Student Blog

Why going to university is a bit like Finding Nemo

Why going to university is a bit like Finding Nemo

You don’t need to be a talking fish to Find Yourself

There’s a rumour that one result of going to university is ‘Finding Yourself’. Unlike a degree certificate or a tribal tattoo, finding yourself can be a less tangible outcome of the experience. Everyone – from your parents to any graduates you know – seems to think that your time at university is a rite of passage that will reveal some great truths to you.

But what is ‘finding yourself’, how do you do it and what does it have to do with an animated Clown Fish?

Like any (reasonably) good essay, we’ll start with a nice safe definition; I shouldn’t lose marks for a definition. I’ve sourced this one from the Internet’s most reliable source. Not Google; Quora. “Finding yourself is searching for you purpose in life, the reason of your existence”. If we translate into something a bit closer to English, the general idea is that you’re trying to find what really matters to you.

When I first started my undergrad degree, it was one of the big questions buzzing around my head – what is Finding Yourself ™?  I felt a great deal of mental pressure to crack my life open and find some revelatory experience that would somehow give me a sense of direction and purpose.


The first bombshell that I’d like to impart is that #FindingYourself is not a single, defining moment that makes an exclusive appearance in these giddy post-school years!  You’re a different person to who you were five years ago, and you’ll be different in five years’ time. I personally did much more ‘finding’ in the years after I graduated and started working than I did the first time I was studying as a student. There’s no need to panic if your life’s true direction doesn’t suddenly unspool in front of you the moment you unpack your stuff in your halls of residence and buy your first freshers event ticket.

It doesn’t mean that you won’t feel different, more real and mature and possibly like a different  ‘you’ has emerged from its chrysalis. With that in mind, here are some not-so-wise words that actually help.

The reason that arriving at university usually coincides with a sudden awareness of #FindingYourself is that it’s the first time most of us move away from our hometowns, our parents and our friends.

However much everyone thinks they’re a fully formed adult at 18, really the majority of us are living inside our childhood bubbles with people we are familiar with and where years of familiarity means we naturally fit in.  That comfortable bubble is burst as soon as we move to a new city. Living with new people, we expose ourselves to new ideas, lifestyles and ways of thinking about the world. There’s also a maelstrom of new experiences and – let’s face it – large quantities of booze. Hangovers aside, it’s easy to see that this is the moment you start Finding Yourself!


OK, so what does all this even mean and what the flip does it have to do with Pixar’s fish and its poor parenting skills?  Well, presumably you’re reading this because you’re at least somewhat curious about the mystery that is Finding Yourself.

Wisdom (ish): We are all works in progress and the journey to your unique raison d’etre doesn’t begin or end while at university. What helps your time at university become truly transformative – along with your gap year or first proper job– are opportunities to pop (or maybe expand) the bubble that builds up around you while you’re not paying attention.

University can seem a bit scary and that bubble is a very comfortable place to live. I wasted my first semester doing just that, after receiving some particularly poor advice. Some well-meaning, but wrong, person told me “you have enough good friends, you can close your ‘friends book’ now”.

Following that particular nugget of advice meant that I avoided anything that would make me feel uncomfortable. Don’t make that mistake. Do things that make you uncomfortable, have awkward conversations, take time to be friendly with people you would not meet inside that cosy bubble.

That is how you learn about yourself, grow as a person and accelerate the journey to finding yourself.  If you’re thinking that this all sounds a bit scary and you’re not sure you can do that, imagine yourself to be one of the adventurous fish in Pixar’s 2003 classic Finding Nemo. Nemo, Dory and Marlin find themselves by venturing outside of their bubble/anemone. So, get out there and touch that butt! (Disclaimer, I only endorse consensual and/or metaphorical butt-touching.)


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