiding information as possible, so much so that the nature of dispensary drugs has now been brought down to the general public’s view on illegal street drugs. With only snippets of info, a drug can come off as much more harmful than reality. Such is the case with narcotics, and now we see the same ghost haunting the legal sector.

Working both academically and on the scene, examples of where this misguidance leads us become increasingly apparent.

1. “My doctor knows what I am taking…”-Look, you need to tell the pharmacist what you are taking. A doctor’s job circles around treating whatever you have now. He can only make educated guesses as to whether whatever else you are taking interferes with that. If you went to a doctor and he told you had liver disease, you would never say “Nah pharmacist says it can’t be that”. Because that is their job. The doctor never asked you to champion him as a drug expert, and even if he did, a pharmacist would still demand to know what you were taking.

2. “I’ve been on those for years….” Things change. If you told me your car worked ten years ago, I’m not gonna take that as gold that it still runs now. Age changes drugs, and so does your condition, and if both the doctor and the pharmacist can see your dose or drug needs to change, you need to follow up on that advice.

3. “I don’t like the other ones, they are different…” Generics are the same thing my man, same drug made by a different company. Everyday you change water subtly, and food subtly and just about EVERYTHING else in your life. This is the one thing that is not changing, so stop trying to convince someone who is trying to give you your medication that they;re is a problem. In a select few rare cases, this is an issue. If it was, the pharmacist would tell you so.

4. “The internet told me…” The internet is as useful a back up as your “friend recommended them”- it counts for nothing. Your five minute google search before you went to the pharmacy does not suppress someone’s years of education and practical experience in the subject.

5. “The doctor said that strength…” God forbid the doctor was ever wrong about a field outside of his own. If the pharmacist says they’re wrong,they’re wrong, and yes..they will be wrong again. It’s nothing against their credentials, it just occurs now and then. You have to be on board with this.

STUDENT PATIENT BONUS ROUND

“So can I really not drink on these?”-Nobody is trying to be a buzz kill here. If it says no alcohol, don’t have your friend studying english literature you convince that of course “one or two will be fine”.

“I’ll just take five, not four”-The dose is the dose. Increasing it rarely is gonna work out for you. Otherwise I’m sure the really smart scientists who tested this for years would have told you so.

“I didn’t finish my antibiotics” Just finish the course. Please, just follow the instructions.

“I missed one, will I take two the next time”-unless the pharmacist told you to do that, you can assume it has absolutely no effect like the second question.

“Can I really, REALLY not drink on these?”-No….no you can’t.

10 things not to do in the library

There’s enough of these during study months etc, but I said I’d get in early since the examples are rampant. With a swarm of new faces in college, the incidence has spiked and so here I am to countdown ten of the things people in the library will remember your face for.

1. Hiding your facebook

Look, we know you’re on it. Don’t try hide it in a separate tab, or minimizing your screen, or stretching to block the screen. Anybody with a laptop that has 1/100th of a bar of connectivity and is between the ages of zero and twenty five (because after that, it’s all downhill) will instinctively throw up their social networks on their internet. Nobody is gonna judge you, embrace it.

2. Leaving the sound on anything

Phone? Laptop? Breathing? If I’m next to someone and they have their sound on it gets to me. Not because it interferes (in fact all teenagers are don’t even notice it in this day and age), but because it puts out the idea that “yes, I do know it’s on. What ya gonna do?” Well I’m gonna walk right over and smash your stupid overpriced flip phone give you a look, I guess.

3. Bringing your friend over

OK, this one tops all as the worst thing in the library. During study month you’ll inevitably get that one guy who ambles from desk to desk advertising to his determined and anxious class mates how he, a jolly lad, is in the library. So novel is the idea of studying in a new building, or just studying at all, that this man must parade his four pages of food stained notes from bench to bench loudly whispering how he knows what is coming up. For those in august, I’m sorry, he’ll be back.

