What My Final Year at University Has Taught Me

4 years over and University is finished.

I have very mixed emotions leaving University; sad to leave great friends, student life and unique opportunities. Not so sad to leave academic life, lectures and exams!

As I have done for each year completed so far, I’m now sitting down to reflect on what I’ve learnt this year. It’s a strange one, as I feel like this year has been the start of new kinds of learning, yet without as many ‘conclusions’ or ‘lessons’ to share. Regardless, here are 3 things I do believe I can pass on from this final year of University life.

1 – The world isn’t binary

I think University is a place where many people begin to formulate their ideas and views of the world – me included (as is evident in this website!).

One thing that struck me this year is the number of binary opinions people have. A topic has answer X and not answer Y. It’s easy to see this in political discussions; “are you left or right wing?”

I always like to have an opinion on something and, perhaps through the naivety of youth, I thought a lot of my views were good ones.

This year I’ve really started watching and listening to more ‘thought leaders’, for lack of a better title. Podcasts from Joe Rogan, lectures from Jordan Peterson, debates with Stephen Fry and so on. Some are very political, others religious, and some intellectual. It’s been a bit of a marathon of idea exploration and thought development.

The number one thing I have taken away from these – the world isn’t binary and it is foolish to have opinions that also are (unless you fully understand why!). I found my opinions being pulled to pieces when listening to podcasts and suddenly realising why I might be wrong. Then suddenly another interview would agree with my original belief. Who’s wrong? Well, maybe neither. Context matters, added levels of understanding change outcomes and situations evolve. Meaning, we shouldn’t have categorical opinions because the world is too complex for them to hold true all the time.

If you’d like an example of what I mean, check out this video (38:20). Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan discuss the phrase “it’s not winning, it’s taking part that counts”. I guarantee many, many people are on one side or the other, but they couldn’t explain why or how it holds in different situations. Just listen to the break down from Jordan Peterson. I know my opinion changed several times just watching this video.

2 – Fake it ’til you make it

University is one big experiment in the Dunning-Krueger effect.

The 4 years are a journey of confidence, shock, worry, hope and then ending with competence. The whole experience is a summary of mini Dunning-Krueger effects, whether that’s for a new module, joining a society or going to an event. Ultimately most people realise they are capable and personally I feel many people were capable from the start and their worry and stress wasn’t needed.

I think back to a lesson I was taught early on by a friend who at the time was in their fourth year. Act with confidence that is above where you feel it is because, in reality, your ability exceeds it all.

Imagine how much better it would be to have a more consistent view of your ability. You’d be more productive, happier and achieve more through higher belief. It’s having the confidence to say yes to projects or to join executives or take on a harder topic for a piece of work.

Now, there is the pitfall that if your confidence exceeds your true value it can end badly. I guess a lot of people will have read the above and alarm bells of being perceived as arrogant start ringing. For me, the solution is through external checks from those around you. Do people trust you? Do they show faith in your abilities? If so, then your confidence is justified. However, if you don’t have the respect and faith of others, then maybe you need to consider why.

“Fake it ’til you make it” is somewhat of an extreme way of putting this view. In fact, there is nothing fake about it if you do actually have the underlying ability.

3 – University was the right choice for me

Amongst my friends and I, towards the end of our time at University, we actually spoke quite a lot about whether University has been worth it. Not just the cost, but also the time; could it have been better spent?

There’s a whole world of opportunities prior to University; degree integrated apprenticeships, going straight into a job, or even starting your own company. I’m meeting more and more people from varied routes and it isn’t clear that one option is better than another. University gives you a stepping stone into graduate roles, yet apprenticeships could get you to the same level after 3-4 years and you’ve been earning from day one. I have friends who would not do University again if given the choice, not because they haven’t enjoyed it or found it beneficial, but because they value the 3-4 years of work experience that could have been gained otherwise.

