I would love to begin this article offering something as valuable as the skills in What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. Unfortunately, skills concerning communication, networking, or simply time management will not be found here. Rather, this article is a reflection on my time at university, the difficulties that I have encountered, and how I wish that I came here with my emotional intelligence better equipped.
Having attended boarding school, I thought that I was well-prepared for university. While that might have been true to a certain extent, little did I know that university would open doors to a myriad of issues beyond my imagination. First year gleefully passed by with amicable friends and beautiful memories, which made me even more eager to come back to St Andrews after my second year abroad. Yet, third year quickly came with more disappointment than I expected.
Knowing that restarting life here would not be a walk in the park, I immersed myself in different activities and engaged in as many social scenes as time permitted. However, I would always feel this sense of unfulfillment and disconnect from others around me. I often found myself walking with my headphones on, completely detached from the loud chatter and laughter heading past me. How could this be? St Andrews is known for its student satisfaction, and I am repeatedly told that university is supposed to be the best time of my life. What was causing my lack of content?
First, I thought it was my disaffection for small talk, which I thought controlled a lot of the social scenes. Then it was the unchanging weather, the bustling crowdedness, and all the little things that seemed to challenge my ability to keep my emotions in check. As an introvert, I would envy those who could assimilate into new social scenes quickly. A bright smile, a friendly hello, while seemingly easy for the naturals, would sometimes take me more eff ort. In a new crowd, I would not be the first one to jump into a conversation, but rather hesitantly taking my time to assess the situation and observe people first. It’s these moments of discomfort that made me question my adaptability in St Andrews.
My state of feeling unnerved kept building up until I decided to learn more about emotional intelligence and consult resources at school. It was not until then that I learned I was not alone in having trouble with my emotions. As many of us walk around town with a seemingly confident presence and a happy front, it is rather difficult to envision the problems that students commonly experience behind closed doors: academic pressure, relationship hiccups, and a variety of other personal issues. The good thing is that these issues can easily be improved if properly managed and understood from the beginning. The bad thing is that they could also escalate rapidly if mishandled. The ugly thing, unfortunately, is that we are losing control to the bad thing.
I used to think of self-awareness and the ability to manage emotions as natural skills rather than something that I could build and improve. The education that I have received my whole life would line up with this belief; we prioritise academic knowledge excessively over soft skills. It’s actually, quite ironic to think about how my teachers in high school would spend as long as it took to teach us the derivatives of trigonometric functions or disproved theories from the distant past. At the end of the day, however, the students were left to learn how to facilitate difficult conversations or confront anger outbursts on their own. While it is perfectly acceptable to think of emotional intelligence as an individual challenge, as after all nobody will hold our hands when we experience failures in our future careers, does emotional intelligence not merit being taught or at least discussed?
One of the most important lessons that I have learned during my time at university is that it takes tremendous skills to succeed and be happy. Work ethics and academic ability aside, there are other challenges that every student face: how to build meaningful relationships, how to self-motivate and self-control, how to bounce back from adversity. These are the over-looked building blocks that enable us to achieve great things, or quite frankly, determine whether we break or grow.
Like many other institutions, St Andrews prides itself in providing abundant resources to support its students. The problem is, we tend to look at them as an aftermath cure rather than a preventive. It is much more common for someone to consider taking a leave of absence or see a counselor after the situation has gone too far than for someone to consistently reflect on their emotions and manage them cautiously along the way. As a matter of fact, it is our habit to sweep our negative feelings under the rug and hope that they would disappear rather than to confront them. Having a better awareness of emotional intelligence would provide a different perspective.
I used to misunderstand my feelings, wishing that I could get rid of them so that they wouldn’t interfere with my rationality. Now I’m learning to identify and manage them. I reckon that had I learned to develop my emotional intelligence earlier, I could have avoided a lot of doubts that I acquired during my time at university. The optimist in me would like to think that if all of us could learn to assess our emotions, many problems would not have taken place. Ultimately, students come to university thinking that we are going to have the best four years of our lives, it requires the ability to navigate through the hidden facets that we were not taught.