(Last Updated On: 01/03/2017)

3 Important Lessons You’ll Never Learn in a Classroom

What I like about working with college students is the chance to help them avoid some of the mistakes I, my friends, and other students have made along the way. I don’t necessarily mean figuring out whether or not you’re really going to make it to that 8AM class, or what foods should be avoided in the cafeteria, although those can be very important lessons as well.

When I think back to my own path, the pitfalls and the light bulb moments, I realize two things: one, some of that was good for me, and I wouldn’t trade those stumbles for anything, for they really did help me grow into the person I am today. But on the other hand, there were times when I reflect and wish someone wiser had been around to guide me. Perhaps they were there, and I just didn’t know whom to seek out, or what advice I even needed.

I asked a few of my friends what were some of the messages they’d wished they’d received earlier than later along their journeys. Here are the three lessons that we hope to help you avoid!

Tunnel vision can be detrimental

Many of us enter college with a very specific idea of what we want to be when we grow up, ideas that have had 18 years to form through parental influence, the little knowledge we have of careers, and lots of television, which at the time seems very accurate. But the truth is, most of us do not know what these careers look like up close, and the reasons we have decided to pursue them may be superficial and not very well thought out.

When I entered college, I was, and remain, fascinated with sports. I was all things football and basketball, and was obsessed with learning all I could growing up, from players’ backgrounds, stats, whatever. I wanted to know it all. So what did I think would be a suitable career for me as I entered college? Sports medicine. Why? No idea. Was that even a major? Nope. Was I good at science? Not even a little bit.

But that didn’t stop me from pursuing this errant path, from volunteering in the training room (a humbling experience proving to me that just because I loved football, dealing with athletes who did not want rookie hands wrapping their valuable ankles was not an easy gig) to briefly majoring in Exercise Physiology, where I excelled in the classroom, but only with a lot of effort and long nights. It didn’t come naturally.

Eventually, I gave up my dream of working in athletics, but it cost me an extra semester in college, and a lot of wasted time in areas that didn’t fit my skills or values. Had I had enough sense to talk these ideas through with professionals, talk to people who were in the field, or at the very least, open my mind to the possibility of other more fitting options, perhaps I would have figured out my strengths more quickly. The lessons I learned from this? Pay attention to what works and does not work for you, and recognize what passions need to be a career, and which should remain interests fulfilled in other ways.

Sometimes taking “unsexy” opportunities prove to be valuable in the future

At some point in our professional paths, we all learned how being humble enough to take the less than glamorous opportunities often taught us lessons that we carry to the present. Sure, no one wants to necessarily take that server or barista position. Or maybe working at the mall in retail does not directly align with your goals to become a nurse. How can it ever prove to be of any worth to you?

Believe it or not, every position you take builds to your story. Your career path is like a quilt, and each class, job, internship, and networking encounter you have adds another patch. Every patch doesn’t have to be perfectly stitched and match the next. But every new square will add to the overall pattern and design.

If one of my friends had never worked as a hostess for a busy restaurant, she may not have discovered little tricks to working under pressure, staying organized, and keeping a smile on her face even when dealing with unpleasant customers. This all comes in handy in her corporate position. Another feels his two summers working as a shift manager at an ice cream shop taught him how to not only make a mean ice cream sundae, but also how to manage people and balance books. And me? After earning a graduate degree, I took a temp job at a PGA tour handing out surveys. Is that what I was trained to do? Of course not. But it taught me sometimes you have to pay your dues while waiting for that big break, and it also taught me how you might meet valuable networking contacts in the least expected places. My break? Meeting a dean that worked at the university where I landed my first job after getting my masters.

You can’t learn everything in the classroom

We’ve all met some very intelligent people along the way, some that make me wonder when exactly they take off their capes, because of all they’ve accomplished on and off campus. They’ve studied abroad, had amazing job opportunities, started organizations for causes they wanted to support, enjoyed active social lives, and still had time to pull good grades. These are the individuals we envied and wanted to pattern our college careers after.

But there were also those that were all about GPA, and nothing else. Sure, they were brainy, but what else were they taking away from college? For my friend that felt as though she missed out on a life outside of the classroom, college took place strictly within her course schedule, the library and her room.

She didn’t join any organizations; she never got involved with anything that wasn’t designed to propel her academic career. And while we all coveted her report card, looking back, she wishes she had pulled her nose out of those books and really experienced what college life was all about. She doesn’t have the list of memories the rest of us have, from road trips to football games, that epic food fight after finals, or the many tales that begin with “remember that one time.”

Her lesson?

College is about balance. It is a collection of events and encounters, not just buildings and tests. People want to know you are more than just a container of facts and figures, but can successfully interact with the outside world. The part-time jobs, internships, extracurricular activities – it all helps students grow and develop into their post-undergrad selves.

So while knowing Socrates and Nietzsche are awesome, neither of them can write letters of recommendation, or help you figure out how well you function as a part of a team. They won’t help you see that the competitive edge you have to get the highest grade in the class is actually a core part of who you are, and helps push you to do well on the job as well.

Yes, academic success is invaluable and will take you far, but remember not to overload the scale too heavily on one side or another. Balance out your college career with the many opportunities that may interest you.

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