It means I have hit upon a realisation that has rocked me.
In just a matter of six months, I will have completed my initial round of studies. I will be able to graduate, should I no longer want to go on and do Honours. I will be able to walk across that stage and take hold of that magical piece of paper I have worked so hard for for what seems so very long (even though, I know it’s really not).
It occurred to me tonight, as I submitted the last assignment of my last ever core (major) unit, that This was the beginning of the end of this phase of my life. In just six months I will be able to claim that I have achieved something tangible that I consciously chose to begin, with a real world, attainable goal at the end of it.
When I began my university journey, I chose a unit that I assumed would prepare me to really be able to think about studying at university level. I had no intentions of signing up to a degree until I had completed that 13 week course… and then I read the unit outline that said the unit (SSK12- Introduction to University Learning) was best studied in conjunction with another. Well, I freaked out and started searching Open University Australia’s website for another unit I might be able to not fail. I still wasn’t convinces at this point that I was cut out for university. I found NED11 (Internet Design – Introduction). I had done some web site design previously. Surely it couldn’t be that difficult?
Well, that extra unit nearly broke me. I couldn’t understand the material. I felt like an idiot because I knew I could do what the unit was asking of me, I had done it before, but damned if I could understand what that book in front of me was saying. I had pretty much made the decision at that point to drop out of both units and give up the study thing as just another lost cause. Another thing I had wanted to do that I wasn’t smart enough to complete. It took my boyfriend telling me he wouldn’t accept that I was dropping my out, me throwing a full-blown temper tantrum like only the mother of a small child can, and some very serious sulking before I allowed him to sit down with me and explain an entire 13 week course of web design to me in a single day, allowing me to complete an assignment I was prepared to just not do. I ended up getting a Credit for it. There was also my first exam since high school, an experience I have worked hard to not replicate since. My mark for the exam is irrelevant to the story.
From there, I entered the world of the Internet Studies department at Curtin University. Once I had started Web Communications and Internet and Everyday Life, I knew that I did have the capacity to learn. Beyond that, I had the desire to succeed again. It didn’t stop me from sulking at my boyfriend every time there was a concept I had difficulty understanding… oh, and a gentle reminder to him that I still hated him (but he knew what that really meant). There was a steep learning curve. How to write a decent essay. How to reference correctly. How to use more than one referencing style without going completely insane (a lesson I am still learning). How to juggle family life, a blossoming relationship, working, not working, and various other challenges, and still manage to keep handing those assignments in on time.
I decided to register my interest for completing the Internet Communications degree after that study period. It had been difficult to send in that form, but once I had dropped it into the postbox, it was done. I have only looked back and wondered if it was the right choice a couple of times. Each time, I have had a moment that made me remember the “why?” of it all.
Then, in the last study period of my first year, I hit my first Very Big Speed Bump. I failed a unit. Well, to be precise, I failed a high percentage assignment so badly that it didn’t matter how well I did in the following assignment, there was no way I would pass the unit. There was a strategic “Did not complete” registered against my name. The record states “N”. I see “F”. I wondered if it was still worth it. I thought I had a decent grasp on the topic, but clearly I had not. I picked myself up, brushed off the dirt and wiped away my tears (trust me, there were some of those once I got over the shock of seeing the mark), and soldiered on forward.
I then powered through and systematically cleared unit after unit. It seemed each study period brought with it a new challenge and a new opportunity. One time, it was live blogging and tweeting a digital futures event here in Perth. The next it was holding a face-to-face side event to a university conference. The one after that, flying to Melbourne to cover a community manager’s conference after making contact with someone who had seen me work at the digital event in Perth. Then it was my paper for the uni conference popping up around the internet, people talking about my personal blog, meeting staff (which is still a little daunting considering I’m technically an off-campus student).
Now I am finishing up my journey and the opportunities are still heading my way. My little ole paper on the Browncoats for that uni conference has been nominated for a little award. I have found great opportunities to work with fantastic community groups here in WA through connections made at Curtin. I am flying to Sydney in September to cover this year’s conference for that community manager’s group. I give advice regarding social media to friends with small businesses, and they let me know when my advice works for them. I have larger corporations calling me, interested in what I can do. I have science-aligned events asking for my opinions on things and asking me to talk and “discuss” with other wonderful people.
So, I guess this isn’t just a reminiscing of my journey. This is a rather long-winded way of getting to my main piece of advice for anyone thinking they will just dip their toe in the water to see if they can take it.
You know what? Dipping your toe in isn’t going to tell you if you can take it. It isn’t going to tell you anything about the temperature of the water, the feeling of the waves, or how to react when the tides pull you out to sea. Dipping your toe in at the shore will only tell you that your toe is capable of getting wet. If you are dipping your toe in the water, it means you are probably wearing your bathing suit. You just may not realise it yet. Pull down those goggles, to keep the water out of your eyes. Look out to the horizon and dive under that first wave. Sure, you won’t get out t the horizon in your first attempt. You may not even get very far from the shore, but if you try a little bit every day, and if you keep your eye fixed on that horizon, you will get to where the horizon was from on the shore and realise you moved it further while you were swimming. Yes, there are sharks out there. There are boats that will want to get in your way. You can pause for the boats as they go past. You can kick those sharks and fight them. Don’t you dare give up without a fight, and whatever you do, don’t just stay on the shore dipping your god damned toe in.