10 Important Lessons They Fail to Teach in College
For those who are fortunate, college is a magical bubble where you have the privilege and opportunity to immerse yourself into whatever you’re interested in at the time, whether that be Cellular Neurobiology, Advanced Digital Photography, or… Beer School 101. After a couple years, you get a nice shiny diploma, a pat on the back, and a shove into the real world.
All throughout your life, you’ve more or less followed a plan. It may be a plan that you made, or maybe someone else made for you, but there’s always been some sort of general guideline of go to school → get good grades/excel in sports/do extracurricular activities → go to college → choose a degree → graduate → get a job.
And then what?
The path gets a little less clear cut. And all of a sudden, you might find yourself swimming in a pool of uncertainty.
Welcome to Post-Grad 101.
1. Learn Personal Finance. And apply it to your life.
Whether you graduate in debt with college loans or not, personal finance is one thing that everyone needs to learn.
Here’s one example. Time value of money is the idea that money today is worth more than the same amount of money tomorrow because of it’s potential earning capacity. Let’s break it down:
Sally is 20 years old and wants to retire at age 60. Every month, she deposits $300 into her retirement fund, which has a standard interest rate of 6.50%, compounded quarterly. After 40 years, she has $682,475.15 in her account.
Let’s say Mike is also 20 y/o. But he decides to worry about his retirement fund later. He starts contributing $300/month to his retirement fund at 25 y/o. After 35 years, he will have about $479,051.41 in his account.
By choosing to defer saving by 5 years (~$18,000 in contributions), Mike misses out on $185,424.34 of interest over the span of 35 years.
THAT’S INSANE. And this is just one example of the power of personal finance. Do future-you a solid and educate yourself. It’s not the most sexy subject out there for most people, but take some time to learn about the ins-and-outs of personal finance and apply it to your life. Additional resources here, here, here, and here.
2. Learn how to pay attention in meetings.
Put your damn phone away.
Let me repeat this.
Put. Your. Damn. Phone. AWAY. Don’t surf the web. Don’t check your Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat. Don’t take Buzzfeed quizzes. Actually try to pay attention in meetings. Absorb what is being said. Really understand. And don’t be afraid to contribute (meaningfully), even if you’re the most junior one in the meeting.
3. Learn how to job hunt and negotiate your salary.
Your first job may have nothing to do with your major.
You may dislike your new job.
You may feel like this career field is not a good fit for you.
You may feel like you want a new job.
You may feel like you didn’t negotiate enough the first time/want a raise/promotion.
Many of my peers found themselves in this situation a couple months into their first job… but were too scared to quit and find a new one. They figured they should stick it out for 2–3 years, gain some experience, and then maybe try to look for a new job.
That’s b*******. Life’s too short to spend years and years doing something that doesn’t fulfill you.
At some point, you’re going to have to apply for a new job, negotiate your salary, or ask for a raise. The process can be brutal, especially if you are switching career fields, BUT YOU CAN DO IT.
Read more on best practices and steps to take in your job search here. (The article is focused on my transition into the UX Design field, but the steps I took are definitely applicable to all fields!)
4. Learn how to actually keep up with current events.
As an adult in the real world, you have a civic responsibility to meaningfully contribute back to your community.
And that means actually knowing what is going on in your community, whether that be your local neighborhood, your state, your country, or the world.
It’s important to not let yourself stay in a bubble. By exposing yourself to current events, you can start to better understand the world that you live in, the diversity of communities across the globe, and the multi-faceted and complex problems present in different countries. And maybe, you can better understand how you can help.
Open your eyes, educate yourself, and become a member of the community.
I make it a habit to listen to my NPR hourly news summary once in the morning and in the evening.
5. Learn what it means to have GRIT and discipline.
Life is going to kick you in the teeth, knock out all your wind, and leave you breathless on the side of the street.
I guarantee that.
There’s going to be countless hurdles, setbacks, and obstacles in your path. Some of them will be immovable, others will require pure grit to overcome.
Grit is defined by Angela Duckworth as having passion and perseverance for long term goals. Some of us may be used to flexing this grit more often than others, but everyone has the capability to do so.
