When I look at this picture, I think to myself: “I look different, but the same.”
When I think about the person I am today, versus the one in the photo, I know for a fact that I am so much more confident and happier than I was back then. It’s crazy to think how much has changed in just a few years because I put the effort into it. I think about the things I wish I knew back then, and what I would tell my college self.
Of course I still have a way to go but lately I’ve been meeting a lot of people who are still in college. My sister is still a student. For all of you college kids reading this, this one is for you (with throwback photos of me from my NYC college days).
1. It’s OK to not know what you want to do right NOW.
I know you picked a major and you’re taking classes within a certain discipline but newsflash: the learning doesn’t stop once college ends. Your major/the college you graduated from is not the end all be all. Don’t think that you are limited to what you studied in college. There is no limit to what you can do after college, in fact graduation is just the beginning. Post graduation, the amount of people I meet who actually do something related to their college major is actually very low. The people who have jobs that deal with what they studied in college end up changing it later (usually after a period of denial) anyway. It’s OK to be unsure whether you’re 20 (or 46). However, it’s NOT OK to be doing nothing about it. Try everything and worst case is that you find out what you don’t like which will point you in the direction of what you DO want to do. It might feel uncomfortable but it’s just as important to know what you don’t want to do as it is to know what you do want to do. You can only find your dream job/calling if you try as much as you can and learn from experience or through other people. As much as you are trying to pass your classes, try to remember that college is just the foundation and starting point, make it strong and sturdy.
2. Think about the kind of person you want to be, not just what you want to be.
Your job will change multiple times throughout your life as you grow and get experience, but you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life. Focus on building your character and knowing what you are and aren’t good at. Be honest with yourself on what is important to you. Stand your ground for your values. What you want to be and where, will always be subject to change, but if you know who you are in any context, you’ll be able to handle the stress, pressures and decisions with grace and confidence. You’ll spend less time on people/things that don’t matter and won’t be chasing things that don’t mean anything a year from now. Spend time getting to know yourself and getting comfortable with yourself. Then you can think about who you want to be in comparison to where you are, and how you can close that gap.
3. Pay attention to what draws your attention and your curiosity. These are all hints of what you love, makes you happy and sincerely enjoy. It can be as simple as reading, playing soccer or as complicated as analyzing huge amounts of data and matching it up with historical events. The more you know about what you like to do the more you can make the time to do more of it and possibly find or create a job that allows you to do it often. Follow what catches your eye. Explore it further. Master it. Learn everything there is to know about it. Change it. Try it and find out that it’s not what you thought. Even if it doesn’t make sense, keep doing more of what you’re curious about. The time will pass anyway, at least enjoy it.
4. Don’t forget to learn about You. You’re studying a lot about statistics and art (etc) and it’s easy to be overloaded with homework and essays, but don’t forget to learn about you and how you learn. Are you visual? Do you like to learn through experience? Do you like to read everything about a topic to understand? Do you like to talk things through or internalize? Do you accept what people say without questioning or like to judge for yourself? Do you listen to your head or heart/intuition? In a world that is constantly changing, being able to understand how you process things and perceive the world is crucial to how you can respond to what happens to you. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. Knowing that everything is subject to change allows you to take care of your own attitude so that you can figure out how you can interact with and help others. We do live in a world with billions of people… It’s also important to know that just because the world is how it is now, doesn’t mean that it will be that way a month or even a year from now. A quote that describes this perfectly: The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. I think the most successful and resilient people adopt an open but perceptive mind.
5. Don’t let your age hold you back. By letting your age define you, you’re only limiting yourself. If you’re the youngest in the room and can hold a conversation with people older than you, that’s a good sign. You always want to be around people who teach you and know more about something that you have no clue know about. See this as an opportunity to be a sponge and soak up everything. Listen and ask questions. Introduce yourself as usual and let the words that come out of your mouth speak for itself. You’re not “just in college” or “just a student” unless that’s how you want people to see you. Acknowledge that you are excited to learn and use everything around you as a real life classroom to apply what you are learning (or want to test) from textbooks. When you’re in college you have the advantage of being old enough to do things, but young enough not to not have the full load of a working professional. Take advantage of this unique position and make use of the free time and resources that you have whether it be the college discount, college connections, college schedule, etc.
I know this is a lot and some of it might not make sense, but I think the gist here is to take steps in the right direction, one that will enrich your future and help you become a better person later in life. So long as you’re moving forward and making progress, you are making small changes today that could have a big impact on the circumstances that you find yourself in tomorrow or next year.
Do something today that your future self will thank you for.
Bonus challenge: take a photo of yourself as you are now and write a letter to your future self to be opened at a later time.