6 Life Lessons Your College Won't Teach You, But You Need To Know
How to find yourself and create the dream team. Turning the tables on college to win life on your own terms.
Okay before you do anything else, STOP.
There are moments when you need to run full speed ahead. And there are times when you need to stop and look around before you act.
This is one of those stop and look around moments. If you hear me out, I can save you from wasting money and valuable years of your life for nothing.
My name is Lucas Siegel. I am the cofounder and CEO of AlternaScript LLC., a rapidly growing health-tech startup out of Austin, TX.
When I was in college, my friends and I wanted a way to focus longer and study smarter everyday without feeling like a total zombie. I wanted to find nutrients and compounds that would unleash my mind. Utilizing the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience from the best researchers, scientists, and doctors we created OptiMind, an over the counter cognitive enhancement tool backed by clinical studies and safe to take everyday.
This is the future.
Enough about me, I want to talk about you. You may be a college student, young professional, or someone that just wants to crush life. I want to see you succeed as well, so I have compiled a list of life lessons that you have to learn if you want to win.
1. Don’t spend money you are never going to have on your college education.
Before you do anything, there’s one question you have to answer:
Does the insane cost of my education make longterm financial sense?
For a lot of people at the start of college, they think they can buy themselves a few years to “figure it all out.” But don’t kid yourself. If you need to figure it out, there are far cheaper places to do it.
Student loans may seem abstract but they’re not. It’s simple. Every dollar that you borrow, you will have to pay back. Not even filing for personal bankruptcy can save you from student loan debt. So you have to do the math.
Make sure that the starting salary for graduates from your university, is enough to pay off the debt you’ll take on from going to your university.
I’m going to repeat that sentence for you because in case you didn’t notice, it will decide the next four years of your life. Make sure that the starting salary for graduates from your school, is enough to pay off the debt you’ll take on from going to your university.
I’m not saying you have to pay off your loans in a year. However, you need to think about how many years into the future, you will be comfortable with paying them off. And consider, if there are jobs for college students with your major right out of school. Do the math and make a long term financial plan.
Right now in the U.S., there is $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. Do not make this statistic worse without knowing what you’re doing. If you are in school and can’t tell me the starting salary of graduates with your major, then you are blindly throwing yourself into a financial hole.
If you aren’t going to be able to get a job that will pay you more than the cost of your college education and lifestyle you desire, YOU SHOULD CHANGE YOUR DEGREE OR TAKE A NEW LIFE PATH.
I don’t know what else to tell you. In finance we call this a present v. future value analysis, and we abide by it religiously. If we didn’t, we would be broke and our businesses would be bankrupt. From now on, treat your life like a business. Do not set yourself up to make less money than you are going to need to pay off your student debt.
And it isn’t just about school costs. You need to seriously consider your spending habits. What is your burn rate? How much money do you like to spend?
Do you want to live a $30,000 a year lifestyle?
How about a $50,000?
That is fine and I wish you luck, but you need to begin the decision-making habits of a $70,000 a year professional right now. Whether you like it or not, when you start college you have already started your career. You have already signed up for a negative salary, that you are going to have to pay off with a positive one once you graduate. It totally sucks but this is the financial reality of life. College is a mortgage on your career. That being said, don’t buy an overpriced education that you won’t be able to pay off (Don’t be the stripper in The Big Short).
So take your time. Don’t be afraid to get a bus boy job and travel if you want to. Make it interesting and learn something you can’t in the classroom. But don’t forget, if you want to return to college, the financial reality still stands.
Whether you have chosen the college life or a career outside of school, you are probably wondering:
HOW DO I FIGURE IT ALL OUT?
Here’s how I did it.
2. Do a thorough self-examination.
Start with a Myers-Briggs test. It will break down for you what motivates you, what your strengths are, and how you react in different situations.
Some people will say,
"A personality test won't know who I really am. I'm a unique person."
If this is you, shut up and take the test, you special little flower.
With this as your foundation, think about what you are good at. What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses? Okay, now go ahead and ignore your weaknesses. Know what you’re bad at, acknowledge it, and move on.
A great trick is to surround yourself with people who are really good at the skills you suck at. If you can’t do something, have someone on your team who’s the master of it.
And on a personal level, focus on your strengths. I am less concerned about you making up for your faults, than I am with you dominating what you’re naturally good at. Find out what your strengths are and train them rigorously everyday. If you don’t, you are going to be a mediocre human being.
Do not waste your time with being mediocre. Who the hell wants to be mediocre? Be the best at what you naturally do best.