Set S.M.A.R.T. goals, take time to truly understand what it’ll take to meet those goals, and develop the discipline to accomplish those tasks.
6. Learn how to be a continual learner.
For the first time in 20+ years, no one’s telling you to study anymore!
Sorry to burst your bubble, but the learning never stops.
Knowledge has never been, and never will be, stagnant. It is constantly changing and evolving. And it’s up to YOU to stay on top of it.
I’m not saying you have to enroll in online courses or take college classes outside of your job (although that’s definitely an option!). But perhaps build a habit of continual learning and intentional enrichment into your every day life. Cultivate your sense of curiosity. What do I do? I make it a habit to subscribe to newsletters on topics that I find interesting or skills that I want to build so that future-me can be a total #boss…. AND actually read at least 1–2 articles from each newsletter (gasp!).
Concentrate on the knowledge you lack, not the knowledge you have.
7. Learn how to not keep up with the Jones
I guarantee you, one of your friends will immediately move to San Francisco or New York and make $$$$$$. They’ll seem like they’re the epitome of success, on a jetsetting career trajectory to being the next industry leader.
And then you’re still at home trying to figure out what the hell you’re doing with your life.
In school, assignments and projects may stack you against your peers, but in the real world, don’t waste energy comparing yourself to others.
Everyone is on a different path. Focus more on what makes you happy, what excites you day-to-day, what gets you going. Really dig into that passion.
I guarantee you if you ask anyone in their 50’s how they got to where they are now, the path they describe will be anything but linear. That’s because there’s no one path to success. Yes, there are certain characteristics or things you can do to push yourself forward, but what works for one person will not work for everyone.
The best thing you can do is find your own magic and pursue it.
(But don’t be discouraged if you don’t know what your magic is right away. One day, it’ll click. So for now, go put yourself out there and dive into your interests)
8. Learn how to take care of your body.
Let’s face it. You won’t be 20 years old forever.
Think of your health like a retirement fund (#1!!). The more you maintain a healthy diet and active lifestyle now, the more healthy you will be later down the road. It’s no secret that those who exercise for 30 minutes a day, whether it be high intensity training or walking, have better projected long-term health outcomes than those who don’t.
This doesn’t mean that you have to swear off cookies for the rest of your life or complete a marathon. It just means that you need to take steps in investing in your long-term health. Start with some broccoli and a 5k (But seriously, never swear off cookies, because #balance).
Future-you will thank current-you for being an absolute rockstar.
9. Learn how to have work/life balance.
This goes hand in hand with #8. You may have pulled all-nighters and fueled your body with Oreos and Red Bull in college to meet a deadline, but I firmly believe that work/life balance is crucial to long-term sustainability. If you’re going 110% all day every day, it’s only a matter of time before you start to feel the burn out.
Invest in your long term overall health and figure out what workload level allows you the right balance of working hard, enjoying life, and enriching your mind/soul/body!
And if your current job doesn’t allow you to do that, then maybe reconsider.
And most importantly,
10. Learn how to take risks.
Life is uncertain. I’m only 23 years old and I know I have much more to learn. But in the 2 years since I have graduated from college, I have learned SO much about myself by taking risks:
Taking a risk to move to DC, where I knew no one.
Taking a risk to quit my job because I was no longer happy there.
Taking a risk to travel to India for 2 months because…why the hell not.
Taking a risk to switch careers.
Taking a risk to sign up for my 1st IronMan.
Taking a risk to move to Denver and find a job.
Taking a risk to do what makes me happy, not what makes other people label me as “successful”.
I’ve been hit with hurdle after hurdle, doubts upon doubts, and more challenges that I care to count.
And during the hard spots, it sucked. It really did.
But the uncertainty of whether or not I’d be successful, uncertainty whether or not it was the “right path” for me, uncertainty whether or not I’d meet my goals — all of that forced me to grow a little more and push my limits. There were undoubtedly growing pains, but I am damn sure that uncertainties are opportunities for us all to grow into better versions of ourselves.
So to all you college students and post-grads out there: Learn how to be brave, not perfect. Learn to take risks and follow what makes you happy. Learn that your path will always look different from those around you.
And that’s okay.
Because any ‘Life 101’ piece that tells you otherwise is just a bunch of b*******.