The Most Important Lessons I Learned in My First Year of University

Monday, April 20, 2020
by Ryan, AFM

Picture of UW entrance sign with a picture of Ryan beside it

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During my COVID-19 home quarantine I have had some time to reflect on my first year of university. Below are the three most important things that I learned:

“How far, not how fast”

Coming into university I was very focused on the speed at which I would learn things. I would frequently ask myself how long it would take me to develop a skill, or study for an exam. Rather than asking myself “how long?”, the questions I should have been asking myself are “how far?” can I take this new knowledge and skill and “how will it benefit me?” in the future.

Instead of processing content at a surface level and only doing what I needed to do to pass my next exam, I started to look beyond the textbook to learn about the applications of the content and how it connects to the work that I will be doing in the future.

I had a similar approach to developing my mindset. I started to take notice of my attitude towards different activities and situations and I learned that I was not putting myself in the best position to succeed over time. For example, early in my first term I discovered that approaching new challenges with a learning mindset allowed me to benefit much more from the experience. I used to perceive being challenged as something that was annoying, and I would try to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. I soon learned that challenging yourself is incredibly valuable. It is the best way to learn and grow and can be extremely impactful. I now look to challenge myself whenever possible. What changed is that I started to focus on the different aspects of challenge, and I began to understand how I benefited from being challenged in a multi-dimensional fashion. Instead of rushing to complete the challenge at hand, I now embrace it and look to learn as much as possible from it.

“Be curious”

I am a very curious person. I have always explored my interests to a deeper level and have tried to learn as much as possible about my surroundings.

Starting university was extremely exciting as it was the first time in my life where I have had so many great career opportunities that I could start to learn about and work towards. I was able to learn from the experiences of upper year students, professors and alumni to develop an understanding of my life and career ambitions. These learning experiences help me identify what skills, knowledge and interpersonal capabilities I will need to learn to develop myself as a successful future professional.

These learning experiences also helped me to gain new perspectives on many different concepts and ideas that I did not previously understand. They also provided me with a great awareness of the opportunities available to me that will allow me to work towards my goals.

“Take time to think about what you are doing”

It is very easy to be overwhelmed with school and extra-curricular activities in your first year of university. I found that occasionally stopping to think about my development was incredibly important. I took time to think about the content I was learning, the relationships I was building and the skills I was developing. Through my self-reflection I was able to learn from my past experiences and use them to improve academically, professionally and socially.

One example of this is when I severely injured my knee just before university started. Coming into school I planned to play varsity soccer, continue to referee hockey at a high level, and balance my other extra-curricular activities with school, most of which I was now unable to do because of my injury. Mid-way through September, I thought about my attitude towards my current situation; I realized that I needed to stop focusing on the things that I could no longer do and shift my focus towards new opportunities that I would now have time for. This allowed me to pursue different learning experiences that broadened my outlook on the value of building relationships, the importance of having a flexible mindset and the significance of enjoying learning.

Despite my first year of university ending rather abruptly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I found that this period of time has had a profound impact on my maturity, ability to learn and ability to develop strong personal and professional relationships.