When I was growing up, I always had one destination in mind: college. To me, grade school and high school were in a way, a waste of time. Who cares about multiple years learning the same history over, and over, and over, again? I wanted real world experience, but of course, you can't get that experience without a diploma.
I flew through high school and college because to me, while education is important, you don't really know what you're in for until you're there, on the job, learning from those who have made mistakes, learned from them, and grown from their numerous let downs and failures. No matter your maturity and background, the real world is something college cannot prepare you for.
Here are some life lessons I learned while on the job, whether that be working as a server at Steak N Shake; working part-time at a law office for two years; or interning at multiple marketing agencies within in a year.
Humbleness Triumphs GPA
I was always the over-achiever in school. Something in me just wanted to do well...all the time. While this mentality helped me graduate high school and college early, at the end of the day, I knew my GPA did not matter unless I was a good person. You can fly through college with an outstanding course list and an impeccable GPA, but if you enter the workforce with an inflated ego and the inability to accept that not every idea you have is "genius," you will fail...miserably. Be nice to people. Treat people how you would like to be treated. As Maya Angelou once said: "People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel." Keep this in mind when you walk across the stage with a wide grin and endless optimism for the future—it will be more relevant than you may think.
Group Work Is A Part Of Life
I think I speak for the majority of college students and post-graduates when I say: group projects suck. It's unfortunate that the most beneficial aspect of college life (in my eyes) is viewed this way, but it is a fact of life that as long as you're in school, you are (most likely) going to dread group projects. Something I wish I had realized throughout my college years: work is just one big group project. It doesn't matter whether you're a dentist, college professor or copywriter like myself, you will constantly have to collaborate with your coworkers in order to be successful. Think about this as you ignore your group members' texts, put minimum effort into your part of the project and ultimately allow your group to fail. The ability to effectively collaborate with people isn't an instinct; it's a skill. The sooner you learn this skill, the easier your work life will be.
The Less You Care, The More It Shows
When you're in college, you can miss class and get a couple points off your overall grade, or even a simple warning. When you're working in the real world, not showing up leads to getting fired, tarnishing your reputation and struggling to gain respect and trust from your future employers. Treat your classes as if they are a shift at work. Put effort into your homework. Help your peers. Getting into the habit of caring about your life will help you adjust once you've got a seemingly infinite number of work days to complete. School is not just about taking tests and passing classes—it's about developing skills that will soon transfer to a career.
Google Will Not Always Have The Answer
I've always heard that you can be book smart or street smart, but never both. Whether or not this is true, something I realized after leaving college is that sometimes, you can't Google the answer. You may not even get a straight answer from your parents. Many times, you are going to have to look inside yourself for the answer no matter how scared you might be. There were many times throughout my internships that I thought, "What do I do now?" "How am I supposed to respond?" "What action will produce the best result?" and the majority of those times, I had to come up with the answer with pure common sense. Instinct. Gut. Once you enter the real world, you'll find that nothing is black and white; everything is grey. Find comfort in the unknown. Welcome uncertainty. Realize that this is your life, your decisions, and your own individual journey. Not every answer is going to be easy to find. And you may not always come up with the "right" one. But that's all part of growing up and learning your own mind without the teacher telling you what to think; your parents telling you what to do; and your friends providing their opinions. Own your thoughts. Celebrate your failures. And look forward to the wisdom they will bring.
While I have endured a lot of disappointment, regret and failure throughout my work experiences, I could not be any happier with how I turned out. I am not always sure of my next step. I do not always have the right answer. Often times, I think to myself, "Why did I do that?" but you know what, I'm learning. I'm growing. I'm becoming the person I was meant to be. No textbooks, no teachers, no GPA. I am finally realizing the purpose of school and life in general. It's not constantly succeeding and outpacing your peers, but rather helping others, being humble and leaving a mark on the world. How you will do that, is your decision. But whatever path you choose to take, make sure you can look back on your life in 10, 20, 30+ years and say, "I've failed. I've embarrassed myself. I've disappointed people. But I have always tried to be better," because that's all any of us can do.