The transition from high school to post-secondary can be challenging. I was no exception. I didn’t do poorly, however, I know I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities post-secondary education had to offer. While I had a good start to university and made a few close friends, it all came crashing down after breaking up with a girl, with whom I spent more time with than studying.
After almost failing out of my program, I closed off and spent my second and third years between class and study cubes. In fourth year, I finally joined some clubs. I started making more friends (from the 2 that lasted beyond 1st year to upwards of 6, woohoo!). If only I had done more of that and other things in the first 3 years, then I know I would have been much further ahead at school and in my career.
Don’t treat my story as what to do. Rather, treat it as what NOT to do (unless you want to hold yourself back…which you don’t). As a bit of help for those going through the transition from high school to post-secondary, I created a guide filled with my “Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier” (SIWIKE). I’ve combined Lewis Howes’ “5 G’s for Your Greatest Year Ever” with Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits for Highly Effective People” (not necessarily in order) mixed with a few other tidbits.
Hopefully the SIWIKE I learned will help you be on a better path!
Adopt A Growth Mindset
When I did something and the result didn’t meet my expectations, I felt I wasn’t adequate enough. Not getting an A that meant I wasn’t smart enough. Not having many friends meant I wasn’t cool or outgoing. And not owning all the things I expected for myself meant I wasn’t good enough. Does that sound like it could be you? Well you may not yet have come across the work of Dr. Carol Dweck, just like I didn’t. In her book, “Mindset: the new psychology of success”, you’ll read the concept of Growth vs Fixed mindset.
When I started my post-secondary education, I definitely had a Fixed Mindset. My start to university was good and I made a few close friends. And like I said, a few poor decisions led to me almost failing out of my program. Of course, almost failing meant I wasn’t smart enough. A warning letter that I intercepted before it got to my parents was a wake up call. I closed off and focused on studying in my second and third year. And you know what happened when I put in a bit more effort? I got better results. There seemed to be something to that. Could I perhaps get smarter? It wasn’t that I wasn’t smart, it was that I wasn’t smart, yet.
What I didn’t know was that adding the word “yet” could have meant a world of difference. Not smart enough, YET. Not outgoing enough, YET. And not good enough, YET. I had an awakening some time in fourth year. It wasn’t a switch that flipped. More like a few behaviours that happened on occasion. Once in a while I tried harder and studied. And when I did, I did better and became smarter. Once in a while I’d make an attempt to socialize then reflect on how I could get better. And I did. Slowly I was becoming good. And now I was enough.
Before you start your post-secondary education, take some time to reflect and adopt a Growth Mindset. It might not be natural but can be improved and will get better. You have the choice to be better. To have better grades, to have better relationships with friends, to have a better relationship with yourself. It’s your decision. You can do it!
Tactics: Add the word “yet” whenever you “fail” at something or when you don’t feel like you’re enough of something. You’re not good at accounting, YET. You’re not good at interviewing, YET. And you’re not good at being outgoing and building relationships, YET
2. Sharpen The Saw (Habit 7) + Build Good Habits
You go to school to learn right? However, have you ever learned how to learn? This is Habit 7 and I would encourage you to look into skills that make learning easier. Time management, memory, and critical thinking are learning skills that are important to know and are seldom taught.
Let’s start with time management…
Time Management: Put First Things First (Habit 3)
The short lesson in time management is that there is no such thing as time management. In order for you to be able to manage something, you need to be able to create more of it. Time continues to tick away whether you want it to or not. And since you can’t create more time, then you can’t manage time. What you can do is manage what you do with your time (your priorities) as well your focus and energy as you are doing whatever it is you decide to do.
One key element to time management is: are your actions mapping to your ambitions? Think about it. You’re looking to get a job before graduation, so is going out with friends mapping to that ambition? You want to end up as a senior executive at a company, so wouldn’t building foundational skills early help? Invest time in yourself and think compound interest, but instead of money the returns are personal and professional development.
Another helpful tool will be to do a time audit; where are you actually spending your time? Grab a calendar. Fill it with your classes. Fill it with whatever club, volunteer, work and other commitments you have—with the personal commitments you attended to. Does the time spent reflect your ambitions? Or should you be spending your time on something else? Put first things first.
Those are a few things to consider and we’ll write a more complete post on time management later on.
Tactics: Every morning plan the single most important thing that needs to get done today. Make sure that before your head hits your pillow that it gets done. If you get it done right away, maybe think of the next important thing and get that done too.
The root of learning is remembering what was taught, then you can go ahead and apply what you’ve learned. Do you have a good memory? Mine was decent. Not photographic like some but I could learn. I would study by taking a textbook and summarizing a chapter to a handwritten page or so of notes. Then I’d take that and condense again. And as many times as I could manage before the test. Which wasn’t that often as I was a bit of a crammer. Little did I know that was a tactic, which if cultivated could have helped me be more successful.
