By the time this gets published, I would have already gone to my Iron Ring ceremony, or more formally The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. If I were being honest, I found myself feeling uneasy about going. I expressed this thought to friends, family and peers.
“I don’t feel like going. I had other plans anyway”, I said.
Needless to say, I was met with the same reaction from all of them.
“You deserve to go. You worked hard for it, man.”
“You can only flex the ring if you go.”
The last person wasn’t wrong for asking that. Why didn’t I want to go?
Because I was struck with feelings of guilt and regret.
I could have done things differently.
I could have done things better.
My first mistake was that I didn’t ask for help.
This is my very last semester of school (possibly forever), and I recently found myself sitting in the office of our learning strategist. Her name’s Melissa.
I’m not going to lie, I wondered what in the world could she teach me that I didn’t already know? I mean, I already got through four years of engineering. I stumbled, but I got through.
But, I learned some cool tricks that day that made me wonder. Could all of those moments of abhorrent test anxieties been prevented had I just given this a try earlier? Could I have reached my unsung goals by now had I allowed myself to be vulnerable?
I admit. I’m not organized. I am terrible at learning too. You might be terrible at it too. Wondering why that GPA is so low?
You’re not stupid. There’s always a way to improve. Seek it out.
My second mistake was that I didn’t take care of the basics.
I suffered from a lot of sleepless nights, only to find myself snoozing at the most inconvenient of times. In second year, my TA asked me to look into the microscope in front of our lab group. I started dozing off on the eyepiece, and my classmate (who is now one of my best friends), had to poke me to take her turn.
She still taunts me with that memory.
I found that my performance tremendously increased once I just slept more. School, work and extracurriculars started to align into an almost perfect array. One of the greatest surprises I learned throughout university is that some of the smartest people put themselves first above their grades.
They will take the “L” if it comes down to their health and well-being. Engineering is hard. There is a lot going on. Sometimes, you can’t do it all without failing altogether. I just know that I started doing better when I capped myself off at 10PM.
Whatever’s done is done. I’m off to bed now.
My third mistake was that I got too involved with school.
I’m not talking about extracurriculars. I’m talking about people and this always surprises everyone. How could someone like myself, who leveraged the connections she forged with people on a personal level into grand opportunities, say such a thing? My ability to relate and start the awkward conversations has gotten me through the door so many times.
But, it has also hurt me in my professional development. The unfortunate truth about any professional community, engineering or not, is that preconceived, controversial notions of an individual can hinder them. I found that people were quick to use these against me in group settings, and discredit the value of my technical input.
Their thought process went along the lines of, “What could she possibly know? I mean, I’ve seen her outside of class, and she is a screw-up on all levels.”
There were so many times where I felt the subtlety of their stigma with this hidden connotation. And trust me, it really stings.
So, here’s my advice to my younger self: Don’t overshare or trust too easily. Keep it simple and professional with your peers. Get a life outside of this place.
I finally did. I reconnected with old friends before my chapter here—some even from my childhood. I forged relationships with new friends I made in other places. I borrow my brother’s cat on the occasion to keep me company and sane.
There’s nothing wrong with being personable—it helped me in a lot of ways. Just know that there’s always a hidden limit when you’re approaching the beginning of your career.
My fourth mistake was that I didn’t learn for myself. Learn for yourself and not others.
“I don’t think you can handle it. Just stick to what you know.”
I have been told that so many times. And unfortunately, I have given into those criticisms. I let those dictate my choices that ultimately left me unhappy, and sometimes scarred.
I got the worst set of grades once, and I did everything the ‘right’ way—I started to gain the approval of my peers. I showed up to every class. I did all the readings in advance.
I just did horrible. I even ended up hating school.
But, the moment I regained my appreciation for in-class education, and started to do somewhat decently again, was when I reconciled with the fact that I don’t learn best by going to lecture.
To all my professors: It’s not you. It’s me.
To myself not too long ago: Don’t go to lecture if it doesn’t mean anything to you. Don’t go just to show your face—you don’t owe these people anything. But you owe yourself the right to learn and succeed. I mean, that 60K tuition speaks for itself.
And even with all these mistakes, I found that I’m still learning new things everyday. I’m amazed by how vastly the landscape has changed in our faculty—I somehow find myself confiding in many of you, who are quite younger than me. It’s almost as if every incoming class is getting smarter and smarter—both in terms of “book smart” and “street smart”..
So maybe you won’t have to worry about the mistakes I have made. Or maybe, you will make your own set of mistakes.
Just know that making mistakes is learning––and learning is still winning.