Some nights when I get tired of flipping between tabs, I think about how differently my life might have been. It serves no purpose other than to feed my curiosity, but at least that’s more interesting than winning imaginary arguments against my mom (I think).
There were always little thoughts like wondering about which university I’d go to if we moved to a different city, or about how I might’ve taken up engineering if it wasn’t for my brother. But what really stuck with me was noticing how much of my life is out of my control. If it wasn’t for a series of decisions that my parents made, from immigrating to Canada to taking entrepreneurial risks for our financial freedom, I would not be writing this today. I was lucky and born into the right family.
In light of all the could haves and the might haves, May 2017 marks the end of my UBC education in at least one instance of this multiverse – a place where I spent 6 years to study, work, and travel abroad. It’s hard to say if delaying my graduation was a good idea, but knowing my risk averseness towards being unemployed, I really can’t argue against the outcome.
This is not meant to be some analogy of the road less taken, but more of an entry for myself about my experiences, what I’ve learned, and my sense of the world as a 24 year old.
Overall, I would describe my education as some weird exponential function where I spent the first few years sucking on my thumb clueless and the rest of it playing catch up. I saw the passing grade as a testament to my “progress”, without realizing that I couldn’t retain or apply any of it since my learning habits were so short-sighted. These were the years I wish I could have back.
In hindsight, what I did in my first few years had very little bearing on my future. Beyond meeting the requirements for my major, I am sure now that I had all the time in the world to explore other interests in academia and student communities. Rather than choosing course work based on “GPA boosters” and convenient timetables, I wish I continued with poli-sci and creative writing past the introductory levels and maybe joined a leisure club like UBC StarCraft.
The turning point of my degree was probably when I decided to delay my graduation. It felt like pressing a panic button where under the guise of going on exchange and Co-op, I got myself a few extra semesters. Needless to say, I ended up with way more than I bargained for. Not only did I get something to put on my resume, the extra time added context to almost everything else I did.
Looking back at all the site visits I had (where someone from the office visits the employer to make sure we’re not destroying the school’s reputation), one question I hated being asked was this: how did Sauder prepare you for success in this role. I hated it because it felt like I always had to spin an answer that amounted to “I don’t know…”, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the right answer.
The reality is that there is something there. I just didn’t know how to explain it because I couldn’t attach it to a course number or an extracurricular commitment.
To me, the most important thing that UBC taught me is learning how to learn. I don’t remember much from the courses I took, as my professor prophesied in Econ101, but I know that studying became gradually easier and was taking up less time. I learned that note-taking wasn’t my strength, and that I’m better off thinking in the showers than staring at my binder.
This was a key for me because the luxury of knowing exam dates doesn’t apply in real life and that we’re often asked to come up to speed as soon as possible. Therefore, it’s almost essential to know how to digest information and be useful. To quote from an earlier post: employers today don’t rely on what we know, but our capacity for learning.
That was the first thing. The second light bulb is recognizing that effort does not equal results. In school, study hours will likely have a linear relationship to grades because of how courses are, but that’s not true anymore. I shouldn’t try to “out-study” my competition because being successful at my job is much more dynamic than being “smart”. There will always be someone better at certain things, so I should aim to prioritize my time and play to my strengths.
The advantage of being in Co-op is multiple, but probably none more important than getting an easy transition to the working life. I worked over 20 months in full-time positions while in school, and so graduating was far less anxiety inducing. I look forward to the long summer break I’ll have, but I will be refreshed and inspired to take on the world.