"Not long after I started in Michaelmas, my Dad came to see me in Cambridge"George Garrity

There is an unavoidable cliché that goes around, one we may have all encountered at one point or another coming in many different combinations of words and phrases: that university is a time when you find yourself, or when you realise what is important in life, or when you find out what you take for granted. The annoying thing about clichés, however, is that, more often than not, they are true. I didn't realise just how central the stability that the presence of my family provided was until it was stripped away from me.

Not long after I started in Michaelmas, my Dad came to see me in Cambridge. It was exciting for me, the first time I'd gotten the opportunity to go around and show someone my new city. Naturally, the weather had other ideas, and I also happened to spend the last half an hour of my day with him irately trying to convince my bank that the payment of my college bill was not a fraudulent transaction, but frankly that did little to dampen my spirits. I was still fuelled by a post-admission hubris. It wasn't just about showing the pretty sights of the city. It was, to some degree, a chance to boast – to saunter round and exhibit the reputation, the history, all the postcard picture places and in some way claim it for my own. 

Dad couldn’t stay for long. He had to catch the train back down to Liverpool Street, and then in a few days get on a plane that would take him to a different continent where he happened to reside. As I watched him pass the turnstile and join the faceless mass, a very empty feeling set in. There's something ever so odd about seeing a loved one join a face in the crowd, especially if you're there to see them off, especially with Dad, considering I spend most of the year seeing him over an iPhone screen. That feeling of closeness, of being able to spend time with someone, is something that becomes even more cherished when you have so little access to it. I truly doubt whether Dad really wanted a walking tour of the East of England’s finest examples of varying forms of architecture. I realised that he’d come to see me. Not just to see whether I had settled in, or indeed whether I had already caused some kind of catastrophe, but me.

“Ultimately, though, I now realise that I care for my family simply because they know me best”

It is a painfully obvious thing to say, but it needs saying. Cambridge, somewhat ironically, has made me focus on my lack of perspective. Throughout my last two years of school, the one driving factor that kept me going through successes and setbacks was the ultimate goal of getting into the best university I possibly could. My self-worth was tied up in my academic success. I was aching for the emotional payoff of getting in. That feeling of validation, vindication, of proving that I was somehow better. Even in the succeeding few months I've come to realise what a narrow view that was. It had simply become easier to rationalise as I could justify my choice with reasons of better job prospects, good education, and the fact I'd already put in the work. Rubbish. I just wanted bragging rights.

That my family was so supportive of me going for Cambridge as a goal was also probably tied up in the prospect of them sharing in that emotional payoff. You want to see your loved ones succeed in the hopes that it makes them happy. Their happiness, after all, is linked to yours. My focus on university allowed us to be drawn closer in some respects, because it gave the relationship a focal point, a goal to focus the family's collective achievements around. Ultimately, though, I now realise that I care for my family simply because they know me best. Not because they support my goals, but because it isn't an effort to spend time with them. For that very reason, it became to take time with them for granted. Even now, I’m too wrapped up in wondering if I somehow could have done better instead of enjoying the time I spent with my Dad for what it was. 

A lot of my relationships then, particularly with my family, were defined by my goals and my aspirations, not by the normal, agendaless interactions that normal people are supposed to have with each other. School may have been the cause of such a mindset. It was a rat race for me. I felt the constant need to prove myself better than everyone, and that kind of mindset leaked into every aspect of my personal life. I thrived off the idea of competition, without realising just how shallow of a person that made me.

Being at university however, offers an entirely different perspective. Everyone seems better than you. More eloquent, more composed, more able to actually meet their deadlines, all while never caring what anyone else thinks. For me, that was a freeing idea. I cannot compare myself to others; I can only focus on myself, and what is important to me. In other words, I need to focus on the people who make me happy, and why they make me happy. All I need to do that is a healthy dose of perspective.

So from now on, I'm going to try and focus on that precious time I do get to spend with the loved ones I don't get to see so often. I want to try to not be selfish, to allow them to spend time not with an insufferable Cambridge kid, but with me. No frills. 


Mountain View

Returning to the nest

So it’s time I put a different spin on my day with Dad. We got lunch, then we walked around, then we went to the bookshop. Then it rained. Then we got coffee, and then an extortionately priced drink at Brown’s. We spent time with just each other. It was a good day.