12 Things I've Learnt Since Graduating from Undergrad 12 Months Ago
Lessons about life, love, friendships, and work
This newsletter features weekly musings about life, career, identity, and behaviour by a questioning African centennial. To get it in your inbox every week, subscribe here:
On this day, exactly a year ago, I graduated from the African Leadership University with my bachelor’s degree in Business Management. It’s a day I remember like it was only yesterday.
It’s a day that was so special to me because it allowed me to celebrate all the hard work I had put into my academics, my extracurricular, and my personal growth during my four years of undergrad.
It didn’t seem like a big deal then, but considering the virtual COVID graduations, I’m really happy I had mine in-person. Because whew! 🥵
Even though my family couldn’t make it to my graduation, I was lucky to be surrounded by some of the best friends in the world who cheered me on each time I went up on stage to receive the Best Student Award, the Best Dissertation Award, and the Leadership Award. They also celebrated with me when I later found out I was also the runner-up for the Intellectual Excellence Award.
Throughout that day, I remember feeling overwhelmed with joy yet still holding back tears each time I remembered that my friends and I would be pulled to different corners of the world by our different lives and careers. I couldn’t tell when I’d see any of them again. But over the past few months, I’ve been lucky to see a few of them again and I’ve got plans to meet up with a few others soon.
Since graduating twelve months ago, my life has changed a lot. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, about life, and the people around me. I’ve been good to most people, bad to a few, and horrible to none. I’ve also gone through experiences that have challenged me, that have crowned my efforts, and that have almost brought me to my knees.
Through it all, high highs and low lows, I’ve been taking note of my learnings. Taking up journaling as a regular practice has helped me reflect on the different things I’ve experienced and identify the lessons that life is trying to teach me. It has not always been pleasant, I assure you.
These lessons are a lot more than twelve, but I’ll share with you the twelve that I think will be most relevant to you:
1. Things don’t always work out the way you plan
COVID-19 reinforced this lesson for me. After graduating in February, I’d planned to spend just one month in Nigeria with my family before moving to London in April to start work. But with the entire country thrown into disarray by the pandemic, I ended up spending five more months in Nigeria with my sanity hanging by a very thin thread.
That experience taught me to plan with disruption in mind. As someone who likes to have rigid plans for almost everything, this was a hard lesson to learn. But I’m happy I learnt it because I’ve come to see that knowing how to adapt when things don’t go as planned is a more powerful skill than knowing how to plan.
2. We’re all a little bit ignorant
2020 was definitely the year of the ‘wokeness Olympics’. The different movements that found their way to the streets of Twitter brought with them many arguments about privilege, police brutality, racial injustice, homophobia, and so on. Very often, I saw people get ‘fetched’ or ‘cancelled’ because of a slip or some hateful remark they made. Sometimes, I partook in the fetching.
Reflecting on that, I’ve come to see the flaw in my ways. When we correct someone or point out their misspeak, we often do that from an intellectual high ground where we’re so impatient that we can’t tell the difference between someone who’s innocently ignorant versus someone who’s intentionally idiotic.
We forget that there was a time we didn’t know what we know now. We forget that there are opinions we still have that are just as ‘un-woke’ because we haven’t been fetched for them yet. If we can acknowledge our individual ignorance, we’ll be a lot kinder to and a lot more patient with people who are not as woke as us.
3. You play how you practice
During the past 12 months, I had 6 big interviews for 4 opportunities. 50% of the interviews were academic and 50% were professional. The academic ones were for my applications to Stanford Graduate School of Business, Harvard Business School, and the Schwarzman Scholars Program. The professional ones were for my application to Apple.
Before those 6 big interviews, I did 25+ mock interviews to prepare. I leveraged my friends, my mentors, a few acquaintances, and a few strangers I reached out to on LinkedIn. After each mock interview, I took notes of the things I did well and the things I needed to improve on so that I’d keep getting better.
I wasn’t just practising; I was intentional about every practice. The rigour of my practice helped me get 100% of the opportunities I applied for.