4. Putting on a movie

My god anywhere but the library. Nobody ever watches “Schindler’s List” in the library. Nobody sits back and throws on “Titanic”. No. It is always dodgeball or step brothers or the last king of scotland. OK, so that last one is irrelevant, but I saw it recently and it was very good. Just watch it in the corner if you must. Does it always have to be in a middle desk with the volume high up and the jokes pouring out from the leaky gaps of your ear debilitating headphones?

5. Leaving for like 3 hours

Everyone knows those seats that everyone wants. They have a good view, not too much light, A PLUG. Please don’t be that never-present ghost who has been reserving the seat since before the cold war. I’ve seen desks empty all day. Soon, I can imagine the library staff will take to declaring some people legally dead due to their absence. RIP lads…

6. Taking a phone call at your desk

RING!!!! RING!!!! “hello, ya I’m just in the library. what? SPEAK UP.” <—–This guy. Does the hallway not exist as a point to some people? Do they just assume the initial door opened up to their desk and they did not move through any area where noise was tolerated to a phonecall level? No? Shocking….

7. Printing….oh…just an entire book

Page, page, page, page, page,page…..And it just keeps going! You stand there in sheer disbelief as to when this will end, afraid you have been caught in some kind of time loop where the print job just won’t finish. I think a 50 page rule is about fair. Even at that, I’d be hoping that was 25 front and back. God like just buy the book you’re probably paying the equivalent anyway. Can only imagine what would happen if UCC Boole had colour printing.

8. Incessant walking syndrome

That one person who you’re wishing the white-coated library staff would come over to and lash to the bench. You’ve seen this person do 6 laps of the floor already, and if anything they are picking up speed. They also make sure to take the most awkward and longest possible way around each area, making sure to kick enough bags that they have to make scratchy “sorrys” all day long.

9. The Beast

That one guy (hardly ever girls) who brings a four course meal to the library. Chicken roll, drink, crisps..wait,what is that, is that a dip? And the best part is he is on some level conscious so he makes sure to drag on the eating process for some forty minutes. Each snap of a crisp is another flick to your patience, and slowly but surely you find yourself packing up and moving off.

10. Keyboard slapping

SPACEBAR. The single most slapped key in all of library time-space, possibly closely followed by enter. And of course this guy left 3,000 words to the last four hours, so he is allllll slap slap slap. And just once..the girl or guy will get to a stage where they need to skip a couple lines….

Tips on how to reduce your procrastination for study

Fairly self explanatory, we all do it. In fact I’m in the library right now doing it in all fairness. Study can be interesting, but even interesting might not be enough to convince you to take on such a task. Exercise is fun too, but its the thought of effort that puts us off more than the actual act. Over the years I’ve put up with enough of my own procrastination to know where everybody stands, and so I’m gonna share a couple things that have worked for me when it really mattered.

1. Stop telling yourself something is unimportant

Maybe it’s a small essay or a presentation, but it still matters. Telling yourself you won’t need to put in effort is a certain predecessor to you actually not putting in any at all. Even for small percentage tests, tell yourself that everything about it is crucial. don’t listen to what anybody else is doing. Find out just how much you need to do and then go do it. 

2. Reward yourself

A common device for avoiding backing out of your studies is treating yourself after. Mostly students use a food item or a night on the town. While that may be good in the short term, try to plan your long term reward system on something healthy and beneficial. If you have a study system, take a day off. If you want to go somewhere or buy something relatively inexpensive, do it. Giving yourself an item to reach is a useful and versatile tool into convincing you to study. What can work better again is having the security that you won’t get what you want unless you put in the work (i.e. have parents/friends assure you they will refuse you that certain present you’ve been planning as your reward).

3. Stop thinking about your procrastination

Procrastination is a ten dollar word every nine year old in the developed world knows. The concept has become so common place that it now is a essential thread of student life and rarely will remain hidden from the guidance books of your place of study. What will guarantee procrastination is thinking about it. Most sufferers tell themselves before the assignment is even started they have no hope. Most will tell all their friends about their procrastination, and try fob off that they are not at all worried. Using the term and the idea of you being stuck in its grasp will only make it worse. Instead, forget about it. Realise that you are fully capable f doing the work and go tackle it.

