Like many college graduates nationwide, I’ve spent the last few weeks being fed anecdotes and exposes about what life is really like in the post-graduate abyss. I’ve heard words ranging from “scary” to “exciting”, “stressful” to “stimulating” or even simply “weird”. It’s easy to empathize with this anxiety and sense of the unknown that seems almost universal across the Class of 2014. Taxes, retirement savings plans, and insurance plans are about as comprehensible to some college graduates as hieroglyphics. The idea of finding our “passion” and our “purpose” looms as we try to remain “flexible” in the job search and justify our intriguing prospects for post-graduate employment.
A lot of people have been asking me one strange and daunting question, “What do you feel like you’ve taken away from college? What advice do you have for other students?” Yikes. It left me thinking back to what I didn’t know as a freshman. Disclaimer: I can’t claim to be an expert. I haven’t written any New York Times bestsellers or gotten any PhDs. Do not take these words as those of a specialist, preacher, or guru, but simply a student. If you are a high school student, college freshman or even a graduate like myself, I present to you a collection of lessons I’ve learned at the University of Maryland that I wish I knew earlier:
You Decide Your Own Vehicles For Success
What does success mean to you? For the longest time, I thought it meant getting a good job and making money. Standard. Through college however, I’ve gone on to expand my perspective of success and now I feel that my definition revolves around empowering and inspiring people. My sense of pride arises from teaching and helping others. Your definition of success will change, as will your habits. It’s not bad to take advice and learn some new useful habits, but don’t force something upon yourself that will not fulfill you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been recommended books about “What The Top Ten Most Successful People Do Daily.” If you strive to emulate your life around others, you’ll lose track of what works for you. Hell, you don’t even have to listen to the advice in this article if you don’t want to! If you write your best papers the night before they are due, some tips like you “should be more organized” or that you “should plan better” may not work for you. If you’re nocturnal and do your best work at night, embrace it. Different things work for different people. Personally, I worked best under pressure and was fine. If you like to multi-task, watch Netflix while studying and don’t find it to be remotely a detriment, do it! Find out what works best for you and don’t succumb to what societal pressure tells you is “the best way”. The best way is different for everyone.
People Are Your Greatest Resources
There’s a big myth that the most you learn in college will be from classes or textbooks. The best resources for education are in fact, your classmates and other students. Reach out and learn about what interests, hobbies, and passions others have. Think back to your own life. There have probably been one or two things you’ve been really passionate about that have come as a result of a conversation or a conceptual introduction by individuals. Cherish the differences between you and your peers. Always ask yourself “What can I learn from this person?” when you meet someone new. Maybe you’ll learn something about a new country, a new background, a new food, or maybe even a new form of dance. The possibilities are endless! Not everyone may interest you and not everyone may be your best friend; there is a strong chance, however, that you will find something unique in every individual that you have never seen before. If you find yourself isolated in your room, go down the hall and ask someone about his or her future aspirations. It’s way easier than it sounds! In 5 years, you won’t remember what you got on that economics exam but you will remember the relationships you built, the memories, and how people have impacted you.
Your Primary Barrier Will Be Yourself
I can’t apply to that internship because my GPA isn’t high enough. I’m not fast enough for intramural soccer. I’m too busy to rush a fraternity or join a club this semester. I’m not smart enough. I’m not qualified enough. So many students wake up and tell themselves they are incapable or unable to pursue something. I was a victim of this when I was an underclassman as well. I felt as a freshman that I was not old enough or proficient enough to apply to certain programs and try new things. Tell yourself this: It’s way better to live life with “oh wells” than “what ifs”. You apply to the internship and don’t get it. Oh well. You’re nervous to participate in a business case competition, sign up, learn a lot, but don’t place in the competition. Oh well. You won’t be plagued by thoughts of what would’ve happened if you hadn’t done the competition or neglected to apply to the internship. All of our life experiences, even our failures, can lead us closer to new opportunities. Don’t deny yourself an opportunity. Take a risk. The worst thing that can happen is you saying, “Oh well, this wasn’t for me. Time to move on”.
Embracing Uncertainty is Okay
Approximately 70% of college students will change their major atleast once. If you feel uncertain about life, academics, and your career, don’t let it get you down! There is no greater graduation cliché than “follow your dream”; a lot of people will ask you your major and what you want to be when you grow up. Keep into consideration that whatever your dream is right now, it might change. It might change in a year. It might change in a week. Allow it to. You don’t have to know what you want to do and there are just as many people who embrace many different careers, passions and purposes. One of the toughest realizations we have to grasp is that we don’t have to be good at everything. The hardest part about switching majors is to take a step back and admit to ourselves that what we have been doing will not contribute to our happiness. We are scared to remove ourselves from our dreams because we don’t want to admit we were wrong. Keeping our goals open to change and expansion isn’t a bad thing. Learn some cutting-edge technology. Write a blog. Pick up the game of tennis or the art of Yoga. Embrace the possibility of change and take it year by year. One of my favorite quotes is “Not all those who wander are lost”. For someone who has changed their major close to nine times in college, this quote has resonated so much with me. As long as you are enjoying the journey, everything will work itself out in the end.
The biggest takeaway from college is that the real experience starts at the end of your comfort zone. Whether it’s meeting others, taking a class outside of your line of study, going to a Hackathon, or joining a club, make sure that you are able to grow within the four years you have. With the rise of tuition rates, there is even more pressure for you to get the most out of your college experience; make the return worth it for yourself. Congratulations Class of 2014!