If there is anything I can change about my university life, it would be taking more chances and being more relaxed in facing my classes.
I won’t tell my past self to study more, in fact I would tell her to try entering that competition, or volunteer, or join that particular committee with noble, enriching causes that also matters to me. Because really now after I’ve pass it all, I think those numbers on my transcript matter for about 10-15% of my job-seeking effort, and even <5% on the job in the end.
Nowadays, as competition increase everywhere to get ‘the best of the best’ (i.e. the best school, class, job, work) people need to perform and deliver more in order to achieve what they want. I often find university students to be more aware of the issue, specifically on getting an entry-level job, and try to prepare themselves as best as they can. While it is good, nowadays I also found an increasing number of people who just focus on the end goal, and make themselves work like robot all for the goal of achieving that one specific thing. This ambitions and hard work to get the best, in my opinion, looks like a double-edged sword. Only doing things for the sake of ‘getting it done’ and get the title attached to a certain position will feel tiring sooner than we think we can go through it.
It does seem like I am talking self-righteously here, but frankly that was what happened to me, especially when I was in university – the young, sometimes self-righteous and narcistic younger me – so I feel like I want to speak up about this condition of ‘chasing glory’ now. There were several moments where I wrongly prioritized my schedule which is unnecessary for myself, and turns out to negatively affect other people I work with, which I feel bad about. The example of this would be a moment of not coming to a committee meeting or an event because I chose to work on an assignment that was not actually urgent and I can finish on another time with same quality.
It is never bad to do a lot of something when everything is in moderation, does not affect other aspect of our life negatively (that includes our mental health), and most importantly is when we have a purpose in doing so. Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” says that every great leader has a purpose in doing what they do. That is what would keep us going and choose the right path for us. When we know our “Why,” we can have purpose with the “What” and “How” of everything that we do.
If I can actually meet the young ambitious Sarah from years ago and give her some advice for someone who has just started university, I would tell my university-self to:
- Reflect on yourself more, to find your “Why”
I was always doing things for the “what” it is and focuses on “how” to do it the most effectively, but usually not on “why” I do it for me internally. The ‘why’ we are talking about here is different from reasons such as ‘I want to try something new’ or ‘this seems like a fun activity that I want to take part in,’ which are valid reasons to decide on doing something. However the ‘why’ here focuses on a deeper focus and sense-self on what is that will keep me to do something and not get burn out, to avoid me from ever neglecting my responsibilities and making it harder for people to finish my mess – something I was guilty of. The ‘why’ here focuses on the importance of this activity/committee/cause for me. Past-self, please think more on how a cause/committee/event is important for you before you sign up for interesting things you want to join.
- Not having to memorize one full book before exams.
Because, honestly, it doesn’t help at the tests! Questions are usually understanding of concepts, and while memorizing can help you with that, you don’t have to memorize everything. I should have studied smarter instead of approaching the subject as one big memorizing challenge which I have to spend enormous time in. It’ll save a lot of time and stress.
- Don’t bite more than you can chew
It’s good to want to try something new and get out of your comfort zone. However, be sensible about how many challenges you want to take at the same time. True this needs a trial and error, but if we start by listing down our priorities first, we would be able to selectively choose what we want to do first, and not all at once.
- Don’t do things just for the sake of ‘it will look good on my CV.’
Try new things, find out and decide if you like it or not, and continue if you do. If you don’t, persist until the end and finish what you have started, or back down professionally. Finish it as best as you could, or if you really can’t continue say sorry to stakeholders who you are responsible to, and find someone to take your place who you believe can do a better job than you. Only claim things that you can proudly say that you have done yourself, or you have done together with your team. Do not take other people’s credits (it will get back to you anyway). Other good things and opportunities will follow.
I believe, some things must be felt and experienced firsthand to be understood. That is why there is such things as regret, but also learning curve. If you want to take my two cents, then it would be this: Take more chances and focus on the means, not the end-goal. In that way, I can enjoy everything that I do, persists through hard times, and be immersed in the process rather than just running to the finish line without caring about my surroundings. I hope we all live and enjoy what we do wholeheartedly.