As I look back over the last decade of my life and observe many personal and professional pains and wins, I wish to share what I’ve learned with other people, especially mentees.
Not everyone wants or needs this advice. Most don’t even consider the idea that they may be making a bad decision that will impact them the rest of their lives. In my 20s, I didn’t either. After going through some pain, I was able to reflect and learn not to do certain things again.
Here are a few of those.
Follow your dreams, not people
Many people feel compelled to follow a partner from their 20s, into residency programs or different cities across the world, without considering their own professional and personal goals first. In your early 20’s, you are still too young to make big life decisions as a ‘couple’. Yes, a lot of our friends get married early and start families. And our parents did the same in their time too.
However, getting married early is very different from dating your high school or college sweetheart and factoring their career goals to plan your next move. Your 20s are the best time to focus on yourself and your career growth. If your partner is still around after you’ve made some headway into your career goals, then you know they are the one because they stuck around and made it work.
It’s also very possible that after discovering your interests in pursuing specific opportunities after graduation, you both are no longer aligned on your vision and go your own separate ways, leaving space for someone else, more suited, to enter your life. Follow your dreams, not people.
You are as good as your habits
When I was pursuing my first dental degree in India, I had the habit of waking up late, and skipping class. I would often miss a morning lecture or practical. That habit burned me when a professor of a specific practical threatened all class-skippers by saying we couldn’t sit our exam that year because our attendance had fallen below 75%. I can’t remember how low my attendance was, but I’d never felt so scared before in my life.
I wasn’t a bad student and always tried my very best in academics, but that year I was truly anxious. After a few weeks of worry and a lot of pleading, the professor ultimately let us off with a warning and allowed us to sit our exam. I still fared poorly that year because I was so stressed out and spent most of my time thinking about the outcome. This incident taught me the importance of never cutting class, to sleep early the night before school and wake up. Our good habits can help us be great, and our bad habits could burn us forever.
The need to be selfish
Being selfish, to a healthy degree, is probably the most important thing you can do. By selfish, I mean, being very intentional about your time and efforts. When we aren’t intentional about things, or in other words, don’t really want to do something, it shows, and the outcome is usually poor. Why even do it then?
My husband once convinced me to re connect with an old friend who had recently gotten separated from her husband. He sympathized with her situation and felt I should be there for her at this time. What he didn’t know is that my friend and I had grown distant over the years and were no longer even ’friends’.
Instead of explaining that to him, and focusing on ‘how I would appear’, I felt forced to meet my ‘friend’ for coffee. At the coffee meet, I was reminded again of how different we were, and how I could’ve spent that precious time with my family instead.
A lot of people will give you advice over the years, solicited and unsolicited. My husband had his heart in the right place when he suggested the meetup, but nobody knows the reality of the situation as you do. So, advocating for yourself is the most important lesson here. And being selfish about your time.
Acting like everyone’s watching
Ethics was taught to us at UW over the course of a few lectures. I remember the class very clearly. There were a lot of case studies being taught by my favorite professors and I looked forward to those lectures.
However, when it comes to life outside of school, remembering ethics and believing in your integrity, becomes challenging. We are often confronted with all kinds of situations and understanding the right thing to do can be tough. We are always tempted to go with the ‘easy’ option.
I remember the time when I was elected Student Council President in Manipal University in 2012. I had simultaneously become the most popular and unpopular student. Some Council members expected another candidate to be President and initially, did not fully support me. Student Councils typically collect a lot of funding from the student body or sponsors and use that funding towards organizing events for the benefit of students over the year. There were a few Council members who wanted to use a part of that fund towards throwing ourselves a ‘well deserved’ party. Even though I understood that using someone else’s money for an unintended purpose was wrong, it was very hard, initially, for me to disagree. I wanted to be liked by my colleagues and felt that agreeing to this ‘party’ would get me the support I needed for the rest of the year.
Thankfully, with the help of another Council member, I realized that while I may have gotten a few people’s support for a short while, I would lose the respect, I and those that had elected me, had. Not releasing the funds for this party, made me even more unpopular over the new few months, but ultimately, it was the right thing to do. Today, my time as President is filled with nothing that I regret and I can look back at that phase of life fondly, with pride.
Hope these lessons have helped some of you. Writing them down has helped me too.