As I write this, I’m flying some 37, 000 odd feet in the air above California on my way back home. For some reason, the view out of a plane always makes me reflective, and I’ve decided to jot down some of the lessons and experiences that I’ve painstakingly had to learn and go through over the past 20 years. I hope they may help you come to terms with or avoid some issues in your life altogether. I know with some of these you may wonder if it should be an old scholar with a glass of scotch instead of me preaching these, but you should give them a chance to sink in. Some may seem novel, others will be reminders — I hope all of them are as relevant to you as they are to me.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years in particular looking at potential careers — legal, medical, academic, you name it. Although I’ve started narrowing my choices down to a few options, one thing remains clear — anything worth my time requires incredibly good habits and work ethic. I think most of us select a potential career path and go through the requisite classes believing that our career begins only when the desired titles are inked on the appropriate paperwork. Although this is technically true, we also have to understand that we have to do the best job possible at laying the foundations to our success now; remember, there will be thousands upon thousands of people graduating with equivalent degrees every year world-wide. We have to stay competitive. With almost any career path, particularly in social sciences, medicine, and business, you always have to be constantly in touch with the latest. It’s for this reason that you have to be immersed in the field you wish to aspire to. It is for this reason that you want to read heavily in your fields of interest — and even those outside of it. It is for this reason that you want to seek internships. It is for this reason that you want to do as much as you can to show future employers that you’re not just someone whose knowledge and enthusiasm ends with the completion of required courses, but that you’re someone who can apply those skills to the work place. At the end of the day, companies want to hire the person who is the best fit, brings the most to the table, and is as close as possible in technical ability to people whom it already hires. This brings us to lesson #1: Be the person you want to be in 10 years from now, today.
Let’s face it: we’re nearing a point where we can’t keep using cognitive dissonance. “Well, I’ll pick it up in high-school, I’ll pick it up in college, I’ll pick it up next semester” — well guys, we’re running out of semesters really fast. We have to start building the successful habits which are geared towards at best, the specific career you have your eyes on, and at the very least, create good habits which will cater to a wide variety of fields for when you do come across something appealing. In the same way that when you start playing sports, you try to emulate the technique of the respective athletes, you should try to emulate the successful habits of your respective idols. If you start organizing your day in a manner that allows you to do your readings, dabble in your interests, and seek work experiences, two things may happen: you begin enjoying the field at levels where it is most exciting, or you realize a few years earlier that it isn’t the right path for you.
Two years ago, we made it into a great university and plenty of golden stickers were handed out and confetti was thrown around to celebrate how smart we all must be. However, when everyone is smart, that means “smart” becomes average and the game changes. An interesting example that my Federalism Professor, Doctor Craigie, gave us was that in high-school, the range was set at 0-100%. The people who were accepted into UBC in our year were for argument’s sake, averaging 86%-100% — thus, this scale was taken and expanding to form a new 0-100% scale of heightened expectations. I wouldn’t worry too much about the technical accuracy of that, but it is an interesting thought.
Thus, an adjustment must be made from any lingering high-school habits. From personal experiences, one of the worst habits many of us had in high-school, which we also retain to a degree today, is academic arrogance. Be proud of reaping the benefits of a hard week’s work as opposed to celebrating the fruits of a day’s efficiency.
I can attest that I am guilty of saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, she got 90%, but she put in 20 hours. I put in 10 and I received 86%,” or “Yeah, I busted it out in 5 hours and handed it in this morning.” Well, the message that I really had to get through to myself was that there is no handicap for effort input versus effort output. At the end of the day, that person that received 90% and I received an 86%. In the given time that we had, she provided a better finished product. At both the collegiate and corporate level, the end result is what you are evaluated for — not how efficient you were despite your procrastination. During second year, I made it a habit to study at least one hour a day. In this hour, I would do my readings for upcoming classes, write personal notes on my thoughts on the material, or whatever else. This had a dramatic impact on my academic performance. No longer was I finding myself learning material for finals, I was merely reviewing. Although the initial process of habit-forming is an up-hill battle to say the least, it becomes automatic after a certain point. This has the further benefit of curing the “I don’t like what I’m studying” syndrome. It’s fair to say that some material tends to be genuinely dry, but I found a lot of the time when I was complaining about these issues, it was because I was once again studying for completion and dismissing the real-world applications and relevance of the material — both in itself and how it relates to other disciplines.
