What You Actually Learn At University - Part Two
Following on from Part One, here are the most valuable things you’ll learn:
How to balance your time and energy
Good Grades. Good Social Life. Good Sleep.
Pick any two.
As an adult, you have a lot of freedom over your time, energy, attention and money. It’s almost guaranteed that you’ll swing too far one way or another, then over-correct afterwards.
Eventually, you find a balance that works for you, and you’ll keep re-balancing as your life changes.
This is why final-year students behave so differently to first-years. They’ve made mistakes, been broke, failed a subject or attended an early morning lecture hungover.
And they are forever richer for the painful lessons that made them say: “Never again”.
Stealing good habits from your peers
This one is severely underrated.
People tell you to “Fake it ‘til you make it” and this is how:
You will encounter others – be they peers or teachers – who will have some very impressive traits.
They’re punctual, well-read, engaging, skilled at report writing / presenting / using software.
They dress well, initiate social gatherings, and tell great stories.
Blatantly copy the things that impress you.
Take good ideas from a variety of sources, and use them for yourself. It’ll change how you work, how you make friends and how you think about your degree.
When in doubt, ask yourself “What would … do?” or “How would … approach this task?”
Building a good collection of stories
I can’t remember anything from my textbooks.
Later I learned that I could bluff my way through most subjects without buying them.
What I vividly remember is the stories I heard.
Conversations over coffee, tales from lecturers, peer presentations in tutorials – interesting business examples that I still quote today.
Test driving a job
When you’re finishing high school, it’s easy to form opinions about different types of career based on very little information.
· I love watching Suits = I should study Law
· I love Mythbusters and Lego = I should do Engineering
· I love shopping for clothes = I should pursue fashion and textiles.
All of those may well be true, but wouldn’t you like to do a trial run before fully committing?
Some courses allow you to get some real-world experience in the field, which can help clear up misconceptions or further fuel your passion. I chose my course because it offered one-year paid work placements. That year dispelled a lot of assumptions I had about banking, finance, large companies and full-time work, and completely changed my career path.
“So what degree should I do?”
This is the common question – but it’s the wrong question.
A better one would be: “Where will I learn the most?”
The answer might be at university, or it might be at TAFE. It might be an apprenticeship, or a gap year, or an interesting full time job with a friend or relative.
Maybe it’s a combination.
Maybe you should pick course and a side project – a nice mix of theory and practice.
Instead of insisting on a university with a famous reputation, focus on yourself:
Where will I grow, and where can I build up my work ethic?
Instead of focusing on the old standard careers, focus on building flexible skills: The jobs you end up doing in ten years probably haven’t been invented yet.
Follow the courses that teach you how to think, rather than how to appeal to an employer in 1994.
If I were you, I’d be having a good hard look at the fields of design, arts, engineering, science, psychology, entrepreneurship and marketing.
What do these have in common?
They focus on how people behave, and how the world works.
They’re flexible, adaptive and won’t be replaced by robots.
If you’re not interested in those, think about picking a trade and building an entrepreneurial spirit.
Apprentice with a hairdresser, then open your own salons – design something that delights people.
Learn the plumbing business, then start your own company – an honest tradie is always in demand.
The worst scenario isn’t that you study the wrong thing and need to change courses. That’s easily fixed.
The real danger is that you lose your motivation and drop out altogether – getting stuck in a job you hate but are afraid to make a change.
So what do I do now?
Talk to people whose jobs sound interesting. Ask them what they studied, how they found it, and what they would do if they had their time over again.
Hedge your bets – pick a path that interests you and then study another area on the side. It might be a different minor, a breadth subject, a part time job or an extracurricular activity.
Finally, if you think a particular industry sounds interesting, read 2-3 popular books on that subject. If you can’t get into them, maybe it’s not for you.
This takes a 10-15 hours and costs between $0-$100, and could save you years of wasted energy, or spark a new interest in that field.
If this topic interests you, you will love Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, and Mastery by Robert Greene.