Things I Wish I Learned in College: It’s More Than Books, Brains, and Diplomas

This post is the first in a series written by guest author, Jonathan Baker, CPA, CMA, CIA. Jonathan is currently working in public accounting with an assurance focus at McGladrey LLP where he started his career after graduating from the Professional Program in Accounting at Texas A&M University with an MS in Finance and BBA in Accounting in 2010.

Transition is a time of struggle, challenge, and ultimately opportunity. What really separates the best is their ability to persevere regardless of the situation they are called to. What I hope to portray here are some of the things I have learned since graduating that I wish I would have known in college so you can get ahead and be ready for what is to come.

Throughout my days in a suburban juggernaut of a research institution, I learned a few things about life and significantly more about academia and my chosen majors. One of the biggest things I did learn in college was that being passionate about what you are pursuing is vital. Passion is important wherever you choose to pursue a career. I absolutely loved my chosen majors in college and their pursuit, which led me to believe I was more of a theory fiend than a practitioner. In practice, I have found my field to be much different than anticipated and honestly to be an environment heavily rule based. Passions do change and that is okay, knowing that in college would save you immense amounts of pressure, stress and doubt as to where you are heading.

I also learned that grades aren’t everything. As good as focusing on getting the grades to create good opportunities sounds, I learned that the purpose of college is more than that. It is really about taking risks in a safe environment. I took way too many blow-off electives rather than exploring other majors and passing on the opportunity that potentially would allow me to find what makes me tick.

Mark Twain once said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education”. Mark Twain was an amazing American and someone who is considered one of our most educated. What Mark Twain knew and I hope you can grasp is the fact that there is much more at hand than just the physical tangible results of your education.  Many people go through school to get the diploma and treat it as an area where you can go somewhere, check a few boxes and move on. Freedom to do that is pretty amazing, but freedom also allows you to go beyond that. We live in a country, and world for the most part, where if you want to learn about something, you can. Most still will not, but all should. Having latitude to explore what means most to you is vital.

Your experience should encompass so much more than academia, campus and game day. All are incredibly great things, but have exposure to different things, different areas, and different challenges. Find different ways to challenge your mind. If you are an analytically focused student, spend time with some art supplies and a canvas. You will find your mind is engaged and stimulated in a different way, a way that does not drain you like the brunt of your work. If you are already the creative type, you may not find it releasing to go and crunch some numbers, I acknowledge that. But, I will add, balancing your brain is important as well, which may come in the form or fashion of developing a budget, playing chess or even take some time to sleep.

We can burn and burn and burn and then are confused why we have nothing left in the tank. Refilling the human model is not just done through proper diet, sleep and exercise, all of which are also vitally important, but also by something that makes you tick, a true outlet. Some of my best friends in college had part-time jobs to help pay for school, I have incredible amounts of respect for those guys. One of my friends drove school buses for the local school district and found it did not align with his goals and he adjusted his part time job to take a business position with the university system and learn more about what it actually will look like. I had another friend take a job at the animal clinic not because he needed any part time job but because his outlet was to love on animals. This allowed him to use his time well and to open a different area of his mind.

The most freedom you will ever have in life will be in college. You will not have a regimented schedule, a chosen field, bedtime or anyone watching you too closely. Get out there and learn, learn more than just what the library and classroom offer. Spend time in a collaborative environment with others, and spend time learning who you are. If you like the outdoors, then get out and camp. Most schools have recreational departments that will rent you tents for $4 a night or something outrageously cheap. There is something about exploration, challenge and finding new areas and new places. I never took time for this until my first year of the real world and it is much more expensive to travel when you are spending your limited resources known as PTO to find yourself.

Don’t be afraid to fail, if you are doing this right, you will fail. Remember even this big world is a controlled experiment. I am not recommending going rock climbing without gear, I am recommending getting out there, asking a girl out that is out of your league, going camping in an area you have not been before. My favorite thing to do is drive, when I am frustrated and getting burnt on things, I hit the open road in my truck and enjoy the countryside. I already spend an outrageous amount of money on gas but man there is something about 385 horses running to a hum with nothing but pure concrete jungle in your rear view. As weird and out there as my release is, it allows me to go and do some thinking in a new environment and explore. I get out and see new places, meet new people then just return back to my apartment an hour or so later with a deeper sense of life and who I really am.

Some of the best memories I have is driving around small old Texas downtowns and finding the local diner, getting all the stares and making a new friend. This is where I feel I find myself, I did not really do so in college as I was sucked into every organization and event I could think of and then one day about 6 months into my career, I looked into the mirror and asked myself, who are you? Do you know? Questions and answers, you will see soon. Also, I am driven by faith and faith calls us to a higher stewardship of our time, abilities and opportunities whether provided or ‘self created’. Immense introspection is something I think you may find rewarding and this process began for me when a close friend gifts ‘Wild at Heart’ to me. The best books for this topic are faith based, even if you do not share the same beliefs, there are some great items within these books and who knows you may learn a thing or two and have some questions. I am available always for the most important conversation two can ever have.

My book recommendation: Guys: Wild at Heart by John EldredgeGirls: Captivating by John and Stassi Eldredge