I am certain that University was the right choice for me. Not because of the degree gained or what I’ve learnt from my course, but because of everything else. People I’ve met, experiences I’ve had, and endless life lessons learnt. I was once told that our Vice-Principal says to new students “if all you do is leave here with a first class degree, then we have failed you. University is so much more than a degree.”

 

 

Year 4 Term 2

I’m just about the start my third term of fourth year. Yes, this will be my last term at University. Not sure what’s more upsetting, knowing I’ve nearly finished or thinking about all the exams I still have to come…

Anyway, first, as is tradition, I want to look back to the previous term and remember what I’ve done and learnt. Here are 2 things I learnt last term.

1 – Design is important

Last term I completed the biggest piece of coursework in my degree; a business plan and presentation. What’s more is that it was group work.

Normally you hear those two words and panic – not this time! We had a fantastic group and we smashed the work to get a fantastic grade. I learnt lots from the module, but one key lesson was taught to me by the team… design is important!

I remember, it was maybe a week before the deadline and we were 95% finished content-wise. Two of the team kept talking about how they were going to give it a nice design. I saw no changes in our google docs file as the week passed and I assumed they were going to touch up a couple of graphs and other small details. Another meeting passed without seeing them or any design changes, just messages saying they were working on the design and had to use the library computers for it. I had no idea what was going on. We completed the content and sat back, proud of our work.

Then it hit me. One of the guys sent across the first draft of the newly designed business plan. Within a split second, I suddenly realised how naive I had been regarding the actual look of the plan. It had never crossed my mind that we might want to take it out of the boring document structure and add some flare. Thankfully, this was group work and our team was ridiculously talented in many ways. Here’s the front cover of our final plan…

2 – To learn more you need to understand ideas you disagree with

I was introduced to Jordan Peterson.

At this point, you’re either horrified, in love, or have no idea who I’m talking about. He’s been the centre of a lot of online debate and the guest of choice for a lot of controversial conversations. Now, if you don’t know him, DO NOT google his name if you aren’t willing to commit the next few hours to watch videos of him speaking. A lot of online media are taking quotes and categorising him. He holds some incredible ideas and some I disgree with, as with everyone, but his thought process, his logic and his understanding of structure and conversation is incredible.

I watch his videos to see how he gets from point A to point B. Interestingly, a lot of his opposition share the same goal of point B but they can’t see past where they disagree with point A. What he does so well is to break down opposing ideas and discuss the logic at each stage. Confirming the validity and not making assumptions. Only after doing this will he form an opinion and you can see exactly why he agrees or disagrees.

By doing this he is teaching himself more, he is validating certain thought processes and he is able to draw parallels across topics. All sounding a bit confusing? Watch his videos and then read his book “12 rules for life”. Agree or disagree with him? Let me know. The whole point is to encourage intellectual debate.

Don’t Aim to be Happy

Why me? Why not me?

I was once asked what my aim in life was. I gave a somewhat scripted answer about reaching a pinnacle in my career, having financial freedom, a family and so on. The person asking the question looked me in the eye and said “aim to be happy. Nothing else is important.” That was a view I held, only it was my internal, private aim. From that day on, I made that my vocal aim – I want to be happy. 

Today, that is no longer true. I do not aim to be happy. 

I have finished listening to ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown. The mind-reading magician has put pen to paper to share his views and knowledge of the various philosophies surrounding happiness, with a focus on stoicism. I’m a big fan of Derren as a magician and to hear that he was releasing a book was intriguing, however, I was sceptical at the topic at hand, yet he delivers the subject perfectly. He combines informative lessons on the stoic beliefs with practical instructions for implementation, whilst drawing on his experiences to show real-world use cases.

What is stoicism?

Image result for define stoicism

Stoicism was developed in the times of ancient Greece. Many of the beliefs are attributed to two people; Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, an emperor and slave, respectively. Two people at the opposed ends of the societal scale, yet with the same views on how they should conduct themselves. The application of the same rules in two scenarios that from a macro view looks polar opposite, yet when breaking it down to a micro level, they are the same. This is what makes this philosophy so powerful.

