Eight lessons I learned in college

I’m writing a post after around five months! Whoa! What a ride the last semester has been! I’ve now graduated (provided they give me my degree) from one of the best colleges in India, with new hopes and dreams, some knowledge, passion and a lot of friends. The past few months have been a blur, and I’ve done loads of new things. Most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to think about and look at all that I accomplished (or failed to accomplish) during college, I’ve thought about where my motivations lie, about what I want from life and ultimately how I’m going to achieve that. And in this post, I’m going to try and summarize the same. I entered this place as a high-on-success and low-on-wisdom defiant individual. I now leave as a mature and responsible, motivated and slightly wiser person. So here are some of the most important lessons I would want to pass on after having survived the jungle that undergraduate life is [1] [2].

1. Be liberal

If you asked me for the single most important lesson college life taught me, then it would without doubt be the ability to take a liberal stand on any issue (moral, philosophical or legal) that may or may not affect me directly. When I came in as a freshman [3], I must admit I was as dumb as one can get. I had strong ideas – they were strong not because I had seen the world and come to well thought-of conclusions. My ideas were just a product of my upbringing, the popular media (that too mostly Indian), and the conversations with self that one usually has when they’ve been sitting alone in a room for hours. So what happened during college? Surely, not all those ideas changed. What changed was my approach to them, what I thought of my convictions, how I defended them and how I urged others to see my point of view.

For example, I used to be a vegetarian in first year, and still am, but unlike then, I no more think that eating meat is “wrong”. I have realized that all my opinions are results of my thoughts, and no more right than yours or those of the local brigand. Contrary to what a lot of people think, being liberal is not about trying your hand at everything – yes you can be liberal and a vegetarian, a teetotaler, and staunchly religious all at the same time. By being liberal, I mean the ability to take into account everyone else’s point of view, all the data available, and then consciously and justifiably form your opinions. It incorporates the basic premise that no opinion is sacred, and as long as people are happy with their choices and lives, you have no right, or reason to meddle. This is the simple secret to leading uncomplicated lives.

2. Think independently and explore recklessly

I strongly feel that we have stopped thinking. As a student community, there seems to be less emphasis on independent thought and charting out our own course. Most of us (and I’m no less guilty) just try to follow the golden path laid down before us. It’s either that high-paying job, or the highly ranked university somewhere in the USA. While there’s nothing wrong with these choices, what’s wrong is making these choices just because they are the in-thing. Do we ever stop to think what our motivation in life is? We all need to ask this question to ourselves sooner or later – do we really plan to do something with lasting value, something different? Are we willing to take risks, do something our peers aren’t doing? College may or may not be sufficient for us to find our life’s calling, but just the realization that one needs to do what they love the most, is important. It might seem trivial to think about, but if you look around, people easily forget this.

Independent thought comes out of knowing a lot of things, which is in turn borne out of having explored a lot of avenues. You like watching that sport? Try playing it. You like music? Try your hand at learning how to play your favourite tune. Learn how to write code. Learn a new language. Explore how it is to work in a company. Dabble your hands in research. Explore other fields of work, try to figure out the arts. Don’t waste your time sitting upon things you already have. You will never have the kind of freedom you can afford in college, so don’t let it be wasted on nothing. Learn to get your hands dirty, learn to make yourself curious, who knows you might find diamonds in the mud?

3. Lose some inhibitions

I’ve had a few friends who’ve been living frightened lives – inside a cocoon of their own making, one that keeps them far away from things they’re scared of. I was no different when I started, and unfortunately, I believe I wasted a couple of years sticking to myself, until I found friends who would pull me out of my shell. I’ve realized that college is the first (and probably the last) time when you have the opportunity to overcome your fears, to make an effort to challenge yourself on the personal front. Have you ever tried singing in front of few dozen unknown people? Have you ever taken part in a debate and publicly made a fool of yourself? Are you afraid of wearing shorts in public lest you show your sexy (or ugly) legs? Are you enraged if your beliefs are questioned? If yes, then are you doing something about it? Shouldn’t you?

