A few days ago, I completed my second year at the African Leadership University. Reflecting on my journey so far, I cannot help but ignore how much I have wasted my first few years of college. How my actions and inactions have forced me to look back on my first two years of college through the teary eyes of regret.
This story begins with a 17-year-old boy excited to begin studying at what is set to become Africa’s #1 university for some of the brightest minds across the continent. When he got to campus, he realized that everyone was staggeringly brilliant from the staff to his classmates. His phobia for going unnoticed whispers in his ear:
“In this place, everyone is intelligent. If you want to stand out, you have to be something more.”
This voice in his head forced him to seek opportunities to prove himself. To prove that he was worth people’s attention, interest, and curiosity. He then joined a plethora of clubs and programs on campus; much more than he knew he could handle. He convinced himself that he wasn’t trying to seek attention; that he was “adding value” to the university. But was he really?
Friends? Relationships? Those mattered only very little to him. He felt that if he was to succeed at the myriad of extracurriculars he took on, friends would flock around. How disillusioned was he. He locked himself away. If the floor is socialisation, he is sky high drifting weightlessly through the vacuum of isolation. He preferred to bask himself in high-sounding leadership positions exposing his ignorance and learning only so little.
Today, nearly two years later, he looks back at his journey so far and his throat goes dry as he tries to come to terms with the fact that he threw away the most valuable years of his college experience doing the wrong things. Instead of seeking opportunities to improve himself, he sought them merely to feel relevant and feed his oversized ego. But what has he learnt so far?
He has learnt that college is like a laboratory. It’s the space where you can afford to experiment, fail, learn, improve and repeat. It is a space where you should seek to expand your knowledge, not validate your ignorance. It is a space where you seek not to prove yourself, but to intentionally improve yourself. It is only a preparation ground for the real world, and not the real world itself. Once you confuse the appetizer with the main course, you end up enjoying neither to the fullest.
College is the last lap we run before we get slapped with the vicissitudes of the real world after graduation. What makes a great college experience is not only the number of hifalutin achievements that glamourize one’s resumé, but also the number of new skills learnt, the quality of new connections one has built, how many long-lasting memories one has made.
His first two years of college could have been so much better; he could have had a much steeper learning curve if only he had taken more initiative in crafting his own experience and breaking off his dependency on the whims of the university’s management. He realised that he spent his last few years going down the easy road: that of mindless complaining as against its more arduous counterpart — creative problem solving. This is the thin line separating a passive member of an institution and an active co-builder.
He was too busy fighting against being irrelevant by seeking validation for the skills he thought he had. He had focused on seeming rather than being which made his journey so far so feel like a lie. But from this lie, a truth emerged. This truth lies not in his discovery and acceptance of his own foibles and missteps, but in his ability to draw lessons from them and turn the wheel around.
Today, he has taken these lessons and is beginning to reinvent the rest of his college years. The first step he is taking is to break away from the pressure to conform to a set narrative of who the ideal “ALU student” should be and really think through what he wants to do for himself and who he wants to become which will allow him to grow as an individual and as a future leader.
Secondly, he has surrounded himself with people with whom he can create shared value. This will create a space for them to hold him accountable to his goals and him to theirs. The rest of his college reinvention process, he is allowing to happen organically and deal with things as they come.
With the knowledge of his failures over the past few years, and a passion to salvage the rest of his college years, he has set out on a mission. Will he succeed?
I am him, and this has been my story.
This post was originally published on Medium