Ok, that’s cool and all, but what does it actually teach us? 

Stoicism is the idea of controlling the controllable and not concerning ourselves with the rest. It is recognising our current state and making peace with what we have. It is the removal of outward expectations that could harm our well-being. It’s understanding that you are not owed anything and that “the universe is change: our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius.

The essence of the philosophy is that we should live so that our happiness depends as little as possible on external causes Marcus Aurelius
Sick and yet happy. Dying and yet happy. In exile and happy. In disgrace and happy.Epictetus

What about the real world?

It all sounds nice and ideal doesn’t it… a bit too nice. Ok, so what if some people years ago were able to live in harmony, that’s not exactly relevant to the masses.

This is the issue Derren Brown tackles in his book. What are the applications for the masses? How does it compare to the self-help solutions available today? Can it really help in the worst scenarios imaginable?

Point 1 – Lots of self-help advice is harmful

Many ‘experts’ teach the power of simply thinking positively and your aims will come true. If they don’t it’s because you don’t believe enough. That simply isn’t true, good things don’t come from nothing. The right frame of mind can be a critical component, but you also need other factors, such as hard work.

Point 2 – Happiness is a state of being, not an aim

If you aim to be happy, you may never reach it. You’ll have criteria to meet that will ‘make you happy’, but what if those don’t occur, will you actually be happy once you have them? Happiness is a state of being that you can have right now. It is the ability to filter out what we cannot control and focus on only the things we can; usually, these are only things related to ourselves – how we act, talk, think and so on. How people treat us, for example is not in our control, and therefore should not interfere with our happiness.

I view it as the below image. If we view happiness as an external desire, we will remain surrounded by the negatives, the barriers and the reasons why ‘life is unfair’. Instead, if we remove those things, we will only be left with happiness.

You aren’t owed anything. You aren’t immune from anything.

This final point is potentially the most powerful, but also the hardest to explain. It feels wrong telling people in life-changing situations how to act and behave when I am not in a similar situation. Derren expressed the same concern, instead, he drew on the views of others and I will do the same, quoting directly from the book, the words of Debra – a cancer patient, the victim of gross malpractice and miss-diagnosis and failed operations. She knew she had a minimal amount of time left to live, yet remained upbeat and optimistic about what each day could offer.

“Very often as children we are set up for a fall … the downtrodden skivvy marries the prince, the wicked stepmother is defeated by the fairy godmother, etc. I’m sure you get my drift. The general moral of the story is that the ‘Goodies’ always defeat the ‘Baddies’.

And how many of us, who are parents, are guilty of saying, ‘If you’re a good girl/boy you can have some sweets or a toy.’ The subliminal ethos being subtly weaved is that good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. This is utter balderdash. The reality is that good and bad things happen to all people, death perhaps being the most extreme (and yet the most common) example. As the saying goes, ‘Sh*t happens.’ Therefore, when I was diagnosed, rather than thinking (as specified in the NHS leaflet), ‘Why me, what have I done to deserve this?’ I thought ‘Why not me?’.”

 

It is an extreme case that we all hope to never encounter. Yet, we can surely apply some of the thinking to the minimal day to day occurrences. Perhaps, the secret to happiness each day isn’t to seek all the good in the world, but to accept the inevitable bad, understand it for what it is and continue to control what we can in an ever-changing world.

 

Year 4 Term 1

I’m back at University for my final year of Undergraduate study…. and after a quick re-design, I’m back blogging!

I’ve returned to Lancaster for the start of term 2 and before I get back into the full swing of the new term I’ve come to my favourite coffee place – shout out to Pizzetta – and decided to think back to term 1. Here’s what I learnt.

1 – Crypto’s are crazy

I remember talking about Bitcoin in A-Level ICT! Our teacher had us reading articles about the currency and then discuss it’s potential for future use. It never crossed our minds to invest… I’d probably rather not think about it but if I’d invested £100 back then, today (well, maybe a week ago) I’d have had around £75,000!!!

