Lessons from College- 13 mins
It’s hard to know what lessons were truly valuable in college until you are out of the system for a bit, but here is a brain dump of some takeaways fresh out of college. Some of these may be trite, and I have already written about most of these. Advice is always deeply personal, so everything should be taken with many grains of salt. I feel like I have changed so much in the past four years, and each year I am a different person. At the core, though, I am the same.
These are some lessons from college that I learned, re-learned, and unlearned:
Self & Life
- Stay humble and be patient. At this age, you still lack a lot of experience and skill. This doesn’t take away from your power, which comes from your hunger and hope. You have everything inside you to become a beautiful, strong tree—you just need to put in the effort to grow in a natural manner. Lean towards action, but also take the time to think deeply.
- Lean into your femininity (even if you don’t identify as female!). Especially in male-dominated fields, feminine energy is a strength, not a weakness. It is healing, compassionate, and creative in the best possible way.
- Poetry and art are food for the soul. Cultivate and relish in your sensitivity. Art is all around us—life itself is a work of art. Everything you do is an extension of your personality. Learn to appreciate life for what it is—it is the small moments that bring richness into life, not just the big milestones or accomplishments.
- Hit rock bottom as soon as possible. It is only by getting to the place where you know you need to change—when you realize you can’t keep living like you’re used to—will you be able to let go of your sense of self and become the person you are meant to be.
- Mindset is everything. If you can learn to be happy with who and where you are, regardless of external circumstances, you are golden. No one can take that away from you. No one has power over you except yourself.
- Choosing the hard path can be easier in the long-term. Many worthwhile things in life are hard. At the same time, many hard things in life are simple.
- If you can’t figure out a problem and it’s past midnight, go to sleep. If it feels like nothing is right and it’s past midnight, go to sleep. If it’s past midnight, go to sleep. Sleep does wonders.
- Protect your peace, happiness, and health at all costs. Nothing else matters if you do not prioritize your own needs and advocate for yourself.
- Cultivate at least two hobbies: one that allows you to be active, and one that allows you to creatively express yourself.
- Hustle culture is messed up and engrained in our capitalist society. Tying self-worth to productivity is unhealthy and shouldn’t be glorified. You are enough, simply by being alive. Get the sleep you need and treat yourself right—you have one body and mind. The more busy you are, the more you need to be disciplined on your exercise, sleep, and eating habits.
- It is better to be strong and healthy than pursue a certain body.
- Success is deeply personal. The great challenge and joy of life is to figure out what success means to you at every step of the way and go after it. Be clear about where you want to be and go in life, and stay in your lane.
- Learn to be kind to yourself. Sooner or later, you (or someone close to you) will need help with mental health. Get a therapist, or at the very least, learn about mental health, even if you don’t have debilitating mental problems at the moment. You need to show up for yourself, especially at your worse. Life is hard as it is—don’t make it harder on yourself by self-sabotaging.
- Take calculated risks. Most risk-takers we see in society actually have very stable lives, apart from their big risk. Know what level of risk you’re willing to take—to know this, you must push the boundary. It’s easier to do this when you’re young and relatively free.
- Get your shit together—at a certain age, some things just aren’t cute anymore. Educate yourself, take responsibility for your actions, make plans and stick to them, take care of yourself, and look after others.
- Be wary of things that glitter—people, professions, fields. Do not try to impress others, only yourself. Prestige can help, but won’t make you happy. Resist the rat race, but also learn how to thrive in the system. Bureaucracy can suck, but it can also be necessary.
- Life is (full of) suffering. We can choose to build mental fortitude by putting ourselves in challenging situations. Resiliency is not a trait, it is a skill that you must continually practice and choose.
- Rejection and failure are natural. Trust that things will be okay in the long-term. Most of my greatest blessings came when things didn’t turn out the way I intended. Have faith in the process, and learn from things on the way.
- In the beginning of college, I believed I could be anything or anyone. I could become a lawyer, artist, politician, or anything if I put my mind to. But at the end of the day, I returned to my “old” self after realizing that I didn’t want to reinvent myself—I wanted to continue building upon who I was and where I came from. My upbringing, family, and community all gave me experience and ties to work off of. In some ways, the options weren’t as wide as I first envisioned, but that is ultimately for the best.
- Competition is worthless. The only thing that matters is differentiating yourself by being who you are meant to be.
- Meditate on death—it will help you understand what is truly important in life. To me, what matters most are close relationships built on love, maintaining a long-term healthy lifestyle, and helping humanity (and life) reach greater consciousness, compassion, and perspective.
- Loneliness is completely normal. Finding your people (those who understand your soul, and you theirs) often takes time. Remember that your hometown best friends took years to develop, so just let friendships naturally blossom. Trust that good people will come your way, as long as you are authentic, open, and kind (and put yourself out there).
- Most people didn’t get into Harvard because they’re wunderkinds. True “geniuses” (those with talent far beyond normal capacities) are few and far between. What makes people in elite institutions different is that we know how to play the system and promote ourselves and/or what we care about. Also, we were either born with certain advantages, or were able to get them along the way. This can sound disingenuous, but it is reality.
- Embrace how you best socialize. I know I’m not the life of the party, nor do I want to be. At parties or social gatherings, if I can make one friend or get to know just one person better, I’m satisfied. That’s what brings me joy, rather than meeting many people superficially.
