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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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??