I say “well, maybe a week ago” as if you follow the currencies you’ll see they’re starting to fall…. just a bit.

I have invested this year. I doubled a bit of money and left the game – good timing! It’s introduced me to the world of trading a bit more and it’s been a source of enjoyment for a lot of people here, debating whether to sell or to HODL. (Another shoutout to Manni for being my teacher, Yoda style).

Image result for yoda bitcoin

The ridiculous ups and downs are a bit worrying, however I’m glad I joined the game as now I’m learning about other forms of investing, so far with some good success and I can’t help but wish I’d looked into it earlier!

2 – I’m going to miss University Sport

I probably did already know this, but being away for a year and then returning back to University sport has made me appreciate it even more. The morale and spirit of a team of people in such similar situations is unique. You share common goals within the sport, but you also have the same academic aims, you’re going through the same process for jobs and so on.

It probably helps that we are having another successful year and therefore spirits are high. However, you can quickly make friends that you see outside of the sport too. The routine of training and matches is the perfect break from work and of course it keeps you active. I quickly realised whilst on placement that I’d need to put in effort to stay active, choosing to go to the gym or travel to club badminton. Whereas, at University, it’s somewhat built in, you do it all without thinking and with very little effort of travel and time commitment.

3 – “Close your eyes until you’re 29”

Don’t worry, there’s no right answer for where to go or what to do next. As long as it’s a positive move, it’s value will be what you make it.

That’s what I’ve been telling myself. I’ve had a dilemma and many conversations about what to do next. I’m really happy to say I have a  job secured that I can’t wait to start. However, it’s fair to say that I felt that this next decision had to be perfect, almost with no going back. That’s stupid, I’m young with plenty of time to either continue down this path, try new things or change my mind. What I do now may or may not be my future, but as long as it seems to be a good stepping stone for learning and enjoyment then it is one of many ‘correct choices’. Once again, I’ll let Gary Vee explain this one.

What My Placement Year Taught Me

Last Friday I finished my placement year with 3M, working as a Marketing Assistant in the Separation and Purification Sciences Division, basically we filter stuff – it’s cooler than it sounds, especially when you realise some of your customers are whisky distillers and your favourite breweries ?

It’s been a very fast year, but certainly one of the most interesting and educating I’ve ever had. With that in mind, I’ve tried to decide on 3 things I’ve learnt this year. It’s not easy to just select 3 and the following aren’t necessarily the 3 biggest lessons learnt, but certainly 3 that will help me in the future.

1 – Work with good people

All employees praise 3M’s culture – they do a good job of hiring ‘good people’. I can’t think of a single argument I witnessed over the year, I can’t think of any people I met that I actively disliked. Everyone in the company has time for you, are good to work with and easy to get on with.

All this creates a culture like no other and it is one of the big pluses for 3M. A year in an environment like this has really highlighted the importance of working with good people. Whenever something wasn’t working, you felt a bit stressed or down, or you had a tight deadline that relied on others, the people around you would help you in any way they could.

It’s a reminder that recruitment processes need to evaluate the person for who they are and not just their skills – hire the wrong people, no matter how qualified they are, and it could threaten the sense of community within teams. A bigger issue than you might realise.

2 – Be busy

This is a lesson I’ve always known and may have already written about, but this year has emphasised it even more.

The more I take on, the more productive I become.

I was by far at my laziest when I had little to do. I’d think I was busy and hesitate if more work was passed to me, although I’d still take it, but a day or so later I’d find I’d finished most things with ease. The extra workload boosted my productivity and helped me to work smarter, reducing the need to increase my hours.

3 – I love numbers

When it comes to ‘Marketing’ as a role, there’s a big variety. Just within 3M placements, your type of work as a Marketing Assistant varied depending on your division. For some, it was more of the stereotypical marketing; communications, promotions, events. Lots more creative and design work. For others, it was more product management; pricing, sales analysis, market research.

