5 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner In University
My last semester. Of my last year.
These past four years have been amazing so far, but looking back, there are definite ways I could have lived it better. Here are 5 aspects of undergraduate life that I believe are important. Take them in, and make the most out of your time as a growing student.
"The saddest thing in life is wasted talent". I heard this quote in second year – the year I realized I had some kind of talent for video production. The first piece of advice I would tell the first year me (or any other first year student) is to figure out what personal talents are applicable to helping others, society, the world, and most of all, your future self (don't go broke).
Everyone says they want to help people, but everyone has different characteristics that make them better suited to help in different ways. Find this seed, water it everyday, watch it become evergreen against any storm, and plan for it to support as many lives as possible.
If you have a talent for medicine, continuously refine this talent to join the medical field; if you have a talent for solving political issues, continuously refine this talent to become a president; if you have a talent for programming, continuously refine this talent to create the next big app.
But throughout these four years, I've realized the hardest thing is finding it. And the only thing I can say is
FIND WHAT EXCITES YOU
Find what excites you to keep learning about it, to keep working on it, and to keep rerouting it to help others.
Exploit your excitement as a talented service… because I think that's what a successful career is:
Helping others in the best way possible.
"It's all perspective". The first lesson I learned in Integrated Science. At the time, I thought "wow, there are so many different fields of science I can use to answer this scientific problem"… but I was thinking too small. It was bigger than that. I should have been thinking "wow, there are so many different ways I can view and prioritize this life problem".
PUT EVERYTHING INTO PERSPECTIVE
I'm still guilty of this, but I used to worry a whole lot more about things that have no reason being worrisome. The second piece of advice I would tell the first year me (or any other first year student) is to realize what does and doesn't matter. Under the grand scheme of your life, there are bound to be events/things/people/exams/assignments that eat up your internal thoughts – put them in their place. Prioritize their true importance, and understand that things can almost always be worse.
And I'm not saying to give up on dismal studying (especially if you know you need good grades to be where you want to be), I'm saying to realize whether or not certain things are worth stressing about. Because your energy can be better used elsewhere (i.e. - improving your talent).
It's up to you how you want to frame the clips of your life.
"All it takes is 7 seconds". That's how long it takes to judge someone you just met. To be a reckless stereotypist who doesn't give in to 2016 culture of awareness and equality. You undermine their character; you idolize their personality; you secretly want to call out their dbaggery; or you want to bring them into your family; 7 seconds. The Halo Effect was a concept from one of my third year classes, but all students live it. You might as well use it to your advantage.
A few months ago, a guest speaker gave one of the most memorable talks on interview settings. The context was supposed to prep my fellow fourth years for grad/professional/work applications, but I saw it as prepping for life. Connecting with new people is a happy fact of our society, and I think the reason I was so astounded by this speaker's talk was because she knew how to make herself connectable. She had the right professional image, the right charisma for inspiration, and the right language for personable dialogue. And she showed us how to do it all. No wonder she's the Director of Development at McMaster University, and VP of the McMaster University Foundation. The third piece ofadvice I would tell the first year me (or any other first year student) is
IMAGE leads to
IMPRESSIONS that determine future
Make it good. And starting at the beginning is the best place to start.
Because no one has time to analyze the deepest parts of your brain. Make it as easy as possible for them to see the best of who you are.
Give off physical traits that attract people you want to interact with | Dress well and smile | Give off a personality that attracts people you want to interact with | Be who you want to meet | Give off the right language that attracts people you want to interact with | Speak with honesty and confidence.
I ended up shaking hands, complimenting, and exchanging business cards with this guest speaker, and we made lunch plans the following week. It was the highlight of my fourth year classes so far.
A good image facilitates good interactions, and if you're looking through the perspective of someone new, it would be smart to highlight your serviceable talents in 7 seconds.
"I get by with a little help from my friends". A Fab Four lyric I heard a long time ago. But only really understood until undergrad. Having a good set of friends is never a bad idea, but I think this is even more so important with the stresses that accompany undergrad life. Prior to this undergrad setting, we do have our struggles, but once undergrad hits (at least how it was for me) a lot of freedom/choice/responsibility is placed onto you. And having the opportunity to have a real influence in things also coincides with harsher repercussions. Especially on an internal, personal level. University life can really go downhill some times. But having a supportive group of friends makes a huge difference on just how downhill you go.