4. Lose all distractions

A procrastinating student will find distractions with incredible ease. Whether it’s a match, a day out with friends or just a dish that really needs a good scrub, all victims will search out every point of their life to find something to distract from the task. To avoid this, pick a day on which you will work and a time. do not let that time center around anything else but the job at hand. Make sure you can’t be called away or interrupted, as your will will succumb if you even have half a chance at escape. Tell your family or room mates to not disturb you or offer you anything in the form of entertainment. And when you reach your time goal/work load goal, stop. A good first step is to complete just one day’s work level and leave it. You don’t want mad bursts and then the after thought that as a result you won’t need to do anything else.

5. Never take the advice of somebody else doing the work too

We’re all human. As a result although we strive to be honest, helpful and supportive, we mostly end up serving our own desires. How often does a victim of procrastination end up suffering in terms of grades because others dragged them further down. If you have procrastination, do not ask how others are getting on. If you really need help, ask someone who you know will be fully forthcoming about what they have achieved or put in. At all costs avoid people who will only (as is in their human nature) feed you false senses of security about how fine it will all be. You don’t want to be calm as a procrastinating student. You should be worried. These students will most likely fulfill their own work first then find ways to meddle in your own.

6. Find the right balance

A good balance involves knowing at the end of the day that the whole world wasn’t just study. It also involves the knowledge that the work is done. You should be comfortable with your own level of performance. Many procrastinating students will put down their efforts as the process was still daunting. This will not help going forward. Take each small success with renewed expectations, and push to better yourself every time. Procrastination is a long term effect of a short term uncertainty.

 

Reasons your study isn’t increasing your exam marks

I’m going to go and guess that if you’re reading this you already do some level of study for your classes. If you can’t study, or just downright refuse to do so, then this might not be much help. I might write a blog soon for people who struggle with study. This blog is assuming you want to improve though, and in fact have put in some effort to do so in the past. I realise college has just started, and nobody is studying, but the advice works on any scale. Whether it’s a two page assignment, or a 6,000 word project, study skills are equal in nature. If you find yourself struggling to study for smaller tests, it would serve you a lot better to get into good habits for them, so that the larger, more important exams end up being much easier. I’ll write a few of these study guides when I feel like it throughout the year. A lot of the time the disappointing marks you receive don’t boil down to lack of study. In a surprising number of cases, poor percentages stem from inefficient study.