Many of the other placement students spoke about how they preferred the creative work and disliked excel. This year taught me that I’m the complete opposite. I’ll happily design and structure the creative work, but don’t get me to be the person creating, amending and implementing it. I’d much rather number crunch, research or communicate strategies due to product changes.

I will also add, I don’t believe this doesn’t mean I’m not ‘creative’, I found I was constantly improving processes in a creative way. I have ended the year able to say that some of the prettiest things I’ve made are some lovely excel files. Files that needed a lot of creativity to get to the end solution in few steps.

It’s an indication for the roles I’ll want to look for in the future.

 

Overall, it’s been an incredible year – if you’re looking to do a placement year, 3M is the hidden gem (you may be reading this having no idea who they are). Look them up and apply, trust me.

Increase The Capacity

Sometimes, to improve or fix something, you need to isolate the issue and work hard at it – rest isn’t always the answer.

I’ve had a bit of an elbow injury recently from badminton. I went to the physio to get some advice on how to help it recover. I was expecting the usual; “rest it for 2 weeks, only doing these light exercises, then slowly build up the exercise”. Instead, I got almost the opposite. He observed that I needed to put a lot of stress on my elbow for any pain to occur, therefore, light exercises would be no help. Instead, he said “we need to increase the capacity the tendons can take, and to do that we must isolate the muscles around it and work them hard!”

This got me thinking, are small steps always that beneficial? Take presenting for example, should you build up slowly, by adding more and more people, or should you isolate the various parts of it and push them hard?! For example, you could isolate body language and more and more often think about how to move and present yourself when talking to others. Isolate the speaking part and learn more and more scripts, learn more jokes and practice explaining things clearly. Add the parts together and you’re a better presenter.

I guess it is similar to practising aspects for a sport – taking 100 free kicks in a row for example. If you are bad at penalties, the solution isn’t to ‘rest’ and not take any for a while. Break down what’s going wrong, can you see which way the keeper is going, are you striking the ball cleanly etc. Go hard on the components and the bigger picture will come together.

So when you’re next facing a challenge, don’t back down. Break it down and go hard on each part to increase your capacity.

P.S. please don’t take my advice for any physical injuries and consult your own physio 🙂

Fiction v Non-fiction

I recently finished the book, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. I’ll be blunt, I wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps to a child, but it didn’t do it for me, despite being highly rated.

It seems like a sensible question to ask why I’d read it in the first place. Well, recently I’ve been looking for more fiction books to read. Non-fiction books are great; autobiographies, stories of how companies started etc, all full of great advice, stories and lessons to learn. Sometimes they are also some of the most gripping books I’ve read. However, I think they sometimes lack the human touch or the personal side. Perhaps due to the real topic in question not wanting to be exposed too much, whereas, with a made up topic, you can reveal all.

So, for now, I’m switching to a few more fiction books, to see if they too can teach lessons – I have no doubt they can. Also, you would imagine that on average they are more gripping (leaving out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I am also certain that many fiction books contain lots of true examples. My current book is All Quiet on the Western Front. Unless the war suddenly starts to be fought with laser guns, I’m expecting to get a real feeling for what life was like in the war and that could be invaluable.

So a little ask to anyone reading this. Have you read a fiction book that taught you a lot? Please let me know!!

Election Day’s Gone: Can I Return to Social Media?!

Yesterday was election day here in the UK, it has ended in a hung parliament. Whether that’s good news is up to you, so please keep it to yourself too.

I can’t quite believe this… but I’m about to quote Frankie Boyle (humble brag – I was in the audience for episode one of his new show, New World Order, this quote came from that show).

The media is a huge obstacle to meaningful democracy.”

Ok, I’ll be changing his meaning a bit. His argument was that mainstream media’s coverage is either biased or only scratches the surface – that’s a different debate.

