As the college commencement season is in full swing, and I receive invitations and graduation announcements, I started reflecting on my own college experience, what that big day meant to me, and whether or not I actually learned anything in college since I do not have a job in my chosen field of study.
I know the world has changed quite a bit in the nearly 30 years since I graduated; the economy is not the same, technology is completely different — I didn’t even have a computer when I went through both my undergraduate and graduate education. We are even in a different century.
However, there are some things that are timeless, that never change, and that you take with you when you leave school and keep for the rest of your life.
While there will be plenty of people who might tell you that because you didn’t choose a “practical” major, or cannot find a job with your shiny, new degree, that your education has been a waste of time. That is not true, college has taught you about life, and that is never a waste of time. Here are some things that you are taking with you as you leave school.
You will always be faced with difficult people and difficult situations. You know that one guy who always raises his hand to ask a completely pointless question, or to show off how much smarter he is than the rest of the class? Not to depress you, but he or she will follow you into the “real” world and quite possibly be seated in the cubicle next to you and at most of the meetings you go to. Knowing how to deal with these people and how to not let them get to you will help make your professional life a lot easier.
The importance of friends in your life. Think about all of the college experiences you have shared with your friends. How they helped you face tough teachers, tough exams, and awkward social and living situations. They supported you as you navigated these things together, and made you feel less alone. In some cases, you have found life-long friends. While you might not stay in touch as often as you once did, the bond you share will never go away. And, this isn’t true just of your college friends, as you go through life and face hard things and even wonderful things, having close friends to share these with is an incredible gift.
You never stop learning. If you are alive, you will always be learning new things, maybe not formally or by subject, but you will, especially about life. When I was just entering my mid-life crisis years, I had a conversation with my father, who of course has taught me more life lessons than anyone or anything else ever could. As I was bemoaning the fact that I thought that I still sometimes felt just as lost as I did at 22, he told me, “you never stop feeling that way, you never stop learning. That is what life is about and if you stop learning or growing from your experiences, and trying to navigate those times of uncertainty, then you might as well be done.”
Things do not last forever — they are always changing. This is a lesson learned from so many things, from nature, from family and especially at the end of something big in your life, like college. Having shown up as a freshman, scared and completely unsure of what you were facing, and looking back at all you have learned, you are probably realizing how much situations have changed in just a short time. They will change often and that is not always a bad thing.
Enjoy life and have fun! This is related to the fact that things do not last forever. There is more to life than studying or working. Don’t forget the things that make you laugh, that you like to do, and do them! Life does not slow down and wait for you until you are “ready” or done with work. You will never be done with work, there is always more to do. But, you only have one life so you have to make time for fun.