You see, memory in humans is biologically evolved from our “hunter-gathering” days. We weren’t meant to learn periodic tables of elements, or generally accepted accounting principles, or lists of 20+ things. We were meant to remember where the fruit trees are, the lions, the water. The Greeks started teaching this first. The tale of Simonides tells of him going to a banquet. After leaving, the building collapsed and crushed everyone inside beyond recognition. He visually recounted in his head where everyone was, to accurately recall where everyone was seated. That helped families bury the remains of their loved ones. A gruesome story, but a tale that highlighted the loci method of memory that has been the basis for many memory techniques used to win countless world memory championships (yes that is a thing).
The premise is to think of a familiar location. Your home let’s say. Take a room and look at the first thing that comes to mind. Imagine it vividly in your mind. The colour and shape, the sound, the feel. Perhaps a console table as you walk into your house. It’s made of wood, glass metal. What sound does it make when you put something down on it? What does it feel like? It’s texture. As vividly as you can. Do it with 4 other objects in the room. Ideally large ones. Do it in the next room. Then with as many rooms as you can in your house, with as many objects in your house. This turns your house into what is called a “memory palace”. If you’re a follower of the BBC Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch you’ll be familiar with the concept.
If you’re looking to remember a list, take a walk through your memory palace. Take the first item and put it in your first room with your first object. Create a vivid, extraordinary image. Use action. Use emotion. Your memory palace could be filled with scientific formulas, accounting principles, legal precedents, technical terms. There are lots of YouTube videos, sites, books, classes, resources out there that can teach you different memory techniques. The point is that you can improve your memory and taking time to do so will help you with all of the learning that you will be doing at school and for the rest of your career/life!
Tactics: Make it an ongoing activity to practice your memory. Schedule blocks of time after each class to go through material. Start a journal to write down the most important learnings today and how you will implement them. Make sure that when you meet someone you hear their name so you can remember it.
3. Curate Your Group
There’s a saying: “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. Although I am unaware of exhaustive scientific research on the point, Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit”, has compiled some studies. Think about it. If you hang out often with 5 millionaires, chances are you’ll be the sixth. If it’s a group of 5 unemployed associates, chances are, you’ll be the sixth.
Think Win-Win (Habit 4)
Habit 4, is when you’re interacting with people, you find out how different goals and motivations could benefit all involved. You’re the introverted-analytical type. Could you barter study habits with an “outgoing-relationship building friend” with connections into the social scene? Or could you tick off multiple goals together. Need to catch up with friends and get some experience? How about volunteering together? Need to practice your communication skills and meet new people? How about organizing a knowledge sharing speech/workshop where everyone brings a friend? Understand goals and motives and come up with creative solutions to make them win-win.
Tactics: Take an audit of your friends to determine who has the behaviours you want. Spend more time with them and less time with the others with behaviours you don’t want.
Seek First To Understand Then To Be Understood (Habit 5)
Habit 5, relates to the development of emotional intelligence and empathy. Both are important components for effective communication. Peter Drucker (the godfather of management) says “it’s the listener who communicates”. The test of effectiveness of what you say through words or what you write is what the listener understands and how they respond.
How do you develop empathy? One surprising method is to read rich non-fiction. Stories where the author builds the character and really makes you feel like you are in their heads. Why? Well empathy has you thinking about what other people are thinking about.
Tactics: Think of the last person you met and look to see the world from their eyes and perspectives. For the next person you meet, look to understand their world.
Habit 6 is focused on finding complements. The Ying to your Yang, salt to your pepper, peanut butter to your jelly. It starts by knowing yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. Many people will tell you to be a well-rounded person. I’d encourage you to invest in your strengths and make your weaknesses irrelevant. And that’s where complements come in. Your weaknesses could be complemented by another person’s strength. The interesting part is that the investment in your strengths often lifts the baseline of your weaknesses if you can approach your weakness from your areas of strength.
So that means you want to plan to expose yourself to different people. Especially those who have strengths where you have weaknesses. It works very well with the habit to think win-win
Tactics: Do an audit of your strengths and where you can complement your weaknesses with someone else’s strengths.
3. Create A Game Plan
A game plan can help maximize the benefits of being in school to set you up for future career success. Living life purposefully and with a plan can accelerate success.
Begin With The End In Mind (Habit 2)
Habit 2 is important as the expression says “if you don’t know where you’re going then all roads are correct”. Another one I like is that “if you start in California and aim for Hawaii, 2 mm off at the start and you end up in Japan.” Take an hour a week to think about what you want to do with your degree? Or what experiences do you want to have to get that dream after graduation? Take that and build that into your game plan.