Why do I think the media is an obstacle? I begin to wish we didn’t have a vote (thus democracy) purely because social media becomes a no-go zone, unless you want to be bombarded with fake news, one-sided arguments, abuse for you views, “you’re wrong, I’m right” status’, videos exposing all the bad of the opposition, and memes that turn the ruling of our country into a joke…. all of which does make the whole experience one big joke.

It’s very easy to shout from the rooftops on Facebook and preach about how you know what’s best for everyone, without much backlash, if you just delete any comments that disagree with you. The ease of stamping your authority and showing the world that you’re doing ‘the right thing’ leads people to do it hour by hour. But, in an election, there are many sides. There ISN’T a best party, there is not one correct manifesto, not everything the opposition does is evil and people forget that others will disagree and that they are allowed to disagree.

I strongly encourage political debate and conversation, but in a forum that allows for an even discussion, on a level that’s educated and not riddled with fake headlines and detrimental quotes that really don’t matter.

I’m not surprised Labour had a strong backing from the younger generation as the social media feeds for this generation were full of pro labour and anti-conservative posts – which side is better I will not say, what I will say is that it isn’t correct that at least some of the younger generation voted Labour, purely because “they look like the good guys according to Facebook”, and without any consideration they go and vote. Yes, fantastic that they voted, but please allow for an even education of the situation.

Rant over. It is great to see more engagement with politics, however, for now with a hung parliament, I think I’ll stay away from social media feeds for just a little longer…

Titles Mean Nothing

Last week I was asked to present at PlaceNet17, a conference for University careers teams, about my experiences on placement. I spoke about my time with 3M so far and reflected back on my applications. I ended with some advice, one part being “titles mean nothing.” This particular piece of advice was very relevant for me and my application, yet it was a statement that made many in the audience pause and think (or at least that’s how it looked).

What was I on about?

I had no intention of going into a marketing role for my placement. I didn’t want to work on adverts and communications all the time. Yet here I am, 9 months into a marketing placement. So what happened? I realised ‘marketing’ can mean something very different in different places. In some companies, it means working on promotion and communications, at others it meant product management, customer interaction and even a bit of operations. I found such varied job descriptions when applying that I ended up ignoring job titles and only read descriptions and spoke to previous interns. Getting drawn into the ‘ideal title’ is dangerous because it doesn’t determine if you’ll actually like the day to day work, it doesn’t mean you’ll get the responsibilities you want and it might not align with your skills.

The same goes for the company you choose.

I’d never heard of 3M until, by chance, I attended a mock interview with them and found out what they did. If I’d only looked at the companies I recognised I would have missed out. There are many fantastic companies and programs available that probably don’t get the credit they deserve. The reverse is also true, just because your favourite company offers a program, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you. You don’t want to be 6 months in and hate the work, no amount of love for the company name will save you from a role that just isn’t right.

I’d say this is probably accurate for a lot of other scenarios – take the time to realise what you want and what will fit. But perhaps I can write about that in the future with a few more years of application experience to find out 🙂

It’s a Matter of Routine

How many times do you hear people say “I just can’t get in the routine!”?

They could be talking about going to bed early, going to the gym, eating healthy, you name it. We all desire the perfect routine that we believe will help us reach our goals, and we aren’t wrong to think it. Every Friday I post a blog, or at least I did for a year and a half. Suddenly I miss one week, then two, then three. The routine was broken, I’m probably the only one that cared, but to me, it hurt. Why should I care so much about missing a couple of blogs? Because it represented the power of routine to do something that I believed to be useful, without any immediate rewards. Your routines will mean the same to you, and you too probably get annoyed when you opt for the easy option.

Don’t beat yourself up

 I believe it is easiest to get back into a routine by pretending the pause didn’t happen, don’t think about it, don’t punish yourself for it. Instead, remember all the times you made it, remember the times your routine felt easy and go back to that time. Continue where you left off and don’t look back.

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