Some days, I wish I was at university again, so I could naively look forward to being an adult. I thought I’d be a kickass lawyer wearing Versace shoes, driving a Mercedes and dining near Sydney Opera House. Alas, what I really discovered was that lawyer-dom is not glam at all. My heel snapped off my shoe on my way to court one morning. I can’t afford to park my Toyota Corolla 1996 in the city. I’ve been called ‘crude’ for eating chickpeas out of a tin can on the steps of Sydney Opera House. Although amazingly, I have got better at drinking since university. I didn’t think that could happen.
My rude awakening into the real corporate life leads me to reflect on what lecturers should have taught us, or at least mentioned at a university. Some sage advice would have saved a lot of graduates from disappointment, financial destitution, and unemployment. So for all workplace newbies or graduates reading, I hope you pick up a thing or two before you have to learn the hard way.
Lesson 1: Grades are only 10%
Everyone remembers the first day of university. It doesn’t matter what the class was, the message was always the same. Every lecturer, like Gandalf the Great, knew his noble duty to instill in every student the greatest myth there ever was: if you want to make anything of yourself when you leave this safe haven of learning and partying, work hard and get top grades. And on it goes. Grades, grades, grades. Work, work, work. As if every prospective employer marvels, Oh an A+ for Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance. Let’s not bother with an interview, you’re hired!
Lecturers should have said this instead: Get good grades but don’t get too hung up on the study because there’s more to getting a job than A’s. Good grades are a great starting place: they’re an example of intelligence and diligence. However, academic brilliance doesn’t translate to an initiative, social skills and common-sense. As a student, it’s comforting to bask in the interim relief that the perilous working world belongs to the future. Alas, the future turns into today pretty damn quick. I’ve witnessed many of my brilliant colleagues stumble unprepared into post-university life. They are led to mistakenly believe that having a degree means a job. Unfortunately, they discover they’re missing the rest of the puzzle.
A career is not made up of assignments and exams. Despite what the lecturers say, if you choose to read every page of the prescribed textbook and all the additional recommended reading, then you’re a bloody legend – but not ‘top of the class’ in real terms. Instead, lecturers should tell students to focus on gaining excellent time management skills so you can focus on networking and make a name for yourself. Developing a dynamic skill set is the real ‘A’ in the working world.
Lesson 2: Life experience is the new black
I’ll never forget when I heard a mature student saying to her friend, no one wants legal advice from a 20-year-old. It was a tactlessly brilliant line. Although being a 42-year-old cat lady university student with a son in prison is not the kind of life experience I wanted, she had a point.
Life experience and insight certainly count for something.
It made me think: what constitutes ‘valuable life experience’? Between the ages of 18 and 22, life is saturated with the enjoyment of eating McDonald’s four times a week without gaining weight, tagging friends in strange Facebook memes during class, and curing hangovers with weekend Netflix marathons.
Was there still time for me to be a prisoner of war in an Eastern European country? Survive a coup? Or live through an ice age before I turned 22? Lecturers forget to mention life beyond the classroom and its fundamental importance. It took me many unnecessary sleepless nights to realise that life experience is no cookie-cutter definition. In fact, all that’s needed to gain any sort of experience is to just get out there and make things happen.
What lecturers should really share with students that there is great value in turning your attention to your passions: volunteering, ghost hunting, traveling, public speaking, arguing with people online, knitting – or whatever your buzz is. Incontrovertibly, involvement and experiences mold your skill set, and in turn, will create your point of difference.
Lesson 3: Do not use your student loan as a tab
I blame Suits for the graduate salary misrepresentation and cruel high-life fantasies. Graduate lawyers earn peanuts. Lawyers without law degrees earn jail time (not promotions Mr. Mike Ross). Alas, there is no pot of gold at the end of the university rainbow. In fact, your first paycheck is a bit of a slap in the face. Lecturers forgot to mention that part.
There were all sorts of rumors at law school about graduate salaries, and how someone’s cousin knows a guy who knows a lawyer, and he makes like, so much money that he has a Swarovski crystal microwave and a pet Tiger. The most extravagant and financially reckless students in my classes were the ones that mistook their student loans for bar tabs and holiday allowances. They were living the vida loca. It was like New Zealand’s version of the Pablo Escobar drug lord experience. Except without the drugs. Or perhaps with the drugs but without the guns. Between regular shopping sprees, holidays and ski trips, it’s a wonder they had time to nip into university to submit assignments or sit exams.
This merry life continues when many of the student loan tab graduates decide they need to ‘find themselves’ in the form of having a massive overseas bender. After the summer of many larks, champagne showers and building a solid Instagram following, they get pummelled with a tidal wave of interest payments. The fun-sponge good guys of student loan facilities obliterate all the glee out of borrowing money. Alas, as poor Pablo discovered, you can run but you can’t hide. You could end up getting shot on the roof of a building in Columbia and dying a poor outlaw.
Self-funded students would know the realities of having too much week at the end of the money. Whilst few students are in a position to save, adopting a conscientious and savvy approach to handling the income that does exist, turns out to be the best financial decision you will ever make. That’s a lesson all educational institutions should teach.
That said, if you do want a live fast, die young lifestyle, don’t just borrow the biggest student loan you can, get a few credit cards too.
A Final Note and a Call to Action
Everyone learns their own unique lessons at university. The journey from student to young professional isn’t easy. I learned that designer shoes are horrendously uncomfortable and I break them anyway. I learned that eating tinned legumes in the sun by Australia’s most iconic building is better than wining and dining with hairy old men in suits. Most importantly, I learned that you don’t need to fit into a neat little box or conform to a stereotype to have a successful career.
Whatever happens along the road, everyone finds their way eventually. Although, I know many young professionals who would have benefited from some sage advice from lecturers. There are, of course, some who should have just undertaken a second major in common sense, as opposed to anthropology. Hard lessons are never forgotten. They make us. All the same, be the person you wished had whispered hot tips in your ear. It could really help someone along the way. Or at least, save them 25 years of debt.
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