Why all this trouble? It is because quite a few of the qualities developed this way surely help later in life, directly or indirectly. And you would never know you had those qualities, unless you loosened up and dirtied your hands with a few scary-looking activities.

While I’m not saying that you should try everything just for the heck of it, but it does make a lot of sense to put yourself in situations you have no idea how to handle yourself in. This teaches you one very important life lesson, which is that of standing up to unexpected scenarios and deal with new kinds of emotions. Isn’t this what life is about anyway?

4. Interact with the opposite sex

In a society as prudish as ours, this is always a tricky issue. More so in an environment like IITB, with a highly polarized sex-ratio.  Firstly, why is this important? From what I know, males and females have very conspicuous differences in their points of view. Understanding this is important. Life will eventually make you interact with people from the opposite sex. You will have colleagues, a spouse, friends. You will want to know what they find offensive or how open you can expect them to be etc.

From a guy’s point of view, I’ve seen some guys becoming excessively abusive, and outright disrespectful towards the females they see daily. Blame this on a testosterone-intense environment, but unless you’ve been friends with a girl, you might tend to develop sexist attitudes, or be uncomfortable in one-on-one interactions. And this will surely cause problems at some point, on a personal level. Learn to look at boy-girl communication in an uncomplicated way. Encouraging and taking part in healthy interactions with the opposite sex are a certain step towards creating a healthy society based on mutual respect. The same applies to girls, while interacting with males.

So meet people of the opposite sex. Make friends with them, learn about their ideas, opinions and constraints. Don’t worry about being close to someone. These exchanges go a long way in making you comfortable in any group.

5. Procrastination will take you down

Procrastination can be a bane for anyone, even the most brilliant mind out there. Truth be told, it can’t be avoided. We all do it, we all probably need it. But when it gets out of control, it threatens to take over all of your time, and leave you irritated and frustrated with a feeling of zero-accomplishment in the end. I’ve learned this the hard way. For most of my college life, I’ve procrastinated like any outrageously shameless and careless procrastinator you’ll see out there. On days when I ought to have worked, I spent my time doing stuff like finding patterns in the genres of the songs in my iPod, or adding every movie I’ve watched to my IMDB account. Not bad things to do, but when a deadline is looming, not the kind of stuff one should get into. An hour before final exams, I’ve gotten bouts of compulsively playing Minesweeper, or of just lying down and day dreaming. Yes life seems to have passed very peacefully, but all the procrastination didn’t do me much good. When I was supposed to work, I wasted time, and when I ought to have partied, I was suddenly hit by the stark realization that I hadn’t worked at all, and I could not party. Now that’s a bad situation, isn’t it?

I’m still learning my lesson, and trying to correct this habit. This isn’t uncommon among college students, but I have the feeling that unless you’re brilliant as fuck, and can earn your living based on momentary strokes of brilliance, you can’t afford to procrastinate too much. In other words, if you’re a reasonably smart and motivated person, then motivation is the biggest gift you have. It is a gift that is easily lost, so make it (and your time) count.

6. Make friends with all kinds of people

Close friendships formed in college are special. They are not immature like the ones you form in school, which usually weather down with time and physical distance. A college student is more mature, and the connections that form here are based on mutual interests or similarity in points of view. These are on an abstract level, and hence tend to last longer. Meeting a friend from college is a sureshot way to reminisce “those old days” when you had the time of your lives. Having friends teaches you various things – it opens you up to new points of view, it teaches you how to compromise, how to be part of a motley and still enjoy yourself. Friends support you when you’re down, share your joy when you’re happy, and empty your purse when you accomplish. Friends fool around with you, discuss with you – from gossip to philosophy. Friends introduce you to new experiences, help you lose inhibition, motivate you to follow your heart – be it love or work.

I’ve had a wonderful group of friends who’ve done all the above to me, and I owe a major chunk of my development to them. A few years down the line, I shall not remember the grades I managed to score, what will be remembered are moments that shaped me as a person, and those moments will invariably have been spent with friends. You need memories to live life by, and memories should have other people in them.

