Best lessons from university
Last month I graduated from 3 years of university. Having some time to think during the early & quiet hours on the plane as well as 7 days of hotel quarantine, here are 3 of the most valuable lessons I learned in university.
1- Everyone plays a different game. You have to know the rules of your game to win.
One lesson that took me a long time to realise is how everyone in university is there for different reasons.
Some want to go into academia, some want to land a prestigious graduate job in Corporate London, and others want to start their own business. For that reason, everyone is participating in different 'games' even though all of us seem to be doing similar things, i.e. studying at university.
I think my difficulty with coming to terms with this is due to how comparisons between peers used to be a (rather) effective benchmark growing up.
You grow up in similar neighbourhoods, you come from similar family backgrounds, and everyone pretty much has the same goal: to graduate from school with the highest possible grade so you can get into the best university.
That means knowing whether you're doing well in life you simply need to look at the person next to you and you'll get reassurance or know that you need to improve. But life after high school is different. Given the paths you can go down from university onwards, direct comparison with your peers is no longer a useful matric- But you do it anyway because you are so used to it.
It took me a long time to come to terms with this and for the longest time, I felt weird about it. I am a law student in one of the most competitive law schools in the UK, surrounded by law students whose 'game' is to try and get into the highest-paying law firms. But using first principle thinking I have decided to go against the grain and explore other career options, meaning I am often doing different things from my fellow law classmates.
Was it scary?
But was it the right decision?
Yes. Being clear about what I need to do to get to where I want to go helped me massively. In hindsight, I was over-worrying because I was not used to going against the grain. I grew up as the grain. The kid that did everything according to the rules and who had everyone's approval. But it is now clear that having clarity over what I am chasing helped me get closer to where I want to be in the future.
2 - Who you know matters more than what you know.
I've always heard this expression in different languages growing up (To be precise, a grand total of two languages) but never truly understood its power until university.
Growing up I thought life was a perfectly designed system and as long as I followed all the rules and steps I will be whatever I wanted to be. But I slowly came to the realisation that the 'system' is much more flawed, and that what we call 'life' is just rules set by people before us, who are often not much smarter than us. Paraphrased off from the late Steve Jobs.
And one way to get the system on your side, I realised, is to know the right people. This 'system' and 'life' we call are just made up of people, for people. And as the social creature we are, having a wide and quality network offers you advantages you otherwise wouldn't encounter. For example, some survey claims that 60% of jobs are founded through networking, not online application.
Here are just some examples of how having a good network helped me or someone I know:
- I applied for 40+ internships last summer through official ways and landed none. I then proceeded to send just around 3 cold messages to businesses and individuals whom I wanted to work with. I ended up spending the summer working with an exciting Alcohol-Free beverages startup that appeared on BBC's Dragon's Den.
- I talked to people I know who work in companies I am interested in applying to. They were able to offer me insights that I could never find online. Ended up helping me differentiate myself during interviews.
- I met people in casual, private networking settings and ended up landing job referrals.
- I saw how knowing executive members within a student society helps or stops you from landing a role within that society. People vouch for you, and vice versa. Reputation matters.
Does this mean you should put on a fake mask and start going around 'networking'?
If you are being fake people can see right through it. Be genuinely curious and interested in someone, be sincere, and you never know who will be helpful for you down the line!
3 - If you don't decide for yourself what you want, someone else will.
Tim Urban from Wait but Why describes it amazingly here. But in a nutshell:
When you're born, you're being thrown into a small river with whoever that's similar to you with a similar background. You didn't choose the path. Where this small river goes is decided by society, your parents, et cetera. You sort of just goes one direction without thinking much. Same as everyone else.
You then float into a pond called 'university'. It is a bit bigger and you have more to choose from, but still somewhat limited. But it is different from the river in that you really have a choice now.
I would like to describe life after university as being thrown into the sea. So there are practically limitless choices.
If you do not decide for yourself what you want, the current will take you wherever. You will end up doing what society, your parents, and your peers expect of you. But is that really what you want?
As a law student, the current pushes me to become a lawyer. Not just any lawyer, but a commercial lawyer that makes money. A lot of money. But halfway through university, I decided that it is not what I wanted, and that meant I have to swim against the current towards a new direction that poses uncertainty.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung
I still haven't fully found one destination yet. But at least I know the general direction that I am swimming towards is one that I chose for myself intentionally.
I guess the last point is in a way why I started this blog. As much as I am writing to share my experience and lessons learnt to help others design a more intentional, fulfilling life, this is also a blog I am writing for myself to gain mental clarity, a temple of some sort that I wish to create for myself for introspections.
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Have a lovely week x