5 Things I Learned During My Junior Year of College

Wednesday, August 08, 2018, by Kashay Webb

I feel like I just did my "10 Things I Learned During My Sophomore Year of College" post (check it out here) a couple of months ago. Time has gone by so fast and I cannot believe how little time I have left  of my undergraduate experience. As I am approaching my senior year of undergrad, I have had some time to reflect on my junior year and I want to share some important things I have learned:

1. Networking

Have you ever heard the phrase, "It's not what you know, but who you know"? Well, there's a bit of truth to that statement. I cannot stress enough how important networking will be no matter what your intended career field is. I have had some amazing opportunities in the past year that came to fruition because of hard work, but also connecting with the right people who also knew more people for me to connect with. Networking can open many doors for you to get opportunities that you never thought you would be able to have.

Testimony is very important among humans. If we have a good relationship with someone, we are more likely to accept their testimony as true. Let's say your career aspiration is to work in the rubber band ball making industry (It's the first thing that came to my mind, so just go with it 😉). Rubber Balls Making Inc. is looking for an intern who will work on selecting the best colors for the Spring 2019 Rubber Ball Collection. You have the marketing and analytic skills necessary for this feat and it is the perfect project for you. The competition is tough though. Business is popping for the industry these days and everyone wants in. After talking to your mentor, she informs you that she knows the CEO of Rubber Balls Making Inc.; they were roommates in undergrad. She calls the CEO and vouches for how qualified, competent, and independent you are. The CEO knows that your mentor would not lie to her and accepts your mentor's testimony as true. Turns out that the CEO did not know any of the applicants. They all had outstanding applications, but there was no way to distinguish which one would be the best intern. But you had the upper hand: your mentor's testimony. The CEO decides that it would be best and less risky to choose an intern she knows a little more about. You are offered an internship with the company.

Now, a few disclaimers: 1) I am not saying things always turn out like this 2) I am not advocating for using people solely as a means to climbing your ladder of success and 3) I am not saying that hard work should be taken lightly. It is important though to realize that in our society, hard work does not always directly lead to the position you want. Networking is an extra step to increase the chances of achieving your goal. Interacting with people and letting them know about your aspirations can have wonderful implications. This may sound like an introvert's worst nightmare, but networking does not have to be going to a huge conference and talking to every one who crosses your path. It could be as lowkey as meeting someone for coffee and building a relationship slowly. Either way, building these relationships will be critical in establishing yourself in your desired career field.

2. Stay Present But Look Ahead

I love to plan. I live for a solid, well thought out plan. As much as I love to plan for the future, this year in particular has taught me the importance of the present. I look back sometimes to the great experiences I have had in undergrad and just think, "Where did the time go?" It's easy to get caught up thinking about the future. Most of your undergrad career is tailored to that anyways: what you will need to be a successful "____". While that is important, taking the time to be and appreciate where you are right now enriches your experience so much more.

I have learned that even during the most stressful times of the semester to just breathe and take in how wonderful my friends are, my supportive professors and even the immaculate grass that my university just can't seem to stop cutting every time I look out the window. This time comes to an end. There are good times and there are bad times, but that is just the ebb and flow of life. Undergrad is such a unique bubble that many people do not get to experience. Be strategic about your future, but also cherish right now. You will not be able to get this experience how it is now again.

3. Course Correcting and Naysayers

When I think about what I came to undergrad for I always laugh. I have changed my major/minors and I have changed my intended career field 5 times since I started. And you know what? That is completely okay and I will explain why.

I just turned 18 a couple weeks before the start of my freshman year. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Well, me and that 18 year old are not the same person and as much as I appreciate her effort, she does not know what I know today. I started with one plan and each time I realized that a plan did not marry what my mind and soul wanted, I corrected the plan. Every time I took something from the previous plan: a little of what I liked and a lot of what I do not like and do not want in my life. That's the thing about planning, its foundation is intention. This means you are not bound to it, you can course correct when you took a back road and the path in front of you no longer seems to be right.

Sometimes there will be barriers to this though. When you change the direction of your life there will be people in your face like "Didn't you say you were going to do X?" "I thought you said you were doing Y" "Don't you think you should be doing Z?" Their inquiries for the most part are probably not malicious. They just cannot help but to project their fears onto you. But the beauty to life is we can wake up every day and decide to make new decisions. Isn't that invigorating? When they ask you those questions, just shake your head and agree, "Yes, I did say that I would do X, but that is no longer the case."

You have to live in this body with the summation of decisions and consequences that you have made over a lifetime. Wouldn't it be a bit easier to live with the life you have planned, adjusted and hand-crafted over time just for you? I have had the opportunity this summer through my internship at Michigan Medicine to interview some of the top leadership of the health system. They all kept saying the same thing in different ways: there is not one path to where you want to go and the path to success is more often than not a zigzag, not a straight line, but somehow all the pieces come together in the end and you will be exactly where you are supposed to be. Don't be afraid to plan and adjust that plan when you have thought carefully about the path you're on and it no longer fits. Life is dynamic. You should be too.

4. Transition out bad habits

At times I catch myself engaging unconsciously in a bad habit that I do not remember picking up. I don't remember when I started getting a caramel macchiato from Starbucks every day at 2 p.m., but now I am here. Do you ever feel like college helps put things in autopilot? Both good and bad? This can definitely help exacerbate bad habits. I suggest taking the time to become aware and reflect on any bad habits you have and work on transitioning out of them into a better habit before it becomes a way of life for you extending beyond undergrad. You will thank yourself later.

5. Enjoy Yourself (Don't Rush)

The last thing that I have found myself being reminded of this year is to be kind and patient with myself. Although I will be 21 next week, I often find myself evaluating my life as if I were 50. What I don't mean by that is that your life has to be "together" (whatever that means) by 50. What I do mean is that I look at my life and judge it based on criteria that is not possible physically, in terms of time. For example, if I want to finish undergrad, go to graduate school, do a fellowship, and so on, that takes time. It is impossible to judge myself currently as if I am at that finish line and as much as I want to be there, it is a process. Patience is a part of that process. For those of us who are goal-oriented, this aspect can prove to be difficult. We have our eyes on the prize and we want it now. We can also be quite rough with ourselves while this endeavor is in the process of manifesting. A little kindness and patience can go a long way. Also, referring to #3 of this post when we are too stuck in the future may be helpful.

As always, I hope to help someone by sharing my life experiences. 3 levels of undergrad down, one left to go! :)