What Are You Going To Be When You Grow Up?

I graduated from high school seven years ago, and the only thing I remember is constantly being asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I answered differently every time because I had no fucking clue. I felt like my friends had their lives mapped out perfectly, whereas I didn’t have much of a plan once high school ended.

Luckily some planning had been done for me. I knew I was going to University. Since before I can remember any mentor I’ve had in my life: parents, teachers, coaches, and even my friends all preached the benefits of university. “Get a degree.” They said. “You’ll get a better job,” they said. University might not be for everyone, but it seemed to be an accepted fact, that it was the best way to set myself up for success.

My grades were always decent, but never outstanding. I found it hard to get excited about what I was learning, and as a result I struggled to excel in any area. I didn’t have noble academic aspirations beyond high school but school appealed to me. My friends all went to the same school, and on weekends we went to the same parties. My social network was built around school. I saw school as a social gathering, a place to hang out with my friends. The cafeteria wasn’t just where we ate lunch. It’s where I caught up with my buddies on Monday, after a long weekend. Being around my friends, and hanging out with them at school seemed a lot more chill than any job I worked at. I liked the environment of school and wanted to be in that world.

Graduation loomed, and I was worried that all the fun of high school was going to end leaving me stuck working a job I hated. I started looking for any excuse to keep the party going. University was the perfect solution, I could impress my parents, and parent’s friends under the guise I was “ furthering my education”. Meanwhile, I could party whenever I wanted. I knew University would be a different learning experience than high school, but I could have never imagined that what I learned outside the classroom would be as important as what I learned in class.

High school graduation came and went, and although I knew I was going to university I had no idea why. What faculty should I apply to? What was I going to study? What dorm should I live in? What meal plan should I get? What school should I go to? What am I going to be when I grow up? The options seemed endless I was overwhelmed. Seventeen-years-old, fresh out of high school, I was used to answering questions like “What kind of beer do you want to drink tonight?” I had none of the tools to make a life decision like this, but it was time to figure it out.

I wandered through the application process at a couple schools, but the more I read and the more I saw online, the more everything seemed the same. The course descriptions sounded the same, and the dorm rooms looked the same, like different cells in the same prison. I started to feel like what I studied wasn’t going to be as important as the school I went to. I wanted to go to university to meet hot co-eds and drink in the dorm rooms, not to study Critical-Thinking 1200. I changed my mentality and looked at schools in exotic locals like Arizona or California, but I quickly found out going to school in a different country requires money. The type of money only a sheik, or heir to the Wal-Mart fortune has access to. As fun as going to university sounds, I didn’t want to take on massive student debt to party at a university in Arizona for four years. Realistically I knew it was best for me to go to university in Canada.

Overwhelmed by the transition period I was going through, I gave up temporarily. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I felt like I should have decided already. I considered putting school off for a year and working my pizza delivery job full time. I started having nightmares where one year turned into five years, and all of a sudden I was 40 delivering pizza in the town I grew up in.

At a party two of my drinking buddies told me they were moving across the country to go to a small University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Despite growing up in Canada I realized there was a big part of the country that was foreign to me and the idea of moving to a province I knew nothing about, excited me. I wanted to go to university again, and the nightmares stopped.

I knew nothing about the city of Halifax. In Grade-12 History class, there was a test question asking students to put a dot on a map of Canada where Halifax is. Baffled, I got the question wrong. Here I was a few months later considering moving to a city I couldn’t point to on a map. The more I thought about it the more I liked it. I knew nothing about the city, so the city couldn’t know anything about me, and for that reason it seemed perfect. I would have a fresh start. I could be anyone I wanted to be. Having a fresh start pushed me towards university. I liked the idea of re inventing myself and being independent.

I wanted to go to university in Halifax, so I applied to the same university as my friends. I didn’t even think of the possibility of not being accepted on account of my average grades. I was excited about a fresh start on the other side of the country and determined to make it happen. I figured everything else would sort its self out when I got accepted. Half way through summer I was accepted. I researched the school a bit more, and found the department, classes and residence best for me. I picked courses, applied for residence, booked plane tickets and started packing.

Staring at a hundred different decisions made it hard to choose one, but after narrowing my focus and choosing a university, everything became a bit easier. With a lot of help from my parents, everything was ready for the fall. I sat back and spent the rest of the summer drinking cases of Old Milwaukee every night.

I wasn’t the most popular kid in high school. I spent weekends watching movies like, American Pie, Old School, and Van Wilder. Films that glorify partying in university and make it seem like the best time ever (which it is). I wanted university to be like the movies. I wanted to go to university to party, as much as I wanted to get a degree. September came, I moved into a shared dorm room with three other guys, and we partied.

Partying in university is a different animal than partying in high school. It’s like comparing a hamster to a lion. Partying in high school is tame. No ones old enough to get into a bar, so the parties are in a friend’s parent’s basement. Being in a controlled environment makes it harder to stay up all night drinking, experimenting with drugs and having sex. But partying in university is wild. Dorms are full of kids living away from home for the first time ready to party at a moments notice. No parents means, no one telling me to go to bed early, no one making sure I was doing my homework, no one making sure I was going to class, no one making sure I wasn’t getting drunk on Tuesday afternoon. I was free to do what ever I wanted for the first time. I loved the freedom but half way through the first semester I got a wake up call.

