Okay Engineering, grab a seat, make a cup of tea and get comfortable because I’m going to tell you a story about a girl who severely overestimated her abilities. For pretty much my entire life, I have always been the girl who was really into academics. I definitely wasn’t the smartest or the hardest working, but I was always wrapped up in that world and always expected perfection from myself. Even when I was being home-schooled, I clearly remember a little six-year-old Kath crying because she had gotten one word wrong on a spelling test. A spelling test for words that she had never even seen before. Like what the actual f***. Saying that I was a weird kid is putting it lightly.
I know that all of this means nothing to you but I’m trying to give you some context of the damage you encouraged. These high expectations for myself continued all the way through primary school, and escalated in high school when I moved into the private education system, where literally every second girl was the top student at their former school. The external pressure was intense and of course there was also my self-inflicted need to keep up academically. When I finally finished high school, I had developed an impressive work ethic and an iron determination. I had also developed, unbeknownst to me, a nasty habit of ignoring all signs of personal strain.
So I left high school with a string of distinctions which meant pretty much f*** all because I had no idea what I was passionate about. I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to go to university and it seemed like an opportunity wasted if I didn’t go. I considered taking a gap year but even then, I knew that I would love travel so much that I would never return to study. So like many other people, I took the safe route and applied to university. I knew what I didn’t want to study and I knew that I wanted a degree that would ensure financial stability but beyond that, I was absolutely clueless. Needles freak me out, I hate reading long documents, accounting bores me and organic chemistry was my worst enemy so I chose you, Mechanical Engineering. And I was actually stupid enough to think that I would genuinely learn to love you.
I went into your degree having been told by many people that it was a challenging degree and at the time, I thought the joke was on them because I liked a challenge. Boy was I mistaken. The first year was brutal. I saw you swat people away like flies and I faced walls that were begging me to turn away. But in classic Katherine style, I consistently ran through them headfirst. Because in my mind, giving up equalled weakness. And to be clear, it does not. I got through the year all battered and bruised but still alive. I knew that I didn’t enjoy you, but I had heard from so many people that the first two years were just about covering theory and weeding out anyone who wasn’t committed. I was told that we would only get into proper engineering work around third year. I figured that I couldn’t really give up on you when I hadn’t even gotten to know you yet. So I decided to push through. Second year destroyed everyone, but again, I made it out. I also decided to choose the Mechanical and Mechatronic stream rather than stick to pure Mechanical.
Then third year came and so did all my expectations for it. It wasn’t all bad. Building a little robot car was fun…for about five minutes…until it became stressful as all hell. I finished third year and as much as there were a few golden nuggets of fun, I was still largely uninspired. I began to realise that you and I just really weren’t a good fit. I had given you three years to prove that we could work but I still didn’t love you. So there I was, three years deep into a journey that brought me little joy. I was also three years deep into chronic stress and fatigue. Do you remember that nifty skill of ignoring strain? Yeah, that also had its shining moment.
Despite my distress, I knew that I would never forgive myself for stopping so close to the end. Throwing away three years of blood, sweat and tears felt disrespectful not only to myself, but to my parents who had invested their money into my education. And even if starting a new degree was financially possible, I had no idea what I would study. Studying something else would’ve just been a repeat of you.
So I decided to just finish. What is one more year of pain after you’ve endured three? For a moment, I even thought that you would let me spend some time with my one true love, Italian, for my elective. But of course, you couldn’t allow that, right? My attempts to study the one language that I had been longing to learn for years, crumbled before my eyes. I owe a big thank you to my supervisor for being a very patient and compassionate human while I realised this. Although I can’t only bad-mouth you. I should at least acknowledge that you allowed me a final year project that I actually cared about. A small offering in an ocean of torment.
The year flew by and I was finally finished with you. I thought that as soon as we parted ways, I would be done with you forever, but you decided to leave some scars. Scars in the form of fatigue that lasted months. Scars of anger and disappointment. Scars of a multitude of health problems. Even scars of symptoms of anxiety and depression. You really did a number on me. Maybe it sounds like I’m blaming you for everything and to an extent, maybe I am. Ultimately, I know that I made my own choices and I am the only one who got me here. But I want you to know the full extent of how you contributed to this.
You might even be surprised to hear that I don’t regret any of it. I also need to say thank you. Thank you for teaching me that just because I can, it doesn’t mean I should. I just really needed you to know all of these things so that I can properly say goodbye to you. I don’t know yet whether it’s goodbye forever or goodbye for now.
But either way, farewell.