As part of that outgoing generation of hacks, I’ve run my last student election, held my last leadership role, and have been looking forward to seeing all of what a new infusion of ideas and experiences could bring to campus. A majority of my BA had been spent working within the AMS and other groups on campus, and some of my happiest memories, defining experiences and lifelong friendships have grown from my time spent in these roles. I care very deeply for these organizations and for the people who have stood up to lead them so that they can have similar experiences to what I was honored to have had.
Though four years after being admitted to UBC, I’m crossing my fingers that next year will be the last of my degree rather instead of crossing the stage at graduation this year, here are some unsolicited advice (that should be valued with a grain of salt) to the new generation of students.
Everyone is fighting their own battle in one way or another. Help when you can, but most importantly, don’t make life harder than it needs to be – even to your enemies.
You’re going to make friends. You’re also going to make enemies. You also can’t get to know every person in your POLI 101 class intimately, nor will you always know what’s going on inside even your closest friends mind. Assume that everyone you know and meet has one battle or another they’re waging inside their heads and that sometimes the best thing we as human beings can do is be kind. Even the people who have slighted you, be especially kind to them, because they may be the ones who need a little help fighting their battles. Life is difficult as is, don’t contribute to making it even more difficult to navigate (even if someone else is making it their mission to do the opposite.)
Read. A lot.
Books are the doorway to as many other realities as ink can construct. Supplement your academic reading with books, blogs, magazines, podcasts. Spend a few hours a week putting down the textbook and picking up something that interests you, informs you, excites you, sickens you. When you cross the stage at graduation, your academic education will carry you only so far; a practical knowledge of the world and current events will carry you as well. It also makes for great conversation starters, which can be really handy later on.
Your education is far more than just about your academics – but they’re still the endgame in spite of everything.
An education is much more than simply what is learned within the four walls of a classroom. Co-op placements, work learn positions and other forms of experiential learning are becoming more commonplace fixtures within an undergrad program, especially at UBC with their approach to flexible learning. Campus also presents some of the best opportunities to gain experience through opportunities like joining a club, working for RezLife, or even being an AMS executive. None the less, you can’t get a BA in campus involvement. You’re at university to gain knowledge, ultimately get a degree and use both to build a successful career doing whatever your heart desires. Don’t forget that, and don’t let anything distract your focus from that goal.
Failure is far from being the worst thing that could happen to you. Failing to try and failing to learn are far, far worse.
Failure isn’t the most fun feeling on the planet, but failing to try to eventually succeed is infinitely less fun. You have so many opportunities for experimentation while in university and taking full advantage of what’s available (and sometimes what you have to make available yourself) is par the course of growing as a person. Give your crazy idea a try. It might fail, but using a keen eye and a listening ear to fix what went wrong and your crazy idea will be born unto the world a crazy idea that thrives. Hesitation from fear of failure and potential criticism is a natural response we all have (it’s a daily struggle I have nowadays), but an important skill to develop while here is to keep going in spite of it all and don’t let fear cloud the capabilities you have to share with the world.
Just because we have opposing beliefs doesn’t mean the other position is wrong. Or that the other person is an idiot.
Universities are places of free, open, and sometimes uncomfortable, debate. You can’t escape being in a position where you’ll be asked to take a side on an issue and have to rise to it, engaging in sometimes delicate and charged debate. But please, don’t close your mind, especially to the extent that you’re convinced your position is the only correct one. Norms evolve, standards change, and the process of evolving comes from the growth and percolation of arguments. Also, please don’t take up ad holmium as your standard response when you’ve run out of things to say. People aren’t wrong because they believe differently than you (though bigotry and ignorance are should not be accepted at face value) and they certainly aren’t less of a person for the ideas they hold (agree or disagree.) Just be fair and demand the same in return.
You can’t always take everything seriously. Laugh, even when that’s the last thing you want to do.
Life can suck sometimes. It can be difficult and it can feel like enthusiasm, momentum, and especially happiness are being sucked away from you from some sort of life-sucking vacuum. Take some advice from Charlie Chaplin: Smile when your heart is breaking and you’ll see light shining through eventually. Laugh at the moments when things are going the furthest away from well, give a grin when you goofed up, and even when the situation seems so seriously dire, step back, reassess where you’re standing, and realize that the world is not ending. A little humor and cheer can go a long way during difficult times.
Change your mind as many times as you’d like. Love what you’re doing or do something else.
Coming from a guy on a seven-year degree track, you’re entitled to change your mind on what you’re committing yourself to at any point. Don’t like your faculty? Put in the work to transfer. Realize you’re in the wrong major program. No problem, switch. Not a fan of your club? There’s plenty more out there. Sure, there’s an opportunity cost that you’ll need to weigh, but in life and especially when you’re this young, being stuck in a rut because you’re not in love with what you’re spending your time on time away from exploring your passion. Time is your worst enemy, but passion is what makes spending time fulfilling.
There are expectations you have to live up to: your own.
Expectations are everywhere; familial, societal, religious, cultural, and the list could go on forever. What’s most important is setting and living up to the expectations that you value and living by them. You may value expectations that others hold for you as important, and you should bring them into developing your own code to life, but time is too short to be headed in the wrong direction because of some abstract concepts that come from the ether that you don’t believe in with all of your heart. Live your life to your own highest standards and don’t settle for mediocrity.
There are somethings you should probably check at the door. Imagination and creativity should not be among them.
When we were kids, there was that childhood spark of imagination that drove us to believe in imaginary friends, shapes in the clouds, that we could fly. Growing up, you have new responsibilities and obligations that can and will weigh on you. Don’t let your creativity and uniqueness go dark in the process, because you’ll need them down the road to come up with new ideas and save you from the plight of monotony. You’re only given one spark of madness to keep alight throughout your life. Don’t let it go.
Take care of yourself. Including going to the dentist.
Nothing is worth neglecting yourself over, not even a degree. When you feel you’re at your limits, take a break, and come back to it later. Knowing, appreciating, and while working to expand them, respecting your limits is essential to success across the board. Don’t ignore your needs, your mental health, your physical health, and especially that little voice in your head pulling and pushing you in certain directions. Oh, and please go to the dentist at least once during your degree.