I can’t remember if I failed my first midterms or just did really shitty. But I do remember being disappointed. There was no good reason for my grades. I could have done better, I should have done better, but I was lazy. I didn’t prepare enough leading up to the exams and was caught off guard by how serious university testing is. In high school simply showing up to class was enough, clearly that wasn’t the case in university. My parents called me every couple weeks and when they asked how I did, I lied to them and changed the subject. I hated lying, and especially to the people that believed in me and trusted me, but at the same time I didn’t want them to think I was a complete fuck up. I felt horrible. I promised myself I wouldn’t have to lie to my parents again.

On top of paying for courses, textbooks, and residence my parents gave me money for living expenses. As if I needed another reason to get it together. I was 18, and had an allowance. I was embarrassed. My parents invested in me, I didn’t want their money to go towards my failure. I had to put more effort into learning the material, I wanted to graduate and make my parents proud of me. Besides, college parties are too good to miss out on because of shitty grades. I needed to get my shit together.

I used the money my parents gave me to get an education. I learned to budget what I was given, so I didn’t have to ask for more. Between bills, and food, I didn’t have a lot of money left over. Excessive partying was eating at my disposable income. I couldn’t cut out drinking entirely, it was a big reason I wanted to go to college in the first place, I just needed to find a cheaper way to do it. Turns out I wasn’t the only broke student in university. I drank the cheapest beer at student bars that didn’t extort people with outrageous drink prices. Along with my classmates, I flocked to the same watering holes every weekend and drank jugs of the shittiest beer imaginable because being broke and drinking too much beer is what college is all about.

Cutting back on partying because of money allowed me to focus a bit more on school. By the end of my first semester things were going better. I was doing better in classes, and I was more confident telling my parents about my courses because I was actually going to them and learning the material. There was still something bothering me, something holding me back. I had been carrying it around my whole life, and it was time to go.

I was fat. Since before I could remember, I was teased for being overweight. In high school I was the funny fat kid so why bother changing that? Because of the persona I had become accustomed I struggled to changed my lifestyle and get rid of the extra weight. I ate like shit: Pizza, Beer, McDonalds, Subway whatever was easy and cheap. Along with a bad diet I didn’t get enough exercise. I knew it was bad, but breaking my unhealthy eating habits was hard. I was used to doing things the way I always had. I moved to a new city, and suddenly I had a fresh start. Any excuse I had about my unhealthy lifestyle went out the window. I finally saw that I didn’t have to be the fat kid any more. I could be who ever I wanted to be.

I started going to the gym, a couple times a week at first, but it wasn’t long before I had a consistent routine. I didn’t undergo some miracle physical change overnight, but almost immediately I started feeling better. I made a little progress, and the more progress I made the more motivated I became. I found myself soaking up all the fitness information I could. I watched workout videos on YouTube, and read nutrition articles on the Internet. I incorporated anything I learned into my day-to-day life.

I realized I didn’t want the effort I was putting into the gym to go to waste. I cut out fast food and started eating a healthy diet. I had more energy whether I was at the gym, in a lecture, playing sports with my friends or just studying in the library. I had more confidence at school and at parties. Every aspect of my life seemed to improve. I moved home after my first year fifty pounds lighter. Seeing the looks on people faces made all the workouts worth it. My parents couldn’t have been more proud of me, my friends were shocked, and the girls who ignored me in high school were suddenly asking me to hang out.

The only issue with a healthy diet is that it’s expensive. I cooked for my family on special occasions (IE mother’s day), but for the most part food was put in front of me. I didn’t have to fend for myself. That changed once I moved out. I shopped for groceries, I prepared meals, I cooked meals, I washed dishes like a single mother, I did it all. At one point I would have taken a family dinner for granted, now I appreciate if someone gives me the scraps of food on their plate. Over the first year of university I learned to feed myself properly. But more importantly I learned to appreciate what it was like for my parents to take care of me for the last 18 years.

It takes seven hours and 25 minutes in the air, to fly from Vancouver to Halifax and costs $728. It’s a lot of time and money. Unlike my roommates who grew up a few minutes from campus, I couldn’t pack up and go home for a long weekend. I was stuck on the other side of the country for months at a time. I felt uncomfortable at first the city was different than what I knew. It was foreign to me. I didn’t know where anything was. It took four years, but I learned the ins and outs of Halifax like a native Haligonian. I learned where to eat, where to work out, where to drink. I ventured outside of Halifax, and explored parts of the Maritimes I didn’t know existed, and wouldn’t have been exposed to if I didn’t move across the country.

The surroundings I grew up in are very comfortable. Being around the same people in the same city made it hard to try anything new. Moving to Halifax, I expanded my comfort zone, I was exposed to new people and new situations everyday. At home, I never had the courage to start working out, or venture outside my friend group and meet new people. Instead I would have been stuck in the same mindset I carried throughout high school, too scared to step try anything new. I hate to think about all the great people and experiences I might have missed if I didn’t take a chance on the east coast.

My parents have supported me in everyway imaginable, but the best thing they did for me was to push me outside out of my comfort zone. I moved across the country for university, and it started a chain reaction that improved every aspect of my life. I was motivated to improve my health, I budgeted money and learned about personal finance, and most importantly I learned to appreciate my family. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree but I matured a lot because of where I was. A change of scenery made me feel like I had a fresh start, and let me know I could be who ever I wanted to be. A fresh start is always possible, but it was hard to see the possibility when I was looking at the same thing everyday. TC mark

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