A Few Things I Learned in College
Recently, I’ve had the privilege of speaking for college audiences to share what I learned during my undergraduate years. I don’t think any of this stuff is super unique, but some audience members found it valuable, so I’m posting it here. The talks were mainly themed around risk and fear. Here are some of the bullets from my notes:
Quit early, quit often.
When quitting groups that pride themselves on their insulated and exclusive identity (such as fraternities or sports teams), don’t be surprised that haters’ gon’ hate. Churchill said it: if you don’t have any enemies, you’re doing something wrong. Any time you take a stand for what you believe in, someone will take offense.
Offense is something you choose to take. The faster you learn how to not take things personally, the better.
Discomfort does not equate to unhappiness. Nothing worth doing is easy.
Fear is a compass pointing true north.
Push your personal limits early so you can unlock your long-term potential.
Similar to the previous point, frontload discomfort. The more uncomfortable situations you opt into early in life (as long as you approach them with the intention of self-betterment and learning), the better you’ll know yourself, and the less likely you’ll be to experience a quarterlife or midlife crisis later in life.
This insight comes from asking lots of people who’ve experienced such crises and lots of people who’ve avoided such crises, and comparing the notes. Long term regret is so much worse than short-term fear, failure, or rejection.
Make epic moves to surprise yourself and others. Be like the honey badger: shove your face into the beehive first, then find the larvae. Put yourself in situations where you’re in over your head and then look to the gods and your inner strength to force yourself to rise to the occassion.
Try as many things as possible as early as possible, create criteria to determine what you value in each of those activities, then one by one quit those activities and hone in on the ones that fit you best. Seems obvious but the only way I’ve gotten to a place where I’m comfortable with high commitment levels is through the process of elimination. To truly commit to something, I think you have to know that there aren’t that many other things out there that would be a better use of your time and energy.
Reverse-engineer wisdom as much as humanly possible. Especially on a college campus, you have so many resources at hand. Reach out to speakers after events and pitch them to be your mentors, read books that matter, and spend tons of unplugged time alone.
The road less traveled is often the path of least resistance because it’s not a rat-race.
Rethink the perceived risks of standing out. The pro’s of standing out are crazy learning, unique experience, memorable stories, and a relatively high level of control over your personal outcomes. The con’s of standing out are short-term embarrassment, rejection, alienation, failure (in other words, learning and self-improvement…haha). on the other hand, the pro’s of conformity are comfort and maybe a little more short-term security, while the con’s are low-to-no control over personal outcomes (really, you think dropping your resume into the pile of thousands is going to land you that “dream job?”), boredom (in my view, the worst of tortures), an uninteresting narrative, and slower learning. The more social risks you take (save anything that scars your long-term reputation) in college to stand out, the better.
Accept death and think about it a lot.
The only real risks in college are those relating to finances, family, and your long-term reputation. Everything else is just a perceived risk.
Your parents mean what’s best for you but by the time you’re halfway through college, it’s highly unlikely that they know what’s best for you. They think they know what’s best for you, and maybe they do when it comes to your emotional woes, but chances are they have no clue what they’re talking about when it comes to giving you career advice.
Along the same lines as the previous point, be very selective with whose advice you listen to. Parents and most old people want to give advice because it makes them feel important; be aware also that they will always have a projection bias and will rarely give advice that’s fitting for your personal goals or intentions. ONLY listen to advice from a) people who’ve done what you want to do at the scale you want to do it [or who’ve built what you want to build at the scale you want to build it], b) inspiring peers just a few years older than you who make you believe that you can do epic stuff at a young age, c) your gut. And remember that the best mentors are the ones who default to asking you tough questions rather than telling you what you should do.
Check your ego at the door. The best way to learn how to do this is to hurl yourself into situations where other people will slam the door on your ego for you. The sooner you can get over yourself, the better. A great martial artist once said “You should have just enough ego so that you don’t walk into the street and get hit by a car.”
Seek out funds to support you to travel for free, during the summer, winter, and spring breaks, during the academic year, all year long. Travel as much as possible.
Talk 20% of the time, listen 80% of the time.