Additionally, also make friends with some professors that you like. They might not fool around with you, but will be of great help and guidance when it comes to choosing your career. Additionally, a lot of wisdom can be gained from friendly professors – wisdom which is often quirky, amusing and might apply to you directly. Also make friends with people in the administrative divisions, so that you can break free of the red tape and get your work done faster.

7. Get along with people who are better than you

There’s one thing one would do very well to realize as quickly as possible – that in almost any conceivable activity, there will be someone better than them. In a college like IITB, with so many talented and diverse people, a very essential lesson I learned was that of humility. Whatever high opinions of myself I might have had when I joined were shattered when I realized that there were people who could do a lot of things I was very bad at, or I couldn’t do at all. And I benefited a lot from having such an amazing peer group around me. By learning from people who did things better than me, I either got better myself, or realized where I was going wrong. Respecting others for what they’re worth is an important trait for dealing with people, and is also a quality learned simultaneously with humility.

8. Keep your health in check

Unless you’re planning to become a gym instructor after college, or get into a job that requires basic physical fitness, you’re going to regret not exercising in college. Most of us are careless individuals, we eat whatever is served to us, we don’t care to lose the calories, we ignore the slight paunch or the double chin. We think that just a little exercise can put us back in shape. The truth is that the more you postpone it, the harder it will be to regain fitness. It is easy to be lazy, but everyone should get into some sort of activity. Once you get out of college, exercising regularly is going to be real hard so it is essential to build up great fitness during college. If you bloat up during college, then god save you afterwards.

Okay so that’s about it. Of course, there are many more things I learned, but these stand out as the essential points that I really wanted someone to tell me much earlier. In any case, I’m spending this summer feeling nostalgic about the past four years. Whether or not you learn something, the memories last really long.

nRT

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I don’t intend to preach at all, but these are some ideas I could have done with when I started college.
  2. I’ve made little effort to shorten the post. I just can’t do it. So if you’re in TL;DR mood, the headings should do for you
  3. Chutya freshie, if you will :D
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  • http://aletterdoesnotblush.wordpress.com/ Perestroika

    You are luckier than most people. A similar post by me would probably have headings like

    1. “Most people don’t deserve to live”, 2. “Life is never fair”, 
    3. “No one is really a liberal on the inside whatever they might be preaching on the outside”, 
    4. “Whatever you do in life, it’s probably going to involve something which sucks- the main objective should be to do something which minimizes the sucky part”, 
    5. “Being cynical and pessimistic makes your life suck but gives you a realistic perspective”
    5.1. “Nietzsche was right all along- life is utterly meaningless, nihilism is the safest option”
    6. “The Internet is the single greatest invention after computers”
    7. “Democracy is a farce in every manifestation- choice is only an illusion”
    8. “You are blind to your own faults when you look at yourself from the inside” 
    9. “No one should be allowed to take up Electrical Engineering without getting lectured at for at least three hours on why doing EE is such a terrible idea”

    • nishanttotla

      I like the way you think. And I agree to all your headings, and quite a lot with the last one. But the lessons I mentioned are the ones I would have loved to know when I started, while the ones you mention are the ones I would always want to find out by myself. Sorry about EE though :D

    • Vasuki

      I would really like to know why you think doing EE is a terrible idea. Being an EE graduate myself, I’ve never regretted taking up EE even once during my undergraduate days. You must have had some terrific experiences?

      • http://aletterdoesnotblush.wordpress.com/ Perestroika

        It’s like asking a fish why it doesn’t like being out of water. Or asking a vegetarian why he doesn’t like meat. It’s just a matter of taste.