- People are so freaking cool. Take the time to really get to know them at a deep level—you won’t regret it.
- Don’t be naive—there’s a non-zero number of psychopaths / sociopaths / narcissists around you. Listen to your gut and trust your intuition—you often already know peoples’ true colors.
- Party with those you trust. At this age, it’s fun in moderation, and you’ll remember those moments for the rest of your life. But the second you don’t feel comfortable or just don’t feel like it, dip out. You owe nothing to anyone, and you are in control of your own boundaries.
- Finding a life partner is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s also one of the most important (if that’s what you want). Relationships require a lot of time and effort, and as with everything else in life, you get what you put in. Most people date in the hopes of filling something missing from their unhealed wounds, but focus on being the person you would want to date. Focus on feeling whole on your own and developing a secure attachment style.
- Never judge anyone for their decisions. You don’t know anything about them—their baggage, trauma, triumphs, and failures.
- Don’t put anyone on a pedestal. It is guaranteed to fall—and if it doesn’t, then it should. People are messy, multi-dimensional, complex creatures that should neither be idolized nor dehumanized.
- Connect with your roots. Understand where you come from on a deeper level. See your parents and family as people.
- It doesn’t matter how “successful” you are if you don’t treat people (especially those closest to you) right. Helping the world starts with inward self-reflection and being kind to the people around you, and only then can you improve the world meaningfully.
- Grades are secondary to learning. Take hard classes, do readings you care about, work on that side project with all of your effort. Ace exams or fail them, but know that the learning is for you. Half of the battle is showing up, the other half is loving what you do.
- College isn’t a preprofessional activity, but it can be a way to efficiently acquire skills. Figure out what skills you want to obtain and go after it. At this age, you’re a sponge—use this time to absorb what you want. Just be mindful about what you’re learning.
- Read books that aren’t required and seek material that enriches your self-development. Expand your mind in the way that feels natural to you. Classes can force you to get on a train without care of what interests or inspires you, or how much or little you understand the material. Books are a way to get into the driver’s seat of your life and steer it to your own interest and needs.
- Go to professors’ office hours, even if you don’t have any specific questions or topics you want to discuss. You’re literally paying (or someone is) for their help—you might as well use it. They are way less intimidating than they seem, and most of them are actually very chill.
- I was pretty stressed out during my first year to figure out what I wanted to major in, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter as you think it does. Your major is a personal decision—for me, it was a way to explore something I may not be able to full-time after graduation. For others, it’s a ticket out of or towards a certain lifestyle. Know yourself and what you want, and it will become clear what your major should be.
- All problems/subjects are interesting if you look hard and deep enough.
- It’s better to focus on a few things well than do many things half-well. This is something I’m still trying to learn.
Career / Future
- Try as many things as possible. But at some point, don’t keep opening doors and “keeping your options open”—you have to walk through some, and you have to close some doors to get to where you want to go.
- All jobs/careers suck, to some extent. It’s just a matter of figuring out what sucks the least and if the worst parts of them are bearable.
- If you shift your mindset of work towards service and creating value in the world, you will not only become happier, but your ambitions will fall into place. Your intention should be in helping others in the best of your ability with the tools and life you are given.
- When thinking about a career, it’s not just the job title—it’s about the lifestyle. What kind of place do you want to live in? Who do you want to be surrounded by, in and out of work? What do you want to do in the 24 hours of your day? How do you want to spend your days?
- Internships (getting them, doing well in them, etc.) are mostly about connections with people. Sure, you need to demonstrate that you’re competent, but at the end of the day, people want to do work with trustful and kind human beings.
- Done right, cold emails are extremely effective. As a young person, you can use your curiosity and potential to your advantage. At some point, this “greenness” will wear off and you will be judged for your past, but for now, you are who you want to become.
- Startups are hard, especially hardware/software companies. But hard can very much be fun and fulfilling.
- Technology is not inherently beneficial to society. It is up to us—the governmental structures, laws, workers, etc.—to makes technology useful for us all.
- Always be grateful for opportunities—education is a privilege. Know that you are in a bubble of college-educated people, and remember who is at the table—and who isn’t. This is about race, gender, politics, disabilities, etc. It’s hard to be fully inclusive, but you must try. Wake up to the injustices of the world and do something about it.
- Systems are good if you make them work for you, not when you work for it. Be intentional about the systems you subscribe to and seek to join/change.
- Winners-take-all doesn’t have to exist.
- Travel as much as possible—you won’t regret it.
- You don’t have to be a politician to make political progress. Vote, help others to register to vote, volunteer your time and energy into a cause you believe in. Democracy is fragile.
What I want to work on moving forward:
- Being less shy. I’ve struggled with shyness throughout college/life (not terribly, but occasionally), and I don’t want that to hinder me anymore. To do this, I need to work on confidence and ego.
- Work on gratitude and getting my mind right
- Prioritize my health, wellness, and happiness, along with relationships
- Focus on a few things without spreading myself out too thin
- Gain new perspectives (get outside my bubble) and dismantle (or at least be aware of) elitist/patriarchal/capitalist/racist thinking, which are often subconscious beliefs
- Lean into my spiritual beliefs and practices
- Cultivate unconditional self-worth
- Learn things deeply at my own pace