10 Things I Wish They’d Told Me Before Starting Graduate School

It. Is. Finished.

As of May 7th 2017,  I have officially obtained my Masters in Divinity degree from Andrews University – my alma mater. The past few years have been some of the most humbling, exciting, and paradigm-shifting years filled with lots of learning, love, and life.

They say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason. Here are 10 things I wish someone would have shared with me when I started 3 years ago:

  1. Invest in your community
    Education without a nurturing, supportive, community can render learning a drudgery. I’m thankful for my friends and colleagues with whom I could process insights as well as enjoy much needed down-time.

  2. Reflect on your learning
    Taking notes in class is one thing, but taking notes of your notes is another. I may have forgotten most of the notes I took, but I’m still able to recollect a considerable amount of content I’d processed through reflection. I wish I’d spent more time to reflect via journaling, recording, and blogging earlier on in my grad school experience.

  3. Look for mentors
    I eventually felt the need to seek out mentors beyond those who were assigned to me in the form of teachers and required texts. Mentorship, I later realized, is a veritable hack and shortcut to excellence, and the more mentors I surrounded myself with, the more I was able to lead, learn, and love better. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that you truly become the company you keep. Seek out meaningful relationships which are mutually valuable.
  4. Find ways to implement learning
    This is a step above reflection. Learning is further concretized when one finds creative ways to actualize it. In other words, the best learning has happened when I intentionally contextualized and personalized ideas for personal or public benefit in the form of sermons, ministry models, write-ups, or even just plain status updates.
  5. Develop a filing system
    Oh how I wish someone would have taken me aside my first year and shared the importance of this! If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have paid someone to teach me the ins and outs of organizing any piece of information, digital or analog.
  6. Take care of yourself
    Exercise, diet, you-time, family time. All inestimable in importance. When the person is prioritized, the life is positioned for maximum benefit and impact. Taking a day off every semester for a personal retreat, for instance, has been a game-changer for me in so many ways.
  7. Choose your experience
    This deserves an entire post of its own. In other words, you will do well to exercise the God-given gift of your will to choose how you wish to respond to the vicissitudes of life. If you’re not intentional, your experience will be chosen for you by various people, projects, and pressures.
    An apathetic, laissez-faire approach to dealing with conflicts is directly proportional to an atrophied, disproportionate, life experience. Choose wisely, and choose daily for success.
  8. Schedule your values
    This is a practical way of being proactive about your experience. Scheduling values – in contrast to tasks – involves a two-fold process of identifying your values and then etching it on your daily and monthly calendar.
    For instance, if one of your values is to to take care of your health, then consider calendaring a regular workout regiment in your monthly planner. Your tasks should be an outflow of your values. Not the reverse.
  9. Construct your “why?”
    A recommended personal exercise during this time is to continually engage in the process of crafting your “why” – your one-sentence mission statement which articulates your passion and contribution to the world. The sooner you are able to do this, the better you’ll be able to distinguish between what drains you and what strengthens you.
  10. Have fun!
    Like, seriously. Take time to enjoy your friendships, create new ones, make new memories, and laugh! As one of my good friends from grad school used to say, make sure to get some “chill vibes” regardless of what you do or don’t do.

For my colleagues and friends who graduated: What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment below!

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This Man is the Reason I’m Still Here ( A True Story)

Once upon a time there was a boy.

This boy was born in the verdant tea plantations of Sri Lanka to a humble tea worker and his wife. The family of 7 was poor, but had everything they hoped for in each other.

Life was good. 🙂

Then Christmas happened.

Christmas that year was anything but merry. That night, the boy’s relatives had come to his house to mourn the loss of their uncle who’d tragically passed away.  A house of celebration was turned into a house of mourning when a corpse replaced the conifer as the centerpiece of his home. The boy was distraught. “This can’t be Christmas. It can’t get worse than this”  he thought.

He couldn’t be more wrong.

Just then, someone from the house decided to pump more air into the kerosene lamp because there wasn’t enough light.

