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What is my ‘Why’?

I was recently asked why I decided to write this blog. A fairly simple question, you’d think.

Well, for some reason it’s proved to be quite a difficult one for me to answer. Some of my aims were simple:

  • I want to teach students how to study
  • I want to make their lives easier by helping them to not make the same mistakes that I made when I was starting out in my academic career
  • I want to show them that they can have it all – that it is possible to study hard, work hard and have a great social life
  • I want to impress upon my students that the skills they learn now will be invaluable when they enter the workplace
  • I want to provide a simple, easy to access forum where students can find the answers to their questions and solutions to their learning problems
  • And yes, I’m going to be honest here, I want to make a modest living from this blog if I can

The reasons are multiple and varied, but I guess my overriding motivation, my ‘why’, is that I genuinely want to help students to get the most from their time at university. I want them to experience the joy of learning to love learning – just as I learned to do.

But can it really be that simple, that basic?

Maybe a bit of backstory would help…

I remember, during my first week at university, sitting in the glass-walled refectory one sunny October lunchtime. The world fizzed around me as I sipped my latte. I was in awe of my surroundings. It wasn’t so much the physical building that was the source of my inspiration. You see, my university had been a polytechnic before it evolved into a university in the early 1990s. At this time a lot of building work took place and the refectory is one of those new builds.

Photo of a modern building with lots of windows

It’s fair to say there was no Harry Potter-entering-the-halls-of-Hogwarts feeling of overwhelm for me.

So why was I so in awe of my surroundings?

Firstly, there was a buzz that I’d never experienced before. Freshers were milling round a little nervously. They were chatting about their new and exciting world; the important point they thought they’d missed from the last orientation briefing; who was in which halls area; where were they supposed to be after lunch;  what was happening in the Student Union bar and man, how big is the library, sorry I mean Learning Centre!

Returners were exchanging stories of trips they’d made; family they’d spent time with; who’d broken up with who and how their new accommodation was just the best (or not).

Then there were the academics, the lecturers who were preparing to get back into teaching after their summer of research, conferences and publication. They had their own hum of excitement and expectation as they caught up on the summer’s activities.

The room felt like a living breathing organism that was suddenly coming to life as the new cohort of learning broke the summer hiatus.

And this leads me to the second reason for my sense of awe. I simply couldn’t believe that I was there, a student…a UNIVERSITY student. I felt like I didn’t belong, that this was a world full of knowledge and youth that I could never live up to or fit in with.

The truth is, I was very late to the higher education game. When I was at school it was only the rich or the super-clever kids that went to university. The rest of us had to go out at sixteen and find work (not easy back in the 80s when I was let loose on the job market). I bimbled about for a few years going from one crappy, low paid job to another. And then I found what I thought was going to be my vocation. I became a police officer (don’t hold it against me, I’m a nice person…honest!). All was going quite well until I got injured and that ended that little adventure (I’m aiming for brief here, I’ve just condensed eleven years of my life into three sentences!).

So, I found myself out of work. I needed something new. Something to challenge me.

What did I do?

Well, at the age of thirty-something-nearer-to-forty I decided to apply to go to university.

So, there I was, a mature student (in age, if not demeanor) feeling like a total outsider, but excited at the chance of…well, belonging to this potential-filled institution. (I was later to discover that this feeling of not being deserving of your place at university, of being an imposter is a real THING. I’ll talk more about this in another post).

With support I gradually got over the imposter syndrome and I ended up having THE BEST TIME at uni! I discovered that I had the learning bug and it went well…very well. I came out with a First Class Honours degree in Creative and Professional Writing combined with Film Studies.

But more than the qualification, I also came out having had the time of my life and  I had a new mentor, and  I had some amazing life-long friends, and  I was given the opportunity to work at the university I’d studied at as an Academic Skills Adviser. Wowsers! I loved my life!

All good so far!

Are you ready for the sad bit? Come on, you know every good story needs a the sad bit in the middle before it all comes good in the end!

So, as I said, life was good…no, life was great and (here it comes – the sad bit) I became ill. Not ill enough for it to be a real tragedy, but ill enough for it to change my life. Ill enough for me to have to take a break from my career.

Once again, I found myself out of work. I needed something new. Something to challenge me.

Err, hang on, haven’t we been here before? You bet! You see, I have this theory. I think that life is a series of constantly changing chapters and challenges that we have to adapt to in order to live the lives we want and deserve. I needed to take some time to consider my position and make a plan for the future

How does any of this relate to why I decided to write this blog?

I eventually decided that writing this blog and producing academic skills courses was the way to go. I also set out the reasons that I mentioned above as the main goals, my ‘why’ in my initial business plan. But as I began to think more deeply about what I wanted to achieve I realised that yes, my reasons for starting this blog are absolutely all of the things listed in the bullet points at the top of this post but there’s a problem. And that problem is that none of us come from the same starting point so it is impossible for everyone to experience university in the same way. To quote a very famous line from the British comedy film, The Life of Brian, when Brian is trying to convince a devoted mob that he is not the Messiah and that they shouldn’t follow him. He calls out to them “You are all individuals!” and the mob shout back in unison, “Yes, we are all individuals!”It’s a funny, funny film and I highly recommend it if you need a laugh.


Anyway, I digress.

My point is that of course I can’t make everyone love studying and learning in the same way I do. I can’t because you’re not me.

I realised that my main goal, my main intention for writing the blog is totally unattainable. I am unique. My university experience as an extra-mature, white female student from the Shires in England couldn’t come close to that of a teenage black male exchange student from Zimbabwe, for example. I realised that there was no such thing as an average student.

My ‘why’ had to change.

My new motivation for writing this blog and producing my academic skills courses is no longer to teach you how to experience the joy of learning as I do. My new mantra, my new passion in life is to guide you, to show you through my work how you can learn to learn your way…if you’ll let me.
Apologies for the length of this slightly self-indulgent post. But, I hope that there are two important things that we can take away from it. Firstly, I believe that if we are going to work together in the future we need a level of trust between us. Most of all you need to trust in me and I hope that this post has given you a brief insight into who I am and what I care about.
Secondly, there is a lesson that we can all learn by considering the thought processes that I went through to produce this post. Maybe you’d like to make some suggestions as to what that may be in the comments box or through my Contacts page. I’ll drop my thoughts on this into the comments in a few days time. In that way we can see whether we agree, or indeed, whether there are differences in our conclusions.
Hey! There we go I’ve set your first challenge! Give it a go!
And finally, I would like to thank the person who asked me why I had decided to start this blog, you have not only helped me to clarify my ‘why’ but you have also given me the opportunity to start a conversation with my readers. Cheers!
Nicki Walsh My Signature

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