Walking through the city, enjoying a 71% Ecuador hot chocolate with chilli and Captain Morgans, while listening to Alestorm has given me a rare chance for silent reflection. The theme of this year’s beyond the walls project is ageing, a subject that is often on my mind as a mature student. In particular, I often find myself dwelling on my perceived failings, feeling I have not accomplished enough at the age of twenty-six to justify my continued existence on this planet. It is in rare moments such as now that give me the opportunity to escape my own head, allowing me clarity to see that life is not a line graph. Age does not equal maturity in itself, and you cannot simply look at a graph for it. Life is not as simple as AGE + MATURITY = STAGE IN LIFE.
Over my time at York St John University, I have come to understand that the true determining factor of emotional maturity is life experience. I took a substantial hit in this department when I was nineteen and at the time in the first year of my first-degree attempt. This is itself an issue in our society’s approach to maturity, in particular, our education system’s approach to maturity.
Two years previously, I was seventeen and studying my A Levels at St John Fishers High in Harrogate. As the school was incredibly keen on sending us to university, my favourite teacher, Mr Smith approached me. At the age of seventeen, I was expected to know what career I wanted to dedicate my life to pursuing. Just like many other people my age… I chose poorly.
My favourite subjects at the time were photography and drama and I felt that photography was the safer financial decision. I went from my school to my local college, completing a foundation year before signing on for an honours degree in photography.
The ‘safer’ decision turned out to be the exact opposite for two reasons. The first being that I was not as passionate about photography as I believed myself to be. Today, this seems obvious, but at the age of seventeen, I was expected to dedicate myself to the subject. I failed to see my fading interest, and in many ways, I have been living with the ramifications of this ever since.
The second reason is darker, and I will attempt to explain without going into too much detail. My degree offered a trip to the Paris Photo Fair in November and it just so happened that my trip took place in November 2015. As a result, I was in Paris during the terror attack of 2015. To put it lightly, I did not handle this well. I was raised to be stubborn, and as a result, I spent the rest of first year with my head in the sand, ignoring my dwindling passion for the subject and my struggling mental health until it developed into full-blown PTSD. I dropped out of college at the end of first year.
I spent the next several years stagnant, trapped in a dead-end job I hated. I wasn’t making enough money to move out of my parent’s house and was trapped living with people I had a very complicated relationship with. I watched my two best friends complete degrees at Cambridge, then Masters, then PHD’s. I saw many of my friends leave Harrogate, get married and have children. I saw all of my friends reach my desired milestones while I remained, trapped in quicksand.
Eventually, I internalised this, forgetting the external circumstances that led to my situation. I began to perceive my setbacks as failures and personal judgements against myself. I was not where I wanted to be in life, and this was my fault. I took up permanent residence in my own head, a prison of my own making.
This has only changed in my time at York St John. I arrived a year and a half ago, the same man I was at the age of nineteen. Now, I am almost unrecognizable as the new things I have been exposed to have given me life experience, which itself is slowly giving me that desired emotional maturity. I am stronger, better, and more empathetic than I was back then. Worlds apart from that confused twenty-five-year-old who hesitantly joined the course. With that empathy comes a greater understanding of myself and the events that have led me to York. I am on my own journey and making progress. It is time to stop dwelling on the failures of the past and time to start enjoying the successes of the present. I may not be where I want to be, but I am where I need to be. Hopefully, I will soon escape the apartment in my head.
At least, I hope so. This could just be the Captain Morgan’s talking.
Tommy Parker is a mature student at York St John University, currently studying his second year of a creative writing BA. As a mature student he often laments his current place in life, feeling that he should have made more progress. He often discusses this with his friends. A quiet moment allowed him to reflect on these feelings and conversations.