Graduating from university is a natural time for self-reflection. “What did I learn? What am I most proud of? What could I have done differently?”
In order to kick off your own thinking, here’s a list of the important lessons I learned in university – one lesson per year.
First year: Surround yourself with good people.
During Frosh Week, I met a variety of people in my residence and my classes. The outcome was a diverse social circle, comprised of different personality types and interests. However, I quickly learned how to determine who the right friends were.
My first year of university was filled with an assortment of difficult situations, including academic and social pressures, and the stress of adapting to life away from home. Through this, I was able to figure out which friends were trustworthy, respectful, and supportive. These friendships brought out the best in me, and I subsequently invested more of my time and energy into them.
Second year: Keep an eye on your spending
In my second year of university, I moved out of residence and into a shared house with friends. This was my first opportunity to manage my own budget. With a set amount of money, I had to juggle between mandatory expenses (such as rent), and discretionary ones (like going out to eat).
Operating on a limited budget during these years taught me how to prioritize, plan, and stay close to my money. After all, getting a full-time job after graduating only brings additional complexity. New issues include: paying back student loans, saving for a house, and investing towards retirement. Managing a budget on a smaller scale during university was the perfect practice for this.
Third year: Expectations ≠ reality
In my last semester of grade 12, I started to develop an idea of how my university career would go. This included the classes I’d take, the extracurriculars I’d participate in, and the career I’d have afterwards.
Three years later, my life started to diverge away from that plan. In reality, I wasn’t very strong in the courses that I thought I’d be good at. This led me to get my first summer internship in a completely different field than originally expected. Despite the initial disappointment, this taught me a crucial lesson: it’s important to be flexible, and it is simply impossible to plan for everything. Adapting to new circumstances demonstrates resilience, and is a quality that will take you far in your personal and professional life.
Fourth year: Do things for yourself
During my first three years, there were so many instances where I’d say “yes” in order to please others. I remember agreeing to join a committee when my schedule was already full. I remember many nights where I agreed to go to a party, when I really just wanted to stay in and watch a movie.
It took a while to realize that committing to these things made me exhausted and unhappy. It took me three years to learn how to say “no” (politely, of course). I realized that the consequences were nowhere near as catastrophic as I’d imagined. I didn’t lose friends or miss out on any life-changing events. The end result was far more impactful – I was able to better manage my time and focus on the things that were important to me.
I’m sure you’ve learned a variety of lessons – many inside the classroom, and even more outside the classroom. It’s my hope that you’ll take these with you, and build upon them. There is so much learning still to be had.