All it took was one pump.

The kerosene lamp burst into liquified flames which spilled on a number of people. The mourning turned to wailing as people were trying to reach the nearest exit to escape the conflagration. The 10-year old screamed and shouted for help. With his crying baby sister carefully tucked in his hands, the boy rushed out of the burning house desperate to find the rest of his siblings.

As he rapidly surveyed the smoky air for someone who can help, his eyes fell on a familiar silhouette. “AMMA! (mom) ” he tried to scream above the screams. “WE ARE HERE!!”

The boy was elated to see the one person who’d always been there for him. That can’t be anybody else but her. “AMMA!! AMMA!! COME HERE!! WHERE ARE YOU?? WE ARE….”

Suddenly he froze.

As the smoke cleared just enough to see, the boy witnessed a sight that would change his life forever.

His mom was screaming while being burned alive by the flames.

She suffered from severe third degree burns all over her body and died a few days later.
After the death of his wife, the father sent the boy and his 4 siblings to the homes of his brothers because he couldn’t work and take care of them at the same time. The boy was scarred for life. He missed his mom, dad, and 4 siblings who were adopted by other family members. In addition to the emotional pain felt, the boy also endured physical pain caused by his uncles. Finally, on the 2 year anniversary of his mom’s death, the 12 yr old took his meager saving of 10 rupees ( less than a dollar), his luggage consisting of one white t-shirt and a blue pair of shorts, and ran away from his family in an effort to put his life back together.

fast forward 5 years.

The 16-year old was working as a house boy for some American doctoral students after weeks of being homeless, food-less, and restless. One of the students, Mr.Ron Walcott, took notice of the boy’s work ethic and offered him work as his assistant.  Soon thereafter, the boy would travel all over Sri Lanka to help translate Sinhala and Tamil to English while Mr.Walcott analyzed that data for his dissertation. For the next 4 years, the American would be this boy’s father, teacher, and mentor.

The dissertation was done. The time came for Mr.Walcott to leave Sri Lanka.

The satisfaction of a job well done was eclipsed by his imminent departure from the boy.  He knew that once he left, the boy would be left in the streets. Nobody is going to hire a dhemalaya ( derogatory term for a tamil-speaker) let alone a 3-rd grade dropout.

It dawned on him that the best thing he could do to help the boy was to provide him with a good education.

Mr. Walcott took the boy to the best high-school in Kandy at the time, argued with the principal to get the over-aged boy enrolled, paid his school fees for the next 3 years, and left the country.

—————

40 years have passed since.

I’m in southern California as I write this and I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the events that led up to this moment.

you see,

The boy was my father.

Because of the kindness of Mr.Walcott, my father was able to finish high school, meet my mom in the same school, get married, get a nursing degree, work as a nurse in Sri Lanka, and currently work as an orthopedic staff nurse in Oman.

A month ago, my father came to the States for the first time in his life to see his son graduate from college.

Today, for the first time in over 35 years, he was able to meet the man who literally changed his life forever.

And I took a selfie with both of them 🙂

I probably wouldn’t have been born if not for the kindness and benevolence of Mr. Walcott. My dad wouldn’t have been in school and never would have met my mom. But the Lord has been so kind to us through and through and has used a random American guy to deliver my dad from poverty and position his family for greatness.

If you’re reading this, you are privileged. You have something that someone else doesn’t.

I don’t care who you are or what you have, but you have the power to change someone’s life.

I invite you to make a decision to change someone’s life today.

One person.

All it takes is seeing a need and DOING something about it.

Who knows. You might even affect the lives of people who aren’t even born yet.

photo

 

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting College.

I graduated from college last week.

Still hasn’t hit me yet.

But as I go through memory lane, I can’t help but think about  missed opportunities, a few regrets, and some setbacks which stemmed because I lacked this one thing:

Information.

Looking back, these are a few things I wish someone told me before I started college.

1) College is not a bigger high school.

