The end of the semester always makes me nostalgic and reflective of my own school days, when the promise of all that was to come was palpable. Throughout the school year, I’m privileged to be surrounded by college students, although some days, between teaching, office hours, and grading papers, the experience is reminiscent of trudging through quick sand. It is hard work to get students to stop staring at their phones, to listen, and most importantly, to invest in themselves and learning. It is even harder work to get them to be accountable and encourage them to strive to be their best selves. And yet, I am not willing to give up that easily. I believe that each student is unique and intelligent, and has something to contribute, whether or not they realize it.
I often remind my students that the way they do anything in life, is the way they do everything. Some protest and claim that when they care about something, they give it their all. Perhaps. But if life has taught me anything, it is that if we begin to do all the little things in our everyday lives with the same energy, commitment, and attention that we give to the more important things in our lives, we transform into more consistent, focused, and successful individuals.
We don’t just become our best selves; rather, it is through daily practice that we advance in the direction of who and what we aspire to. Beyond practice, cultivating dynamic, and inspiring dreams helps us, too. For if we get excited about what we envision our future to be, there’s a chance we may work that much harder in our efforts to achieve all that our hearts desire.
What can students do to enhance their college experiences en route to becoming their best selves? Here’s some thoughts to consider:
- Be an active learner. If you are sitting in a classroom waiting to be taught and/or complaining about your lousy teacher who doesn’t know how to teach, do something about it! Empower yourself by learning on your own. Consider private study: take a class via a MOOC such as Coursera or Udacity; check out courses offered on LinkedIn’s com platform, or seek an on-campus tutor—most are free and there to help you 5-6 days a week!
- Find a purpose and aim to fulfill it. Start researching careers sooner rather than later. No one figures out what they want to do over night. Rather, let classes inspire you, read blogs of people in the industry that interests you, and seek a mentor. Make time to visit The Muse and Road Trip Nation to see what various companies and careers are all about and what professionals in various industries and functions do on a daily basis. When you have an inkling about what career you wish to pursue, it’s likely that your classes and extracurricular will fall into place.
- Grow daily. Aim to change the world! Take on big projects. Get involved with your family, your community, your campus. Commit to learning something new each day.
- Be creative. Do not settle for mediocre and boring. Creative people are imaginative, innovative, involved, reflective, and fearless. They are constantly thinking, being, doing. They motivate themselves and others not to settle.
- Be empathetic. Don’t just pay your pals lip service when they are struggling. Put yourself in another’s shoes. Try to imagine what it feels like when someone else hits a hurdle. What would you want your peers to say to you? Empathy makes people of all ages and walks of life more human. Strive to be in it with others versus above or beyond them.
- Don’t limit yourself with small ideas and a small life—set your goals high. You don’t just want to do something or other. You want to be awesome and surrounded by awesome people. It doesn’t matter about the limitations others around you set; think big, think yes, and then do it. Small lives are not bad lives, but you never know what you are capable of until you aim beyond your world.
- Accept failure as a learning device. Everyone fails at something sometime. It does not mean you are a loser; it does not mean you will fail again and again; it means that you failed and now you have to work smarter, harder, better to succeed. Make peace with failure and aim to view it as a catalyst and teacher that enables you to pursue success.
- Rid yourself of people who drag you down. The naysayers and the doubters are good to get you fired up, but over the long term, they can drag you down. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but set your limits as to when enough is enough. There are so many people out there who wish to soar with you; surround yourself with the climbers in life.
- Be accountable. That means that you have to lose the excuses; accountable people don’t blame others, they don’t show up to class, work, or life with reasons why something did not get done. They find a way; they know how to prioritize; they don’t look for the easy way out.
- Create a plan and adapt it as necessary. While winging it is fun, creating a plan is a surer way to not only get where you are going, but also to keep revising your aspirations along the way. Plans are blueprints that help you to form the foundation of your future.
- Be flexible. Life rarely goes as planned. We change our minds. Our bosses, teachers, and parents change their minds. Learn to go with the flow as much as you can; sometimes the haphazard routes in life lead us in the most exciting directions.
- Be open minded. That is, don’t be a know-it-all who is not open to any other thoughts and ideas but your own. Take it all in. It’s okay to change your mind; it’s okay to be unsure; it’s okay to be wrong. It is okay to believe what you believe, as long as you leave some room for possibility.
- Learn to listen to the people around you. Listen doesn’t mean abide by what others say; rather, it means to include them in the discussion. Discounting others prevents us from having a clear and full view of a situation, idea, or topic. When we listen, we not only exhibit that we are open minded, but that we engage in the mystery of life.
- Dream big, dream often. Be an incessant dreamer! And keep your dreams big. Don’t aspire to be a director when you can be a CEO. Often, we limit ourselves because we don’t believe the things we truly seek and desire in life are possible. But what if they are? What if the right blend of hard work, commitment, persistence, and a tinge of luck are all that is keeping us from what we aspire to? Dreaming won’t necessarily get you there, but it may get you pretty darn close to your goals!
- Enjoy the journey. We hear this so often that it has become a cliché. But it’s true! If you enjoy your journey—the good miles and the not so good ones—you are already fulfilling your mission in life, which is not about the outcome, but all the road stops and the scenery along the way. Each road stop or chapter is packed with learning, experience, and opportunities that enrich and fuel the journey of your life.