I was an English major at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, a very pretty school on the Main Line of Philadelphia best known for its track and basketball teams. I knew I wanted to be a writer and a reporter, but that was about it. Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew then:
1. If you want a good job and a decent quality of life, getting a bachelor’s degree is just the first step. It “proves” to the outside world (and perhaps to yourself), that you’re smart, disciplined, ambitious, and that you possess a certain body of knowledge and skill. It really doesn’t guarantee anything.
I realize now that getting a “job,” often the reason most undergraduates, including myself, take on debt to earn undergraduate degrees, is part of an evolving process: It is not the ultimate goal of the degree.
2. Getting a degree was a part of my evolutionary process and growth as a human being. It helped me “grow up” on both the “inside” and the “outside.” On the inside, until I decided what I really, really, wanted, and I was ready to make the sacrifices to go after it, I was almost guaranteed not to get it! Early in my career, I was not willing to take any reporting job in any part of the country, and instead, took a public relations job because I did not want to risk a big geographic move. Later in my life, I published a book–something I have wanted for a very, very long time. I was willing to make many personal and professional sacrifices to accompish that goal.
3. On the outside, it’s vital to not merely master a skill set and body of knowledge , it’s also critical to possess interpersonal, leadership, communication, creative, and analytical skills to be a real competitive player now. That’s a fancy way of saying people have to like you if you want to work with them and get things done. You need to figure things out on the fly. Things are much more complicated in real life than in your professors’ classrooms. It matters that your shirt is ironed and that you haven’t been out all night when you show up for an important appointment or interview.
So how do you learn all this while you’re still in college? Get involved with campus activities, clubs, and groups. Show up for things, volunteer, help out. Even if you think you’re too busy, you really can’t afford not to learn these important life lessons now.
4. Keep your ultimate goal and next step clearly in sight. Why did you decide to go to college in the first place? Are your motivations and inspirations still the same? Has anything changed since you set your initial goal? If so, re-evaluate your efforts. With your ultimate goal firmly set, look at achieving it as a series of big and little steps. When viewed this way, you are always making progress and taking positive action.
On your graduation day, you will not be automatically transformed into a writer, reporter, social media analyst, nurse, engineer, computer programmer, or other professional. What little step can you take now that will move you closer toward achieving your goal? Discover what that is and do it now–then do the next thing.
5. Look for unexpected and exciting opportunities. I considered going to Australia to teach English for a year. Explore the edges of your comfort zone. Travel abroad. Volunteer for a year of service getting close to the land and otherwise push the boundaries of who you think you are.
6. Embrace everything especially your “mistakes.” That’s why they’re called “life lessons.”
7.Don’t be afraid to take chances and to follow your bliss. The esteemed mtythologist Joseph Campbell called us to “follow our bliss.”Sounds like good advice–especially if you can get paid for it.