3. You are your habits, so make sure they’re good ones.
As I have gotten older, I’ve become a lot more honest with myself. And one of the ways I have done this, is by considering the things that I do every single day. What are the little behaviors and practices that I spend my time on? I am a strong believer that we are the accumulation of our habits.
Our most powerful skills are acquired through consistent amounts of work over a long period of time. Say you want to learn Mandarin or Photoshop, or even the way you approach a personal relationship. In order to do this, you have to spend at least five to ten minutes every single day dedicating yourself to this goal. The only way to change your life is through gradual changes on a small scale.
Don’t make some far fetched goal that you are going to abandon in a week. If your goal is to eat healthier, don’t go hardcore vegan overnight. Instead just eat a salad once a day and in a couple months you’ll think, “Wow, I feel great.” The answer is small and realistic adjustments, not life makeovers.
4. Guide your own education - Find the intersection of what you like and what you’re good at.
The worst mistake you can make in college, is to think that you are a passenger. If you treat yourself like a passenger along for the ride, you will arrive at a destination you didn’t choose.
Find your niche. Look out for and acknowledge those moments when you realize, “Wow, I am amazing at this!” When you see a problem in your environment, ask yourself, “Am I the one that can do something about this?” If you think you can, great! The world has been waiting for you. And don’t forget how lucrative your solution can be.
My Dad once told me,
“If you want to make money, solve a problem. If you want to make lots of money, solve a really big problem.”
And don’t forget to learn some cool shit. The resources offered to you in school are in most cases vast and largely untapped. Take advantage because pretty soon you will never be able to again.
And remember, when you find a piece of information that's cool to you, it might be boring as hell to the rest of the world. And that’s actually a great thing. It means that if you pursue the subject, you might discover something no one else would have.
This is what I mean by the magical intersection between What You Like and What You’re Good At.
This is the sweet spot. It’s going to make up the DNA of your success. When you harness and unleash this intersection of interest and skill you will begin to live a great story.
5. Don’t play a character someone else has written for you.
Think for a second about how you are represented in popular movies. What are the narratives that Hollywood has crafted about college students in America today?
Having been through college, the movie version of college really pisses me off. I’m talking about the wasted kid who turns his frat house staircase into a slide to crash through a pyramid of red solo cups. Shitty screenwriting for a shitty movie. But here’s the problem, this story sells. Every September freshman students pay $40,000 a year to buy it. They enter school to play a character that someone else has written for them.
But you know what the saddest part about the role of Guy who slams through solo cup pyramid is? He doesn’t have a single line in the entire movie. And like him, millions of kids enter college and find that they don’t have a single interesting thing to say.
I’m not saying go study in your dorm room alone for four years. Go to parties, experiment, and keep your eyes open at the start. Just know that the party is temporary. Don’t think that your life is going to be one long vacation. If you think this, you are going to graduate feeling lost with student loan debt that you’ll never pay off.
Instead, use this time in college to figure out what skills you want to spend your 10,000 hours getting great at.
And decide what problems you want to fix on this planet. If you don’t, your greatest achievement will be bowling a strike with your face at some party no one will ever remember.
6) It is the Value of Your Network that Matters, Not the Volume.
At the beginning of your college career, feel free to explore. Get to know whoever you like. And in the process, figure out what types of people you like to hang out with naturally.
When you find yourself wondering if someone is worth keeping in your life you need to consider this:
You are the average of the five people you hang out with most.
We all have to appreciate the influence that the humans around us have on our thoughts and behaviors. If you feel that someone doesn’t make you better; if there isn’t something about them that you appreciate deeply, then cut them out. Fill your close circle, with people who have something valuable to teach you. Don’t make time for those who waste your time.
Simply put, only deal with the best people.
And this isn’t a matter of being cold hearted. There is a difference between being closed minded and being strategically selective. You will gain so much more from a few amazing relationships, than you will from having twenty half-assed acquaintances. (An example of an amazing friend to be had is Miki, who has taught me many things about being a badass and crushing life.)
And utilize those special bonds you make. I’ve never been successful because I worked as an island. My parents, friends, and mentors have been an influence every step of the way. And their constant companionship is the reason I want to make this world a better place.
So to review, be open and observant early on in school. And as time goes on don’t just let any Joe Schmo into your crew. The sooner you build the dream team, the sooner you get to be a member of it.
The name of the game is being decisive.
Understand what questions need to be answered and then make the most educated decision you can. Do not mistake college for a place that will make your future for you. There is no autopilot option. No matter where you are, you have to take control of your environment and surround yourself with the best of the best.
Find a problem to solve and have a hand in the future.
Don’t just live your life, hack it and thrive.