Are you starting college? Or do you know somebody who is? I recently helped my girlfriend’s daughter relocate from San Francisco to New York City, to begin her freshman year of higher education. A lot has changed since I moved from Omaha to Iowa City to start college 32 years ago, but the following six tips were valid then, and they’re valid now. Apply them to your life, and you’ll make your time at school a lot more enjoyable:
1). Study what you love. It’s very hard to predict what sort of work you’ll do in the future. Yes, your chances of landing a high paying job are great if you have a degree in software engineering. But what if you’re really not good at that? Then you’ll just be a lousy engineer, competing for jobs against people who love engineering. Either you’ll spend the rest of your life doing work which you don’t like, or you need to figure out a way to do work which you really love – even if it’s a financially riskier career.
As Professor George Forell told a class of humanities majors at Iowa in 1982: “The jobs you’ll have 15 years from now don’t even exist yet! As liberal arts students, you’re learning how to learn. You’ll always be able to apply those skills in your career.” I got my bachelor’s degree in political science, worked abroad for a few years, earned an MBA to complement the poly sci degree, and by 1997 I was a product manager working on something totally new – the Internet! What do you think you’ll be working on in 2029?
2). Expand your horizons, don’t narrow your options. Explore. Honor your curiosities and develop new hobbies. Realize that weird, random, or mandatory courses may help you in unexpected ways: I took “Accounting 101” when I never expected to work in business, took “Introduction to Computers” before I had heard of Steve Jobs, and took “Relaxation Techniques” to fulfill a physical education requirement, decades before most people recognized the benefits of yoga and meditation. I wasn’t visionary — I was just trying out different stuff.
3). Study abroad and learn another language. In 1983, the University of Iowa’s Professor David Schoenbaum told me “Learning a foreign language is a key step to being a well educated person.” I disagreed with him, but what did I know? Later I realized that he was right, and I went on to study and work in Europe and learn German, French, and Spanish. I never could have imagined how my international experience would help me later when I applied to Stanford’s business school, or started working in Silicon Valley. But today more than ever, being comfortable across cultures and borders is not only fun and fascinating on a personal level, but also a vital skill in many careers.
4) Work hard and smart. Pulling all-nighters might require determination and lots of coffee, but not a lot of brains. Only many years after college did I realize the value of working efficiently, in order to get the most important things done, with the least amount of effort. One way is to study uninterrupted by turning off your phone and blocking texts. Another way is to find two great study partners, so that you can split up work among the group. This will not only lighten your work load and develop your teamwork skills, but allow you to make close friendships which can last a lifetime. And if learning is truly your goal, then you’ll more likely retain the material this way, rather than by cramming.
5). Live healthy. When I was in college, I thought I was too busy to exercise regularly. Only as an adult did I realize that exercise was a great way to relax, keep healthy, sleep better, and improve my concentration and creativity at work. Many college students quickly develop a very unhealthy lifestyle: No exercise. Not enough sleep. Junk food. Too much caffeine, alcohol, drugs. This is no way to feel good. It’s too easy to get used to living unhealthy in college, then living unhealthy in your first job, then living unhealthy until you die prematurely. Yes, you’re busy with school. And you’ll probably be “busy” for the next few decades. College is an ideal time to figure out how to live healthy.
6). Enjoy the journey. In my popular Happiness Workshop entitled “Live Before You Die! Find Pleasure, Purpose and Peace” (Find out more here), I encourage participants to avoid the “I’ll Be Happy Only When…” Syndrome. Many college students think “I’ll be happy only when I’m done with first semester. Then I’ll be happy only when I finish freshman year…sophmore year…junior year…senior year…get a job…pay off my student loans…” Most students are so obsessed with their life after college, that they forget to cherish the priceless aspects of their college life, right here and now. You probably won’t remember what you wrote on the final exam of your favorite class. But you’ll always remember that wonderful feeling when you helped your best friend who was freaking out during finals. And they’ll remember, too.
It’s challenging to balance work, play, health, and relationships while at college – but that is part of becoming a happy adult. So in my next blog post, I’ll give advice regarding people, networking, finances, and preparing for your career.
Let me know what you think, and thanks for sharing!
Copyright 2014, Jim McCarthy. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: AUSTIN BAN/Unsplash