Have no idea? Two tools that I often recommend are:
- Journal: 5 minutes total – 2 minutes daily on what drains you, what you didn’t enjoy. 2 minutes on what you loved, what put you in a “state of flow”. With both, be specific: what were you doing? With whom? Time of day? What you ate before? Then 1 minute on how you can do less of the first and more of the second in the future. You might not be able to get rid of the first, but minimize it. And maximize the second. After weeks, months, years, you’ll start seeing patterns.
- Pick a “flavour of the month”: A very useful tool when you have too many options. You could do accounting or marketing or finance or entrepreneurship. Pick one as the flavour of the month. You could do a term or a year, and pick a set amount of time. After the time is up, continue if you still like it or pick another flavour.
Tactics: Journal and pick a “flavour of the month”.
4. Practice Gratitude
Post-secondary education is a privilege no matter which way you look at it. By attending college/university, you’re experiencing a privilege that most of the world isn’t able to. You might not think so, but step back and think about it. Over a billion people have never flipped on a light switch. Not because they can’t, but because they don’t have access to one. Over a billion don’t have access to clean drinking water. To education. Or live on less than $10/day. Being in a developed country, you’re likely in the global top 10%.
Tactics: Turn the words “have to” to “get to”. You don’t have to go do your homework, you get to. You don’t have to work your part time job, you get to. Be thankful for what you have. Use that gratitude to be successful beyond your wildest imagination.
5. Be Proactive (Habit 1)
Habit 1 puts you in control. If you’re not getting opportunities to get experience then why not take the initiative and find the opportunities yourself? Think about what needs to be done that would benefit those around you (and you too). Then ask yourself “why not you?” Why does it have to be someone else to do it? Why couldn’t the person to do it be you?
Tactics: Write out what you want and take initiative to move in that direction.
6. Give, Give, Give
Could you live off $0.90 for every $1 you get? Probably. And what if you took that 10% to help someone in need? Would it help them? Yes. Would it make you feel good? Probably. Would you miss that 10%? Maybe immediately and probably not in the long run.
Giving doesn’t just involve money. Time is money as well. Volunteering is a great way to give back, gain experience and meet people. The last two are great ways to get yourself career ready.
Tactics: Complete a random act of kindness. Leave some money with the barista to pay for the next person’s coffee. Reach out to a classmate that you don’t know well to help them with their homework. Pay someone you don’t know a complement.
SIWIKE Summary in Timeline form
A bit of effort with a dash of discipline and a handful of good friends will set you up for career success. Here’s a view on a timeline.
Before The Start Of School
- Keep the end in mind: Take 1 hour before you start school to reflect on what you want to do with your degree and your school experience.
- Build a game plan: Take another hour to build a game plan of things you want to do and people you should meet. Put the activities on your calendar where possible.
- Adopt a growth mindset: Schedule time to spend 5 minutes at the end of every week (or day) reflecting on whether you had a growth mindset in what you did, and plan to adopt the growth mindset in areas where you didn’t.
- Find a group of friends that align around goals: meet as many people as you can. Plan to reconnect with everyone when class starts. Spend the most time with the ones that align around your goals, habits and behaviours that you want to have.
- Add gratitude practices: Spend 5 minutes right when you wake up being thankful for what you have. A person you know, an opportunity you have or experience you had, something simple.
- Manage your time and put first things first: get settled into the post secondary environment. Plan and do 1 important thing every day towards your future success.
- Sharpen the saw with learning skills and building good habits: practice your memory and learning skills. Learn from others and see what works for you.
Rest Of First Year
- Look to give: find a volunteer cause to get behind and gain experience. Explore to see what aspects you love. See if you can get experiences aligned with your degree of study and future career.
- Evaluate your group for synergies and win-win: take an audit of the people you spend the most time with. Are you missing some complementary skills? Are you able to find win-win situations?
- Get work experience (co-op, summer internships, part time jobs): a degree is no longer enough to get you a job and actual work experience will make future career prospects much easier.
- Re-evaluate your end: find alumni that are doing what you want to be doing. Learn about their journey and what they had to do to get there. Evaluate whether that aligns with your goals. Add value to them and build the meaningful connection.
- Focus with a flavour of the month: pick a department, company, role, industry to focus on. Connect with everyone in that department, company, role, industry. Look to add value to add as many of them as you can and continue to build the meaningful connection.
- Document your brand and value: write down the accomplishments you’ve done and your achievements. Make sure they end up on your resume, your LinkedIn profile and other professional documents.
- Keeping learning, growing and building relationships: learning doesn’t stop when you get your degree. Keep improving yourself and your relationships!
Turn Your Downtime Into Uptime.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.