https://i1.wp.com/bookboon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/critical-thought.jpgThis is a story about how my personality evolved during my time at university and how I actively try to improve on it. Apart from the fact that I want to share my experiences from this never-ending journey, I also hope that it will inspire any first grader or anyone who is doubting whether all his efforts will be worth it.

Looking back

Today I received a transcript with all my marks and degrees that I obtained at university.  When I took a look at them, I realized that they are really not that bad at all.

Then, I also realized that I really had to give the very best of myself to get that piece of paper filled with some nice numbers.

Nearing the end of my academic career as a student, I started to reflect on my choices and efforts from the past 5 years.

Was it worth it?

Recently, some people (including myself) posed me the question whether all this hard work was really worth it. After all, I could have relaxed more, party more, obtain lesser marks but still graduate as an engineer and probably no one will care really care about your degrees in the end anyway.

When you think about it. In many cases, this almost completely true and admitted, there were times that  I should have taken my work a bit less seriously and relax more (actually quite a bit more sometimes).

Saying such things afterwards is always easy.  But it is important to ask yourself why you only realize this now. This is because life is a learning process and wisdom comes with age.
So can you really blame your younger self for what he couldn’t have known?Try not to be too hard on yourself from time to time..

The bachelor years

In my first year, for some reason, I was unable to see that I needed to relax much more in order to perform and feel better. I always wanted to work and never really did anything else. I considered almost every form of activity as harmful and as something “bad”.

At the end of the year, I obtained my marks. And guess what!? I passed all my exams! What a wonderful feeling was that…!

But it came at a price, together with this great feeling came another rather unpleasant feeling. I was really tired of having worked that much, never going to a party and being stressed during the whole year.

So, on the day I received my marks I told a friend that I did not want another year like this and decided that the next year I would start making efforts to enjoy other things. Like going to a party every now and then, do some more sport, basically try to find some things you enjoy that are not considered work.

So in the years that came afterwards I started doing much more, engaging in more social activities. I’ve had the luck that I lived in a very social residence which really helped me to cross a line that scared me.

What were the results? To my own surprise, my marks did not get worse, it actually started to go better.  It turned out that by relaxing more I could work more efficiently. (90% of the people will now say: “duh!”).

Hence my efforts started to pay off. I still worked very hard but in general I felt a lot better about myself. Nevertheless, like everyone, I’ve had my ups and downs.

During the past year I’ve had several moments that I really felt a bit lost. I worked very hard but somehow felt very uncomfortable with myself and the situation. I also experienced very confident periods just to end up in an uncomfortable situation again. I guess that’s life, the important thing is to persevere!

Evolving your personality

One of the great things at our age is that you can in many ways still shape and choose what kind of person you would like to become.
It takes great courage to face yourself with your “bad” qualities. It takes even more courage and effort to do something about it.

After my first year in engineering I decided that I would like to become a much more sociable, optimistic and enjoyable person. Of course I had no idea how to become that person and it didn’t happen overnight.

So it became (a still) ongoing process which meant coming out of my comfort zone on a regular basis which I still find scary as hell.
I started going to parties, after a while I actually started to really enjoy myself..how about that!? 😀  By now people will even confirm that I’m one of the most active dancers at parties!

Another way I tried to work on my social skills was by attending (sport) camps all by myself. When you don’t know anyone, you are obligated to start talking to strangers which is a fantastic exercise of course. Actually I reckon most of my soft skills got improved mostly by attending camps and events where I don’t know anyone. Another great example of this was  ‘Startup Weekend Leuven’.

A more recent discovery was the fact that social dancing was really my kind of jam. So in a short period of time Salsa has become an extremely important part of my everyday life. It is something I really look forward to day after day and it even makes me do my work more efficiently to create more spare time.

And now for something completely different…

In the coming weeks I’m going to do something completely new that scares the shit out of me actually. I’m going to teach the exercise sessions of the Calculus in the first year.

If it scares me, why do I do it then? Because I think it will be a very enjoyable and valuable experience. The fact that I’m scared as hell, means that I’ll be coming out of my comfort zone and stretch myself.

Pretentious jerk

By now you might start to think “What a pretentious jerk!  Claiming that he has become the person he wanted to become and doing as if everything is going perfect right now.”

While it is true that I must be in one of my “up” periods and that I’m maybe a little overoptimistic, if you’d ask me whether my journey is over, I’d say “Never.” I’m still regularly dissatisfied with some of my personal aspects. But also, if you would ask me whether I think I am much happier with myself compared to my younger self, I’d say “Yes!”.

One word of advice

All these experiences lead me to an insight that I value very deeply.

Find something to look forward to.

Try to find some purpose in life. This can be anything! Leave your comfort zone regularly to find out what you enjoy and what not. Eventually you will find some things that triggers you. It will give energy and perseverance to do whatever is necessary.

Remember that your life goals might not coincide with those of other people. In my case this lead to some people judging that I was crazy. Which sometimes really made me question myself. And by itself, that is OK but it can also become harmful. So it is very important that you have some people you can talk to about this.

So was it worth the hard work?

I always say: “If something is hard, it’s probably worth it.”

The combination of having to work hard and finding (and doing) things to look forward to (which can be work as well of course!) have shaped me in a good way. I have learned of to plan my work in order to get done more and to be able to do all the activities I want. In my experience, when you plan everything better you will also enjoy your work even more.

University is mainly about you getting a degree to help you do what you enjoy. But an almost equally important part of university is getting to know yourself, scouting for your talents and limitations, exploring what you enjoy and finding out what kind of person you want to become.

It is a privilege

So to all first graders out there who are already fed up with all the hard work. Try to remember that you are about to go through a learning process that will shape you and will obligate you to explore how to be happy with yourself which is an extremely difficult task.

Good luck with your journey!

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