When you are 18 years old and thrust out into the world having graduated from high school, the world can seem a foreboding, scary, and intimidating place. Most 18-year-olds have only the vaguest idea of what they want to do with themselves for the rest of their lives. And half of those who think they do are wrong. The question becomes, how does one successfully navigate those years and do what is best for themself? I have a few simple suggestions that do not guarantee success, but do guard against failure.
Figure out what thrills you. This concept, while simple in form, can be most difficult to follow through. For at least a year prior to graduating from high school, young people are bombarded with how to get into college but with little guidance of where to go and what to study. The most successful people of all time have always done something that thrills them, something that wholly and complete draws them in and makes them thirst to know all they can in that field and be the best they can be. It is always a mistake to allow making a substantial income to be crucial. It is always better to have a job you love and live on a modest income than a job you hate to satisfy the desire for a large income.
It is not unusual for an 18-year-old to claim he does not know what he wants to do. That being the case, he should avoid college until he does know. Get out into the world and earn a living for a while, and figure out what you want. But if for any reason you do find yourself in college, take a course of study, preferably liberal arts, that will serve you well regardless of what direction you eventually move in. And do not let taking 5, 6, or even 7 years of study to graduate be an impediment to getting a degree in a field you love. I can assure you, employers never look at how long it took you to graduate, only what you studied and what your GPA was. And if you cannot maintain at least a 3.0 GPA you might consider two things, first, you are in the wrong field of study, or second, you are not committing yourself to do whatever it takes to get good grades, in which case dropping out until you can commit is not only cost-effective but sensible.
Have a plan! Once you decide what you want to do, decide where you want to be in that career field when you are 45-years old. It is all right if it is a “pie in the sky” scenario. Even that gives you a place to start. Once you know what your 45th year should look like, you can research what it is going to take to make that come true. The first question is, what schools are best suited to giving you respectable degree in your chosen field. Then, after undergraduate education is a graduate degree desirable or necessary. If so, make a plan to include schools that will fill that need. Now at this point many of you will point out that you will probably already be carrying a huge student loan debt. Not to fear. Your plan will include a job search, upon college graduation, that will land you a position in a company that will pay for in part, if not entirely, your education in graduate school. Some companies will pay, at least in part, for education unrelated to your job.
Gain and maintain a health mind and a healthy body. One of the unfortunate idea young people have about college is that it is a time to party hard. The problem with this should be obvious, if you are focused on partying how can you expect to succeed in academics? A few can but most cannot. And even those who can, do so at their own peril. Those four or five years are your first chance to teach yourself things outside of the home you grew up in and its influences, parents and others. I am not saying that the occasional party should be avoided, no. But feeling the need to party every weekend, or even nearly every weekend, is quite unhealthy and inevitably leads to unhealthy habits.
Equally important during this time, and in life in general, is dealing with your fears. The person has not be born who does not have a fear of something. Most common is a fear of failure. But also is the fear of rejection, fear of success, and any other fear that gets between you and success. Most fears are actually fairly easily dealt with once they are brought to the light of day, once you share them with someone who can help. It is not unusual, for example, for college students to have problems with retaining the material. This problem can be overcome by simply bringing it to the professor and requesting help. All people need help. Successful people get help as quickly as possibly once they realize their dilemma. There is no disgrace in saying you do not understand something and need help.
Always have a “Plan B”. This is actually a very simple concept. The successful person recognizes that failure is unavoidable but it is what you do when faced with failure that influences future success. Today’s failure may simply be a signal that your plan needs altering, possibly only slightly. But it may also be a sign that your planned in too flawed to ever be successful, and this is when Plan B comes to fore. For example, my plan was to become a family doctor but along the way I discovered I really am not good at dealing with people’s problems. But along the way I discovered also that I was a fabulous researcher and my energies needed only redirection. Or, I was on my way to becoming a world-famous computer engineer, but along the way I discovered I hated learning micro-electronics and all that goes with it. But I also discover I was particularly good at math, and since I really love math, maybe my future lies in that direction.
Having a “Plan C” is not a bad idea either.
Do not allow yourself to be sidetracked. Life is fraught with distractions, many of which have the ability to take us off our desired course. Chief among these, I believe, are romantic relationships. While in college our job is to learn. But where we are social creatures, it is only natural that we form bonds with others. If we are committed to our college career then we recognize when a relationship is distracting us too much from our stated goal. This means the intensity of the relationship must be lessened or the relationship ended entirely. Neither is easy but they are necessary for our future success. Suffering a failed relationship is a small price to pay for a successful life.
Never compromise on morals and ethics. Cheating in college is not unusual, and some might even say, epidemic. One of the most common forms is the purchasing of term papers. It is an immoral act that speaks to the character of the person. It is better to fail while doing your own work than pass with someone else’s. If you never cheat, never lie, you need never explain yourself for your actions will remain above reproach, even when such attempts on your character are made. Decide on your moral and ethical character and then never give an inch on them.