How University Trained Me For Life

by Lisa Runge

Just this morning I was having a conversation with a colleague about our careers. Now that I have a full-time job with Carleton University here in Ottawa, I feel like I have the chance to reflect a bit and think about where I started. By going full-time as a documentary video editor for the Journalism Department I left my freelance career well behind me. In a way it feels as if I have jumped off a hamster wheel. I have not completely decided if that is a good or bad thing. Probably somewhere in the middle.

If you have a creative mind, or in my case a semi-creative mind, not everything in life is cut and dried. I remember when I first started at U of A, I was up all night once trying to decide what to declare as my major. I envied my friends who chose a subject and stuck to it for 4 years straight before beginning their masters. At 17, I thought if I didn't get it right the very first time, I'd screw up my entire education, and therefore my career, and therefore my life.

I also remember choosing Political Science because it was the least artsy-sounding subject in the Bachelor of Arts department. Why did I deny my natural instincts to just take Film Studies or (gasp) get an Arts degree? Back then my major concern was that I wouldn't be taken seriously.

Poly Sci? Ugh...the textbooks read like dictionaries. My essays were filled with words like "paramount" and "this illustrates the fact..." and "Nonetheless..." My writing bored the sh*t out of me. I couldn't imagine the suffering endured by those poor profs who had to read all our first- year papers.

So that was a big lesson, "to thine own self be true", in a nutshell. I wasted many years trying to be the kind of person that I thought I should be. Vancouver-living, flannel-wearing (it was the early 90s), coffee-sipping, people-pleasing intellectual...with no joy in her life whatsoever. Perhaps it took three hard years of studying and writing papers that woke me up from my torpor..."you don't have to live like this!" And "I love pop music! I eat red meat! I WANT to wear makeup not because it objectifies me as a woman in society but because it hides my undereye circles!"

I was FINALLY honest with myself - I really did not love the hours it took of studying and writing on subjects that I detested in order to love university. In fact, except for the odd 'knowledge buzz' I'd get when I took a course that was really interesting, university life was simply not for me.

What I did love was really getting on a roll when I was writing about something interesting and getting a good mark for it. I worked best under pressure and under deadlines. I discovered that I liked having individual projects that I can work on by myself, while contributing to a greater whole with other people. It was great gathering research and forming ideas and then honing them down to a fine finish. Writing all those dang papers set me up for life as an editor, because really, all of these things apply in editing.

I heard somewhere that if you have the choice, make sure not only that you love what you do, but that you are good at it. Otherwise you'll have a hell of a time. I chose freelancing because like university, it allowed me to pick and choose at a bit of everything, and commit to nothing. I guess you could say by taking a job, ironically enough at a university, I have finally chosen my major subject in life. And no, it ain't Poly Sci.


  1. Oh I do understand what you mean. I was like that too - even in high school when I should have taken drama I took accounting - yeah me in accounting! sheesh! Then in university I kind of did the hybrid thing - I studied journalism but really did not want to be a reporter - I wanted to work in film or TV - I wanted to be creative. I should have majored in film studies instead of minoring in it - but it was the best of both worlds I guess - I have both a practical side and an artsy side. And in the end when I went on to do my MA the profs all liked that I wrote to the point as opposed with overflowing prose. Although I did create a sort of hybrid style for that too. I think though - what we all hopefully learned in college or uni is to think an analyze and figure things out for ourselves - in essence it helped us grow up. I'm sure that now your past experience is of great benefit to your students on their projects! ;)

  2. It's true Jo Jo, and thanks for giving me the idea to write about this. When I see the students going through all their various degrees of hell with projects and papers due, I feel like giving them a big hug and saying "everything will be okay"!!! Haha. Of course I don't actually do it... that would be weird. ;)

  3. But I'm sure you convey that message to them in any case ;) hug or no hug ;)


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