Yesterday my husband was pulling out his old college degree…
We stopped to take a look at it: “Bachelor of Science,” it said, along with the date and some other words in fancy typography. It got me thinking about the lessons I learned in college and what I have learned since.
It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 10 years since I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. I know the degree has landed me interviews and polished my communication skills, but I can’t help wondering: was it really worth the thirteen years of student loans?
Over the years I have realized there are things you will learn in the real world that no textbook can prepare you for. There are lessons you will learn by falling and falling again and struggling and working your butt off. These are the lessons that make you the person you are today. These are the stories that have shaped you. Not the PhD or MBA initials after your name.
If I could give advice to the younger generation, preparing to start their first day of college or finishing up their bachelor’s degree, these would be the three things that you will learn that college can never teach you:
1. Make Yourself as Marketable As Possible
When I graduated from college with my degree in English, I assumed I was just going to be a copywriter, churning out print ads and press releases. I thought I was going to have a nice window office overlooking a lake and spend my mornings musing on creatives over a steaming cup of tea.
To some degree I was right. But on the other hand, I learned quickly that in the “real world,” you have to be so much more than just write copy. Nowadays, if you apply for a job as a writer, you should be prepared to be asked, “Do you know Photoshop? Do you have coding skills? What about your experience in social media marketing?”
Because of our economy, it is critical that you wear multiple hats in any job. To make yourself stand out from the crowd it’s important to go above and beyond the skill you learned in college. Make yourself as marketable as possible. Take extra classes, not required for your degree. Teach yourself software, check out books from the library, learn Spanish, learn Chinese. Make yourself into a Jack of All Trades and watch as the jobs land delicately in your hands.
2. Think About Your Purpose
Life has a funny way of never working out as you planned. But it’s within these unplanned moments that you really see your potential. For the longest time, I tried to force myself into jobs that were just not right for me. I was bored, I was unmotivated, and my creative energy was slowly dying. Then came the final kick in the butt: I was laid off. What a terrible thing! I spent days crying, then angry, then scared. What was going to happen?
After sorting through the initial feelings, I started on a journey to find myself, to figure out exactly who I was, and the job that I was meant to do in this lifetime. I thought about my true purpose and in the weeks following this blow to my ego, I found myself. The jobs came to me and I started working as a freelance writer. I didn’t learn the techniques of working through my feelings and thinking about my purpose in college.
Deepak Chopra once said, “you have a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. There is something that you can do better than anyone else in the whole world–and for every unique talent and unique expression of that talent, there are also unique needs. When these needs are matched with the creative expression of your talent, that is the spark that creates affluence. Expressing your talents to fulfill needs creates unlimited wealth and abundance.”
Follow your purpose, don’t just try to be the person you thought you would be when you were in college.
3. Your Stories Don’t Define You
We all have struggles or moments from our childhood, teenage, or adult years that we wish we could delete. But honestly, these struggles have made you strong. They taught you critical life lessons that have made you a better person.
The truth is, you are not your stories of what happened to you. If you come from a poor family, does that mean you are going to be poor? Or if you fail one test in life, does that mean you will fail at every other test you’ll be given?
Don’t live there – in those stories you created. You are you. You are great and you are powerful. Anything you want to do in this life, you can create.
As the great, masterful William Shakespeare said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” Go make that destiny and on the way, discover all the amazing life lessons that do NOT come from a college textbook.