There’s a reason why star players put in so many hours practising and refining their craft. They understand that how well they play during the actual game, when it matters the most, is dictated by how well they practise before the big game. Regular practice sharpens our edges and ensures consistent improvement.
4. You can win a lot just by learning how to tell your story
During my time in undergrad, I applied and interviewed for countless internships, on-campus volunteer roles, and leadership roles. Although my rejections were many, what I didn’t realise was that each application made me get better at telling my story coherently, succinctly, and compellingly.
That came in handy when I was applying to grad school and I had to think about my story and tell my story to the different admissions boards via short-form and long-form essays. I was able to tell powerful stories about who I am, where I’ve come from, who I want to become, and where I’m trying to get to.
I’ve learnt that humans are influenced most by stories. Stories make people feel things and develop connections with one another. Applying to grad school, interviewing for jobs, and presenting your ideas are all about telling your story. Learning to tell your story in a way that humanises you and inspires others will position you to almost always win.
5. It’s important to never stop applying for jobs
Throughout last year, I applied to several companies even though I already had a job. In July, I sent in an application to Apple for a position I was really interested in. I mostly wanted to use the opportunity to learn more about Apple’s recruitment process and also test if I could get actually get the offer.
I went through the entire process of preparing for the job and, after putting in much effort into every step of the process, I eventually got the offer. It broke my heart considering that I eventually turned down the offer. I just couldn’t jump ship yet, but I’d validated that I could actually get the job at Apple and, most importantly, I’d learnt from the process.
I learnt that consistently applying to jobs will not only help you keep your finger on the pulse with the fast-changing job market, it will also help you continuously calibrate whether you’re getting paid what you’re worth in your current job.
6. Life rewards those bold enough to chase the impossible
I almost didn’t apply to business school because all the odds were stacked against me.
The schools I applied to mostly admitted STEM students; I was a business student. They mostly admitted students who studied in the US; I studied in Mauritius. They mostly admitted students with astronomically high test scores; mine were abysmally low. One of my mentors discouraged me from applying at all if I couldn’t improve my score.
Those schools didn’t seem to have ever admitted an African who studied in Africa into their deferred enrolment program; I was an African who studied in Africa. To cap it all off, both schools admitted only 6% and 9% respectively of the entire pool of high-calibre students who applied. What chance did I stand?
Despite better judgement, I applied anyway to the two most selective business schools in the world. What’s the worst that could happen? I was praying that, by some miracle, I’d get into just one of the two schools. I had to silence all the voices in my head that gave me sound reasons for why applying at all was foolish.
By being bold enough to go against the odds, I got into both schools to the surprise of many, including myself. That experience taught me that such boldness is often what separates those who achieve the impossible from those who don’t.
7. Companies will almost always prioritise their bottom line
After my flight to London got cancelled because of the ban on international travel, and I ended up stuck in Nigeria, I plunged into serious panic.
I was reading the news about how people were being laid off from their jobs and job offers were being rescinded because companies could no longer afford to pay their people, who could now not even afford to pay their rents.
I was so scared. I started reaching out to people in my network for jobs in case my employer decided that their decision to put me on paid leave until I get to London was no longer sustainable and would then rescind my job offer. Thankfully, that never happened. I’m fortunate to have a great employer.
But as I observed other companies, I saw how companies approached the crisis differently. Some fired their employees so quickly before they could even sustain any financial damage. Others cut pay across the company from the very top.
Either way, most of the decisions made seemed to prioritise protecting the bottom line over protecting the people. That taught me that, contrary to what I’d believed, capital not talent was the resource that companies favoured above all else.
With this lesson in mind, I’ve become more selfish with my career. I no longer care as much if I leave a company after a short while to pursue something else more interesting that helps me learn or earn faster. Since no company will ever care about me more than they care about their profits, I must prioritise my career and the impact of my work before any individual company.
8. We all have our own small pockets of latent trauma
This pandemic has been stressful for a lot of people, especially those like me who, at some point, had to go back home to live with family. Before 2020, I hadn’t lived with my family under the same roof for longer than a month since 2015.
