I’m writing a post after around five months! Whoa! What a ride the last semester has been! I’ve now graduated (provided they give me my degree) from one of the best colleges in India, with new hopes and dreams, some knowledge, passion and a lot of friends. The past few months have been a blur, and I’ve done loads of new things. Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to think about and look at all that I accomplished (or failed to accomplish) during college, I’ve thought about where my motivations lie, what I want from life and ultimately how I’m going to achieve that. And in this post, I’m going to try and summarize all that. I entered this place as a high-on-success and low-on-wisdom defiant individual. I now leave as a mature and responsible, motivated and slightly wiser person. So here are some of the most important lessons I would want to pass on after having survived the jungle that undergraduate life is1 2.
If you asked me for the single most important lesson college life taught me, then it would without doubt be the ability to take a liberal stand on any issue (moral, philosophical or legal) that may or may not affect me directly. When I came in as a freshman3, I must admit I was as dumb as one can get. I had strong ideas – they were strong not because I had seen the world and come to well thought-of conclusions. My ideas were just a product of my upbringing, the popular media (mostly Indian), and the conversations with self that one usually has when they’ve been sitting alone in a room for hours. So what happened during college? Surely, not all those ideas changed. What changed was my approach to them, what I thought of my convictions, how I defended them and how I urged others to see my point of view.
For example, I used to be vegetarian in first year, and still am, but unlike then, I no more think that eating meat is “wrong”. I have realized that all my opinions are results of my thoughts, and no more right than yours. Contrary to what a lot of people think, being liberal for me is not about trying my hand at everything – yes you can be liberal and a vegetarian, a teetotaler, and staunchly religious all at the same time. By being liberal, I mean the ability to take into account everyone else’s point of view, all the data available, and then consciously and justifiably form opinions. It incorporates the basic premise that no opinion is sacred, and as long as people are happy with their choices and lives, you have no right, or reason to meddle. This is the simple secret to leading uncomplicated lives.
I strongly feel that we have stopped thinking. As a student community, there seems to be less emphasis on independent thought and charting out our own course. Most of us (and I’m no less guilty) just try to follow the golden path laid down before us. It’s either that high-paying job, or the highly ranked university somewhere in the USA. While there’s nothing wrong with these choices, what’s wrong is making these choices just because they are the in-thing. Do we ever stop to think what our motivation in life is? We all need to ask this question to ourselves sooner or later – do we really plan to do something with lasting value, something different? Are we willing to take risks, do something our peers aren’t doing? College may or may not be sufficient for us to find our life’s calling, but just the realization that one needs to do what they love the most, is important. It might seem trivial to think about, but if you look around, people easily forget this.
Independent thought comes out of knowing a lot of things, which is in turn borne out of having explored a lot of avenues. You like watching that sport? Try playing it. You like music? Try your hand at learning how to play your favourite tune. Learn how to write code. Learn a new language. Explore how it is to work in a company. Dabble your hands in research. Explore other fields of work, try to figure out the arts. Don’t waste your time sitting upon things you already have. You will never have the kind of freedom you can afford in college, so don’t let it be wasted on nothing. Learn to get your hands dirty, learn to make yourself curious, who knows you might find diamonds in the dirt!
I’ve had a few friends who’ve been living frightened lives – inside a cocoon of their own making, one that keeps them far away from things they’re scared of. I was no different when I started, and unfortunately, I believe I wasted a couple of years sticking to myself, until I found friends who would pull me out of my shell. I’ve realized that college is the first (and probably the last) time when you have the opportunity to overcome your fears, to make an effort to challenge yourself on the personal front. Have you ever tried singing in front of few dozen unknown people? Have you ever taken part in a debate and publicly made a fool of yourself? Are you afraid of wearing shorts in public lest you show your sexy (or ugly) legs? Are you enraged if your beliefs are questioned? If yes, then are you doing something about it? Shouldn’t you?
Why all this trouble? It is because quite a few of the qualities developed this way surely help later in life, directly or indirectly. And you would never know you had those qualities, unless you loosened up and dirtied your hands with a few scary-looking activities.
While I’m not saying that you should try everything just for the heck of it, but it does make a lot of sense to put yourself in situations you have no idea how to handle yourself in. This teaches you one very important life lesson, which is that of standing up to unexpected scenarios and deal with new kinds of emotions. Isn’t this what life is about anyway?
In a society as prudish as ours, this is always a tricky issue. More so in an environment like IITB, with a highly polarized sex-ratio. Firstly, why is this important? From what I know, males and females often have differences in their points of view, perhaps due to different upbringing. Understanding this is important. Life will eventually make you interact with people of the opposite sex. You will have colleagues, a spouse, friends. You will want to know what they find offensive or how open to certain ideas you can expect them to be etc.