Although I did have support in high school, significant issues (thankfully) didn't really come up until undergrad. And that's where I realized how helpful and impactful friends can be. I'll never forget the support I was given. The fourth piece of advice I would tell the first year me (or any other first year student) is to trust and be open with those you hang out with.
If you can truthfully have a good time in a bar/club/class/lab/library/student center with them, you can lean on them for personal support.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO TALK
Whatever issues you have, there is a high percentage that your good study buddy is willing to help, let alone hear you out. And I think that's what a lot of our deepest issues need – to be heard.
Honestly, your problems are your problems for a reason, and should be dealt with by you, but that doesn't mean you can't receive support. We're all human and we all need affection – sometimes the right affection can come from
Someone just listening
Someone who can further discuss
Someone to find an answer
Someone who's willing to be physically near you and not expect any conversation.
DON'T BE AFRAID OF SUPPORT
Again, I'll never forget the support my friends gave me. I don't know where I'd be without them.
"Life is not a race, do take it slower. Hear the music, before the song is over". [This took longer than expected to write, partially because I'm still going through it]. Everything is temporary – some things last longer than others, but nothing ever stays the same. You're not in elementary school anymore, you're not in grade 10 history class anymore, and you're not the same kid who has to raise his hand to go pee. Your settings change, your friends change, your thoughts change. You change. Things come and go all the time, and I think this is one of the hardest ideas to accept. Especially as an undergrad who's constantly being pushed and pulled all over campus. "There's so much to learn, I won't be done school any time soon; There are so many clubs I want to join, I won't be done school any time soon; There are so many events I'm attending, I won't be done school any time soon"… But you will. Everything is temporary. The fifth piece of advice I would tell the first year me (or any other first year student) is to let go of what happened, don't worry too much about what might happen, and experience what is happening.
EXPERIENCE AS MANY THINGS AS POSSIBLE
EXPERIENCE WHAT YOU LIKE
EXPERIENCE WHAT YOU DON'T LIKE
Everything I've talked about so far leads up to this point. If you can look at life through the perspective of continuous change, I think it's easier to accept and prepare for what comes and goes. A big example of this in university is meeting new people. If their talents and image align with what you like, great, you may come to be their support one day (and equally likely for them to be your support). Likewise, you may come in contact with those you don't necessarily vibe with. At least you know what you don't like.
Keep moving towards the life you'd like to be living. You won't know what you like until you try it. But you won't know what you don't like until you try it, either. Your graph of a life will wobble between positives and negatives, but if you learn from experience, you'll come to cruise on the positive side.
After I realized my enthusiasm and slight talent for cinematography (in second year), I dedicated a lot of my third year to just cinematography. Refining it, learning everything I could about it, and continuously putting my focus into it. And I think this is definitely good for anyone – but to a point. What I didn't realize was that the days were passing quicker than ever. I stopped going out as much, I wouldn't want to meet new people, and I was just more reserved. All because I thought my role was to be 'that cinematographer guy'. But no one is JUST 'that (insert aspiring title) guy'. In undergrad, everyone is a student trying to figure themselves out. Don't waste these rapid growth years. For some, this may be the last opportunity to be around so many people in the same stage of life.
In my final semester, I'm only now realizing how rewarding school involvement can be. So again, I would tell the first year me to experience the present. Join that society. Volunteer in that club. Participate in a campaign team. Go see what's happening down the hall. Go to that party. Learn about others. Learn about yourself.
"Know yourself, know your worth"
We all have goals, we all have wishes, we all have desires.
An "A" in Physics, those added pounds of muscle, funds to go to Cuba, the girl in the library, your dream job, that reference letter, that internship, that position, that trophy, that desire, that wish, that goal.
Whatever it is, there will be obstacles and losses on the way. For me, real un-achievement always hit me hard. And taking things way too personally is something I wish I worked on earlier.
"Wow. I can't believe this just happened. What's wrong with me? Why am I not a good enough person?" It was an "Un-Halo Effect", where one loss made me a complete loser.
But if you can accept the reality of statistically inevitable defeats, that sometimes bad things just happen, then it's so much easier to keep pushing. The sixth piece of advice I would tell the first year me (or any other first year student) is to stop focusing on self-pity or blaming yourself.
FOCUS ON LEARNING
If I had to summarize everything I've said so far into 2 words, it would be to
And if you honestly feel yourself growing into the person you want to be,
STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP
I think a lot of students would be happy meeting themselves. If they bumped into someone exactly like them, they'd like them. For the most part, you're nice, you're helpful, you're all around good people. Don't ignore that.
One stumble doesn't make the path disappear.