Living together amidst a global crisis brought out the worst in each of us. Not only did we have to reacquaint ourselves with how much each of us had changed over the past years, but we also had to confront conversations and demons from the past that we thought were buried.
Trauma that I had long forgotten resurfaced and almost brought me to my knees.
I’d previously thought that I’d worked through all my trauma, but I later learnt that I’d only just subconsciously buried them. All it took was the right trigger to exhume them. I was lucky to have that experience because now I’ve been made aware of the other things I need to work through.
But I’ve learnt that most (if not all) of us have similar latent trauma that is invisible to us, but influences our behaviour and our interactions with others. It’s important to identify them and work through them in order to remove the toxicity within ourselves that could end up poisoning our relationships.
9. You can’t force love into existing where it’s not meant to
I almost got into a relationship after being single for about three years. I was honestly very excited because I finally met someone I really liked after such a long time. This was something I wanted to work out.
As weeks went by, issues began to surface and, as I usually do, I spoke up about them so that we could work through them and enjoy this blissful romance that was budding. But the red flags just kept coming up and I kept trying to work my way around them and make compromises. As the issues kept coming up, I could feel myself liking him less to the point where I wasn’t sure I liked him anymore.
After spending weeks trying to force-fit things and reluctantly turning my eyes away from the unresolved issues that surfaced, I finally decided to let go. I realised that I was trying to control love. I wanted what I had with him to be the real thing so badly that I was willing to settle for a relationship that was devoid of real love. That was horrible.
I’ve learnt that love isn’t something you can force. If a relationship sheds its love, you can’t bring it back if it’s not meant to. Therefore, I’ve embraced the idea that when love leaves any of my relationships, I must leave with it.
10. Not every friend is meant to stay
I lost a few friends in the past 12 months, not because anything drastically wrong happened, but because things just stopped clicking.
It’s one of those times where you don’t even realise you’ve lost a friend until you just stop one day and realise that you and Person X haven’t spoken in a while and, in all honesty, don’t have anything to talk about anymore.
I’ve learnt that every friend has a purpose. Some are meant to stick around for the long ride, but most are only meant to be there for a season. Interestingly, I’ve also learnt that the role of some friends is to introduce you to your real friends. Has that happened to you before?
Whichever way the pendulum swings, I’ve learnt to enjoy each friendship for as long as they last and also be ready to build a mental tombstone in my memory to remember them whenever they come to an end. Hopefully, they don’t.
11. Learning never really ends
Graduating from undergrad can seem like an end to the days of learning. No more classes, no more assignments, and no more exams.
It certainly felt like that for me at the time, but that was clearly a premature feeling considering that I now have two masters degrees lined up for me.
But beyond that though, I’ve found that I’ve had to learn a ton at work just to be able to keep up with the demands of my job and the complexities of the different projects I’ve been staffed on.
So in essence, we’re all stuck in a perpetual loop of continuous learning. Those who choose to opt out of this learning loop are those who choose to stagnate their lives and their careers.
12. Adulting is a gift from hell
For a lot of us, graduating undergrad was the rite of passage into the long-desired era of our lives where we’re fully independent adults.
We could finally sever the tether between us and our guardians at home and at school as we forged on to live life on our own terms. It was the beginning of exciting times ahead, or so it seemed.
But what they didn’t tell us is how much of a pain in the ass adulting is. Paying taxes. Budgeting. Having multiple streams of income. Saving our morsels. Pretending like we know what the hell investing is about. Missing social gatherings with friends because we’re swarmed at work. Figuring out our own health insurance. And so many other unnecessary things.
Nobody told us about the dark side of adulting. I’ve had to learn about it first-hand over the past 12 months, and I tell you—it is no fun.
. . .
Either way, graduating into adulthood has allowed me a lot of freedom (albeit at a price) that I won’t trade for anything in the world. As I continue to adult and experience different aspects of life during the next 12 months of my life, I will continue to write down and reflect on the things I’ve learnt along the way.
By reflecting on my experiences, I’ll learn from them and grow as a result. Every step of the way, I’ll continue to share those reflections with you.
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