The Skills I Wish I’d Learned In University

Written by Lucinda Martin an English with Creative Writing NTU Alumni

I’ve worked since I was 14 in some job or another. Everything from your classic Saturday Girl at a hairdresser to a photographer at one of those weird photos studios hidden at the back of Mothercare. Between my job and uni, I was pretty much always pulling more hours than I do in my 9-5 so I thought I’d be fine with the adjustment. I was wrong.

I’ve struggled to adapt to balancing the 9-5 with looking after mental health, maintaining creative endeavours, maintaining relationships… And occasionally leaving the house and doing groceries. It’s not that it’s more difficult than balancing university and working, it just needed a different perspective.

These are a few life lessons I wish I’d learned before I needed them. It would have saved a trial by fire. To be clear, this is just my own experience. The best thing you can do with advice is take the bits you need and leave the rest.

Learn to value yourself so you can advocate for yourself

Something about office culture really killed my confidence, and I didn’t have much to begin with. I felt like I owed my employer for giving me a job. I was constantly stressed, on the verge of tears, and would just come home and lie down until it was time to get up again. It led to me never asking for raises, even when I was doing above and beyond my job, and wasting countless weekends with stomach aches.

Work’s meant  to be a symbiotic relationship. You have the right to expect development, support, progression and fair pay. You help the business grow and they help you grow.

You have to be your number one advocate, which takes so much practice. It helped me to note down things I did well. Not just big things either. For example: I’m really good at leading meetings. I’m great at making people feel involved. I’m weirdly talented at dealing with eccentric and difficult clients. Get in the habit of recognising the good you do.

Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing

I have terrible imposter syndrome and cannot stop comparing myself to everyone around me. Neither are ideal for being productive, or happy.

Not everyone starts from the same place though. I was comparing myself, and still do until I catch myself, to people with completely different starting points to me. Trying to look at myself in isolation and see where I’d started compared to where I was allowed me to be a lot easier on myself. Shockingly, I also get a lot more done when I’m being nice to myself than when I’m just cursing myself out for hours on end.

Build a system that works for you

There’s a quote “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” I have to remind myself of it every time I make a to-do list, otherwise I’ll fill it with one million items and be appalled at myself when it’s not done in six hours.

My system now is built for the days I’m struggling. When I’m feeling fine, it seems silly to have a system with a section dedicated to taking a shower or eating something with actual nutrients. On my worst days, those are really difficult things and having them ingrained in my routine actually helps.

When you’re at work, there are responsibilities that you need to meet and you need to look after yourself to do that. It helps to find a system that keeps you together on the harder days over one that’s constantly shooting for the stars, leaving you feeling left behind on earth.

Sick days are for mental health too

I’ve used a mixture of medication, therapy and lifestyle to treat my conditions over the years. They still get on top of me sometimes though and I need to take a sick day or two to recoup and get myself back into shape. I’d rehearse the entire night before what to say, how I needed to say it, what I would do if the wrong person answered the phone. It was exhausting and it made getting better take longer.

I felt like I needed to justify myself.

Here’s the thing: Your sick day is for when you’re ill. That’s it. It’s not about what kind of ill you are and it’s not about if they think it’s ill enough. If it’s becoming a weekly thing, then it’s probably time to get some outside help but otherwise, you know when you need a day.

This advice might not seem like it’s about work-life balance but the best thing I ever did for my work-life balance was working on perspective for my job. It made switching off after 5 so much easier. It definitely made it easier to go into my job with a healthy mindset which has led to much more progression and happiness.

For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.

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