Three years ago, I decided to step back into the halls of academia to finish my undergraduate degree. My first go around with college was not so successful. I was failing classes, becoming increasingly depressed, and unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. I quit school to search for answers, a direction for my life, and ultimately, myself. In short, I ended up finding myself and was encouraged by close friends to give college another try.
School was a scary proposition at first. The first question I wondered was, “how much math was I able to retain after 9 years?” It turned out that it was like riding a bike. All I had to do was to put effort into my assignments. I know math doesn’t come easy to everyone, but the most important part of math isn’t the formulas. In my humble opinion, the most important part of math is the problem solving. The ability to break down a problem into bite size pieces and solve them has been crucial to my college career and will serve me well for the rest of my life.
Another part of college I wasn’t looking forward to was taking classes I wasn’t interested in. Like many of my colleagues, motivation to attend lectures, study, and do homework is all but nonexistent when it comes to the plethora of GE requirements we need if we intend to graduate. I turned classes like these into challenges. I challenged myself to open my mind and learn how to be successful in these classes. I forced myself to sit in front of class, listen intently to lectures, and ask as many questions as I could. I know that my career will be full of tasks that I’m either not interested in doing or won’t be good at. Cultivating an attitude that embraces these tasks as challenges has allowed me to succeed where many of my counterparts fail. Anyone can throw their hands up and begrudgingly do the work no one else wants to. There are only a few who excel in those scenarios.
I think one of the largest advantages I’ve had in school is being fearless in the face of risk taking. I’ve already dropped out of college, failing to achieve the ultimate goal of graduating. But failure never ended up defining me. My second stint in college has shown how much I’ve grown and the resolve I possess. It takes serious guts to go back to school when you’re much older than everyone else. I could’ve felt insecure about my age and my past failures, but I didn’t. I used it to become fearless in my college studies. I chose the most difficult electives and projects in my major because I wasn’t afraid to fail. From my experience, I witnessed the American educational system promote a culture of conformity, fear of failure, and path of least resistance. The problem with this culture is that it’s counter-intuitive. College should be when you’re taking the most risks and solving the most difficult problems. College is the safest place to explore curiosity and inquiry. “Good enough” belittles the tremendous opportunity we have to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Jobs may or may not be so lenient with mistake-driven development.
Out of all my lessons learned, I felt this last one was the most crucial. In this second stint in college, I found myself to be one of the student leaders in my major. It made me a target for critics and challengers alike. I decided that I would embrace the target on my back and become impossible to catch. 10% of it comes from the heart of a competitor. I am disgusted with comparison but relish competition. The other 90% comes from embracing who I am. Many of my classmates think I’m weird for enjoying 8:00am Java classes and managerial accounting. I take these criticisms as a badge of honor. This is what makes a good leader. Anytime I’m in a position to push the pace or disrupt the status quo, I will. If failing 9 years ago has taught me one thing, it’s that you can get back up, dust yourself off, and completely demolish the obstacles that pushed you down in the first place.