  • Vignesh

    Nice one! :-) I found myself nodding my head to most of that post! :D I don’t really agree with the last point though! (maybe coz it hits me where it hurts most :P )

  • Garvit

    I agree with everything. Partially disagree with 6 though. I still cherish my school friends slightly more than my IITB friends. :)

  • http://reflectionspn.wordpress.com/ Pratyush Nalam

    Well, nice points :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/darshankumar Darshan Kumar

    Excellent, After you Accomplished This much you are so Humble, Hail You :)

  • Nishchay

    Simply, wow !!

    I believe I am surely going to have an impact of some very important point, that I was some how missing. As I have just completed half of my college life, I still have time to make things/choices right.
    May be that’s what he meant by when he said “Connecting the Dots”.

  • Raja Vinay Chandra

    This is super-awesome stuff. Stuff that must be printed and given out to every freshie who joins the Institute. 

    • http://www.nishanttotla.com/blog Nishant Totla

      Thanks for your compliments :). Although, I seriously wonder if one needs a certain amount of independent experience to fully appreciate all these points. I’m sure, had I just read something like this in first year, I might have read and moved on, not realizing fully what to make of it.

      • Raja Vinay Chandra

         True, unless you have some experience to relate to or fall back on, it becomes hard to truly appreciate what you are saying here. Nonetheless, I think it is a good idea to have these things at the back of your mind even if you don’t implement them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/praveshkochar Pravesh Kochar

    Why don’t you include this in the freshman guide they give at the start of the session ….. it would make a great going along with the other popular matter out in it already ..!!

  • Gourav

    excellent article!nicely nd so wonderfully written,yet in a simple way

  • Sanket Dabade

    Wiki link to 
    Procrastination and 
    ↵ returns to text for footnotes saves a lot of efforts and are really appreciated. :)

    • http://www.nishanttotla.com/blog Nishant Totla

      Footnotes actually also appear if you hover over the link to it, provided your javascript is enabled.

  • Harsh Pareek
  • Zoopertrip
  • R Nikhil Simha

    “when I ought to have partied, I was suddenly hit by the stark realization that I hadn’t worked at all, and I could not party.”
    really?? does that happen to you (often)?
    Awesomely written!

    • http://www.nishanttotla.com/blog Nishant Totla

      It doesn’t happen all the time, but yes, it happened more often that I’d have liked. These are signs of a compulsive procrastinator who also worries a lot.

  • vikas kumar

    This piece of writing was really an “eye-opener” and a PUSH or JHATKA one needs when he/she is captivated by the thought of enjoying the college life (mostly in the form of unproductive activities that are not bad but at the same time , lands them nowhere) at the cost of losing the precious college time which is meant for shaping and moulding one’s personslity and ultimately one’s future .

    Anyways ,as an engg. student ,  i really was inspired by all the 8 things u mentioned and would surely practise them in the days to come in my remaining college life :)
    And yes .. stupendous and brilliant work !! m/
     

  • Shanti Swaroop

    Nice one man. I have read most of your blogs and enjoyed them a lot. Keep blogging

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002930899318 Tanishq Goyal

    AT LAST AFTER 5 MONTHS SEEN A POST LOVED IT
    NICE IDEAS

  • Jyoti Maheshwari

    I completely loved reading your post…. But as regards the being liberal lesson, I don’t think college life does make you liberal… What it does instead is make you aware of the prejudices you have always had and judging people after being aware of those prejudices. Let’s accept it… a vast majority of us are pseudo-liberals…. we would be okay with X doing a particular thing but even after all the exposure we have had, we would not be okay when someone close to us would be doing it… Blame it on our upbringing r watever but this is how things do stand :-)

    • http://www.nishanttotla.com/blog Nishant Totla

      So firstly, I’d like to specify that the point in this post are lessons *I* learned, and need not necessarily be applicable everyone. Even if this post comes across as free advice, it wasn’t meant to be.

      That said, even you agree that college makes you question your prejudices, and desensitizes you to many things. Even if you don’t end up being the finished product, this is a good (and crucial) first step. I also agree with your idea that most of us are pseudo-liberals, but there are strong notions we all need to fight. Each thing makes us uncomfortable to different extents, so we all take time to adjust to, and embrace them.

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