I don’t know about you but I thought that college was just a glorified high school.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My perception of Andrews University was largely shaped by my high school experience. I always used to compare college as “harder”, “bigger” and “better” than high school. While all those are certainly true, I wish someone would have told me that university life and high school life are two entirely different things.

In high school, you had to go to classes. In college, you didn’t.

In high school, you had to keep your room habitable. In college, nobody cared as long as you don’t die of some fungal disease.

In high school, you are used to taking orders from teachers. In college, you have the wherewithal to start a revolution if you wanted to.

The freedom is palpable in college. You could do whatever you want. Which leads to the next thing I wish someone would have told me before starting college.

2) You are not an island.

I wish someone would have told me that while I had the freedom to do whatever I wished, I couldn’t do whatever I wished.

Let me rephrase that.

Just because I COULD do what I want to do, didn’t mean I SHOULD do what I want to do.

Why? Because even if I wanted to, I could not be an island all by myself; I am inevitably going to be a part of a community. And being a part of  a community means enjoying privileges but also having responsibilities.

Andrews felt like one humongous family. With just 3500 students, it’s very likely that you’d bump into the same person more than once in the same day!  Because of  such a small community, I felt more responsible for those I communed with. This sense of responsibility only deepened as I served as an officer in our student association. I wish someone would have told me that while I had the freedom and independence to do what I wanted to do at school, I should be mindful of the community I was going to be a part of.  Knowing this earlier would have alleviated some stress.

3) 
Be yourself.  

I was bullied in high school.

I wanted to fit in. Bad. So I tried to be someone I wasn’t to win the approval of others.

Unfortunately, I packed this ideology in my luggage and carried it with me to my dorm room.

I wish someone would have told me that I didn’t need to pretend in college. I didn’t need to be someone I was not.

I wish someone would have told me that it was perfectly fine to be me.

During my freshman and sophomore years, it was a harrowing experience trying to emulate what mr.popular, or mr.hipster was doing. But I began to take pride in my fresh-off-the-boat self when someone mentioned that I had a “cool” accent and a not-so-shabby fashion sense. That was the beginning of a journey that I’m still on. I realized that the more I valued myself, the more authentic I was. And the more authentic I allowed myself to be, the more effective I was as a leader.

Authenticity is currency. I wish someone would have told me that early on.

4) Get involved.

Nothing is detrimental to the joy of college life than passivity.

I wish someone would have told me that before I came to Andrews as a freshman.

Most of my cherished college memories are centered around the co-curricular activities that I had been a part of. I wouldn’t have had the joy of working with different teams, meeting new people, and pushing boundaries if I didn’t take an initiative to get involved and serve. However, one of my few regrets in college was that I didn’t get involved sooner.

I wonder how much richer my college experience would have been if I’d made Carpe Diem my daily goal the first day of class.  

Get involved. Early.

finally, I wish someone would have told me that…

5)   Education is not the most important thing about college.

You heard me.

Can I be honest with you?

I can distill EVERYTHING I’ve retained academically over the past 4 years into a 2 page paper ( Times New Roman, Double-spaced, Headings the size of Africa. 12pt font. periods sized 13).
I have forgotten most of what I have learnt in my classes. I have forgotten the contents of most of the papers I’ve written. I have forgotten most of the sermons I’ve listened to at church.

But what I am not able to forget, will take with me for the rest of my life, are the relationships I’ve made with the wonderful people I’ve met over the years.

The $46,000 I owe to the government is worth it for the close friendships I’ve made in college. Hands down.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m utterly grateful for the education I’ve received. It’s been nothing short of a miracle and a blessing from God. But I’m convinced that it’s not the most important thing in the college experience. If anything, the education I’ve received has made me a well-rounded individual to better relate to others in the global village.

I wish someone would have told me earlier that the “A” in Theology I was only worth it if it helped me engage empathetically with others who think and believe differently.

Education is important. Relationships are more important.

These are just 5 of the many things I’ve learnt from my college experience.  But enough about me. What about you?? What have you learnt from your college experience so far??