  • You don’t go to class. Class is where you first hear the material. It is free study. It is the information put across to you by an expert in the field. Unless your lecturer is horrible, attend and maximise the hour or so you have there. Take notes and underline to keep up concentration. Listen and watch the display to deduce the important points. Class might also help for detecting exam questions.
  • You don’t think when you study. If you’re just reading the material, you’re gonna be lost. Think about each point and ask yourself do you really get it. Understand first, memorise second. To be honest the more of a subject you understand, the less you actually end up needing to just push into your head the week before the test. Strive to be able to break the material into a form where you could explain it to anybody. This mistake kills about 99.9% of all students. Most never even engage the material when they read over it. For the few who do, a lot still only ask ‘what will come up in the exam?’ Forget the exam (WARNING: do not actually forget exam). Focus on whether or not you actually know what’s in front of you. Look away from the notes and try tell yourself the story of the information there.
  • You aren’t taking breaks. A good time to take breaks is every forty minutes or every hour. Take a fifteen minute break. DO NOT USE IT TO GO ON FACEBOOK. I’m guilty of doing this too, but please try refrain. Get up and walk around. Go get something to eat. Fruits and juices are great sources of sugars that don’t give you the same crash you’ll get from chocolate or sweets.
  • You are picking the wrong time. Study at mid-morning or in the evening. Take a break after classes to allow yourself rest. Tackle study when you are fresh and awake. Late at night is about as useful as when you are sleeping. Yes, that means it is no use at all. A lot of people will vouch for all nighters. I can tel you both as a science enthusiast and someone with ample common sense that you are not functioning anywhere near capacity that late. A good sleep and early study is far far better. Save a late nighter for an emergency if you are unprepared for an exam. Even then, shut everything off and get to bed by midnight.
  • You never heard of extra reading or reading around your topic. Lecture notes are fine. But they’re born and live as concise samples of the material. Only the best get a full understanding out of shortened notes. Most need a slower delivery. That’s where books come in. A book gives it bit by bit. If you do understand the notes, read them anyway. Getting a second view is paramount for top marks and usually gives you a broader source of information to draw from.
  • You are giving in to easy. Will power is paramount with study. I’m not talking about the will to study; I’m referring to the will to give up on your memory. Try to relay lists back to yourself of things you need to know. If you get stuck, don’t look at the screen immediately for the answer. WRONG. Give yourself time, try to remember other things about the precise subject area and you’ll quickly re-jog your memory. If you give in without trying to remember, you’ll put yourself into that mentality for the exam. Remembering rote-learned material is not fun at all. If you’re gonna do it at least challenge yourself.
  • You spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME ORGANISING. This one even kills the smart people. It will slow you down really fast if you let organisation get to you. Should your notes be accessible and in an easy to learn format? YES. Should all the notes have accompanying flash cards, colour co-ordinates, book references and re-written notes? NO!!!!! I can’t emphasise this enough. Do you need flashcards to remember the three roles of x? Maybe. Do you need them to recall the three functions of y? Perhaps. People tend to jump on the bandwagon of flashcards, spider diagrams, pictures and anagrams to avoid what really matters. If you’re just gonna write out the notes again and not even bother thinking about them…GET OUT. I know some very organised people who get high marks because I know that behind it all they do the study. I also know far more people who are very organised who achieve marks that discredit them. Why? Because instead of engaging the material and actively learning, they spend time drawing diagrams for things they don’t understand. Waste of time if you never learn them. SERIOUSLY.
  • You organise too late. There’s no such thing as studying too early. By studying, I mean making all the diagrams and flash cards you want. This is fine. What will ruin your exam is spending the night before an exam re writing your notes. TOO LATE. Unless you have a very high rote-learning potential, you’ve just wasted precious study hours. Your preparation for an exam needs to happen months before you even hear it is scheduled. Whenever you have a chance, take a look at your notes, your book or your handouts and try put them in a form you can understand. Maybe that involves highlighting. Maybe it involves different coloured pens. Whatever it is, do it sooner rather than later and make sure that when you do it; you try your hand at understanding the notes at the same time.
  • You’re cutting things out. A technique that kills any grade is leaving things out of study. If you have a day, cut ,cut,cut!! But we’re talking good study. That involves addressing everything. If I told you to learn about football, you wouldn’t go and leave the goalkeeper out. True I may never ask about the goalkeeeper. But what about the relationship with the defenders? What about the interaction with opposing strikers? The second you start cutting things out; your overall understanding wanes and your grade starts to slide. Try to understand the hard parts. It makes learning the easy parts surprisingly simplistic.
  • You only study when you study. If there’s one thing that makes you get VERY high grades, it’s knowing that the study never really ends. I’m talking a twin method of action. Any time you have something laborious and boring to do; start studying. Have to clean your room? Ask yourself a couple question while you do. Standing around at work bored? Try to remember what you have to do for your organisation. This method is endless. It can extend from thinking about your study when you pass a book in a shop to putting things on your wall and having a quick look before you head out with your friends. It sounds crazy, and in truth it probably is, but I can guarantee the results. It’s basic logic. The longer you commit to a subject; the more you understand it, and the easier it is to study. The easier it is to study; the more you get in before exams and the better your grade is.

That’s enough to get somebody started. I’m gonna post more of these; to be honest all those ones just jumped to mind first. there are far more reasons your study doesn’t work and I’ll try write on it soon.