From a male point of view, I’ve seen some guys becoming excessively abusive, and outright disrespectful towards the females they see daily. Blame this on a testosterone-intense environment if you will, but unless you’ve been friends with a girl, you might tend to develop sexist attitudes, or be uncomfortable in one-on-one interactions. And this will surely cause problems at some point, on a personal level or more. Learn to look at boy-girl communication in an uncomplicated way. Encouraging and taking part in healthy interactions with the opposite sex are a certain step towards creating a healthy society based on mutual respect. The same applies to girls, while interacting with males.
So meet people of the opposite sex. Make friends with them, learn about their ideas, opinions and constraints. Don’t worry about being close to someone. These exchanges go a long way in making you comfortable in any group.
Procrastination can be a bane for anyone, even the most brilliant mind out there. Truth be told, it can’t be avoided. We all do it, and probably need it in healthy amounts. But when it gets out of control, it threatens to take over and leave you irritated and frustrated with a feeling of zero-accomplishment in the end. I’ve learned this the hard way. For most of my college life, I’ve procrastinated like any outrageously shameless and careless procrastinator you’ll see out there. On days when I ought to have worked, I spent my time doing stuff like finding patterns in the genres of the songs in my iPod, or adding every movie I’ve watched to my IMDb account. Not bad things to do, but when a deadline is looming, not the kind of stuff one should get into. An hour before final exams, I’ve gotten bouts of compulsively playing Minesweeper, or of just lying down and day dreaming. Yes life seems to have passed very peacefully, but all the procrastination didn’t do me much good. When I was supposed to work, I wasted time, and when I ought to have partied, I was suddenly hit by the stark realization that I hadn’t worked at all, and I could not party. Now that’s a bad situation, isn’t it?
I’m still learning my lesson, and trying to correct this habit. This isn’t uncommon among college students, but I have the feeling that unless you’re super sharp, and can earn your living based on momentary strokes of brilliance, you can’t afford to procrastinate too much. There’s no substitute to hard work and putting in the hours. In other words, if you’re a reasonably smart and motivated person, then motivation is the biggest gift you have. It’s a gift that is easily lost, so make it (and your time) count.
Close friendships formed in college are special. They are probably more mature than the ones you form in school, which usually weather down with time and physical distance. A college student is more mature, and the connections that form here are based on mutual interests or similarity in points of view. These tend to last longer. Meeting a friend from college is a sure shot way to reminisce “good old days” when you had the time of your lives. Having friends teaches you various things – it opens you up to new points of view, teaches you how to compromise, how to be part of a motley and still enjoy yourself. Friends support you when you’re down, share your joy when you’re happy, and empty your purse when you accomplish. Friends fool around with you, discuss with you – from gossip to philosophy. Friends introduce you to new experiences, help you lose inhibition, motivate you to follow your heart – be it love or work.
I’ve had a wonderful group of friends who’ve done all the above to me, and I owe a major chunk of my development to them. A few years down the line, I won’t remember the grades I managed to score, what will be remembered are moments that shaped me as a person, and those moments will invariably have been spent with friends. You need memories to live life by, and memories are even better with people in them.
Additionally, also make friends with some professors that you like. They might not fool around with you, but will be of great help and mentor you when it comes to choosing your career. There’s no substitute to having great mentors. Additionally, a lot of wisdom can be gained from friendly professors – wisdom which is often quirky, amusing and might apply to you directly. Also make friends with people in the administrative divisions, so that you can break free of the red tape and get your work done faster.
No matter how much of a superstar you were before getting into college, you would do well to realize as quickly as possible – that in almost any conceivable activity, there will be someone better than you. In a college like IITB, with so many talented and diverse people, a very essential lesson I learned was that of humility. Whatever high opinions of myself I might have had when I joined were shattered when I realized that there were people who could do a lot of things I was very bad at, or I couldn’t do at all. And I benefited very much from having such an amazing peer group around me. By learning from people who did things better than me, I either got better myself, or realized where I was going wrong. Respecting others for what they’re worth is an important trait for dealing with people, and is also a quality learned simultaneously with humility.
Unless you’re planning to become a gym instructor after college, or get into a job that requires basic physical fitness, you’re going to regret not exercising in college. Most of us are careless individuals, we eat whatever is served to us, we don’t care to lose the calories, we ignore the slight paunch or the double chin. We think that just a little exercise can put us back in shape. The truth is that the more you postpone it, the harder it will be to regain fitness. It is easy to be lazy, but everyone should get into some sort of activity. Once you get out of college, exercising regularly is going to be real hard so it is essential to build up great fitness during college. If you bloat up during college, then god save you afterwards.
Okay so that’s about it. Of course, there are many more things I learned, but these stand out as the essential points that I really wanted someone to tell me much earlier. In any case, I’m spending this summer feeling nostalgic about the past four years. Whether or not you learn something, the memories last really long.