This is perhaps the biggest break-through I’ve had all Summer; it seems pretty simple, but I think it’s a notion that we all overlook. During this past Summer, a fair bit of my friends were away and I tried making it a point to meet a few new people. I did make a few new friends, but there was also a few strike-outs. After beating myself up, wondering what I may have done wrong, accusing them of just being ridiculous, etc., I remembered that fateful episode of R.E.C.E.S.S. In an episode of Recess, TJ Detweiler, who is rather popular runs into someone who doesn’t like him and it drives him insane because everyone else does. He runs around trying to befriend this person, but this is all to no avail. At the end, TJ snaps and asks, “Why don’t you like me?” to which the other boy replies, “Because I just don’t.” You yourself don’t like everyone, so you can’t expect everyone to like you.
This is a lesson that applies to both romance and bromance. You should take notes about what may have gone right or wrong — but don’t beat yourself up over it. People enter and exit our lives all the time, realize that in the same way they have the power to not reciprocate, you have the same ability to say, “next” and move on. Although they may have been really great, sometimes people just don’t click for whatever reason. This segues nicely into
Don’t merely evaluate all experiences in and of themselves, look at their long term potential as keys to a refining process.
I suppose I was thinking about this in with relation to breakups, but reapply it with any sort of failure. Anyway, I have to say that it’s pretty hard not to sit there in a corner listening to John Mayer and eating dibs for hours because you realize that all song lyrics become relevant when you’re emotionally unstable and just bombed something, but as a wise friend told me, “You have to stop being a bitch.” It is by no means an easy experience to go through, particularly not through the first time, but if you view this experience as a process wherein you come to see where you can improve, and where you are in your life — it won’t seem as bad. You have to realize that given my last point, in the same way that you won’t hit it off with everyone, you can’t, by extension, always expect to keep a relationship — especially your first — firing on optimal; people do grow apart. Keep your friends close, keep yourself busy, and don’t buy Dibs.
Being only a few months short of the Hollis Mason one year, I have to say that I’ve learned a lot simply through trial and error. After really struggling with pricing for various services, one thing was clear — you have to set minimums. As a student entrepreneur, no matter how smart you think you are, how nice your portfolio is, etc., there is always someone out there that will think of you as a student who is willing to work as long as they say the magic seven words: you can put it on your resume. Set a rate for yourself that is your minimum, and anything below that is pro-bono work that you do for a notable cause or something that has some networking benefit. Assuming you don’t completely, for a lack of a better word, suck at whatever it is you’re dong — don’t sell yourself short. Either the client respects your work enough to pay you your minimum, or they don’t; if it is the second case, odds are the experience will be unpleasant.
Lesson #2: Don’t work, just to work.
Now, I know that this advice will get mixed reviews because people’s financial circumstances all vary. This particular tip is if you are well-off enough that your education and general livelihood aren’t heavily dependent on how much income you have during the summer. When I began looking for jobs, I did the basic routine. I applied to retail, service, etc., but I also made it a point to apply for research positions and internships. Although the pay may be good, and there is certainly nothing wrong with working in these fields by any means — particularly if they are your passions — you have to ask whether they are once again helping you lay the foundations to prospective careers. Going back to immersing yourself, you ideally want to be doing work that will help ease your applications and/or transitions to where you want to be down the road. If you can get an internship in finance, or marketing, or research work in a laboratory — even if it’s unpaid, it’s worth its weight in gold down the road. We see the trend; universities are becoming more competitive and more then ever, relevant work experience is becoming no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
Mediocrity is death. Everyday we have averages shoved down our throats. We compare how we stack up against class averages, median salaries, employment rates are and it just starts getting to you. You start wondering if you can even be average. Although the odds point to that I too will be average, I certainly don’t intend on striving to be so. Those numbers should run more like minimums to you that you should try and exceed. You certainly don’t need an education at a top 25 institution in the world if you merely want to be average, correct? Make the best of it, take your opportunities. If you have to work hard for the next 2 years to secure a great subsequent 20, go for it. If you look at the people you read about, they certainly weren’t the ones who took the average path. I’m not saying that we’re all geniuses, I for one know that I don’t even compare to some of the giants whose shoulders we stand on, but we should always aim for 100% and settle for 90%, not aim for anything less and settle for average.
Best & sorry for making you read; thank you if you made it this far,