Coming back home from college and expecting everything to be right as rain You haven’t been getting the grades you want.
You didn’t get the internship that was “perfect for you” this summer.
You took a break from college and want to go back, but think the opportunity has passed you by.
Everything feels “too late.” “It’s too late to turn my grades around before I graduate.” “It’s too late to get another internship in my field.” “It’s too late to go back to school.”
Reality check: It’s not too late.
Before you read any further, take a minute to check your inner critic at the door. Not getting the grades you want does NOT mean that you’re not cut out for college, missing out on that internship does NOT mean you shouldn’t - or can’t - pursue a career in your chosen field, and going back to school at 25 years old - or 55 years old - does NOT mean you’re behind everyone else.
It’s not too late for you because:
1. You can grow into the person you want to become
A popular belief in America is some version of “they were born a naturally talented speaker, writer, student, diplomat, doctor, leader, etc.” and “I can’t do that because I wasn’t born with those skills.” While it is true that everyone has unique gifts and things they naturally gravitate toward, it’s NOT TRUE that people emerge from the womb as expert speakers, writers, students, diplomats, doctors, leaders, etc. Even Einstein famously was a late starter who had his share of academic struggles during his years leading up to university.
Natural inclinations toward a certain skill will make life easier for some people (like a musician who has perfect pitch), but you don’t need innate gifts to achieve your dreams (e.g., you can still become a world-class musician without perfect pitch). At some point everyone has to put in the work to level up, it’s just a matter of how hard they have to work for it. Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book Outliers, describes the “10,000 hour benchmark.” He argues that to become a world-class expert in many fields requires at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and study. The Beatles’ humble beginnings originate in Hamburg, Germany where they played up to 8 hours every night for two and a half years. Beatles’ lead guitarist George Harrison said, “We had to learn millions of songs because we’d be on for hours… Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people.”
One of life’s greatest blessings is that it is possible to grow into the person you want to become.
The most relevant example of this from my own life is my math ability. I slept through and checked out of most of my math classes in high school and ended up having to take remedial math (Algebra I) my freshman year of college. Fast forward to five years out of undergrad when I was preparing to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) for graduate school applications, and all I could think was “there is no way I’m going to get the score I need in math to get into my dream school; it’s too late for me to learn everything I need to know.”
Fortunately, I realized my long-term ambitions were greater than my math ability and committed to making it happen by any means necessary. For three months, I spent every night after work and all day Saturday and Sunday studying math. It was grueling and it felt awful to be inside working through all of my free time, but with each passing week I noticed I was able to complete more and more problems that I couldn’t do before. When I took the test three months later I got the exact score I needed to get into my dream school. That would not have been possible had I continued to tell myself, “it’s too late for this to be a possibility.”
Becoming good at anything in life takes PRACTICE, which requires time, focus, persistence, and sacrifice. Start today by identifying the skills and habits that will help you get one step closer to achieving your goals, then commit to finding ways to grow in those skills so you have ample opportunity to practice.
2. Change your mindset: Life is a journey, not a destination
When I was in my early twenties, I always thought that one day I would wake up and be the person I envisioned; whole, complete, and finally done growing. I now know that this destination as I envisioned does not exist; no one ever arrives. There’s always something else around the corner, whether it’s new goals as your priorities change, or finding new ways to grow in the same challenge you’ve been working through for the past five years.
The good news is, because no one ever arrives, no one is ever “late!” You have the opportunity to define and redefine your life as you go. If you haven’t been getting the grades you want, it’s not too late to change that. If you graduated from college two years ago and just now realize you want to become a doctor, it’s not too late to take the classes you need. START TODAY. Where there’s a will, there’s a way… for the most part.
Sometimes life happens. Throughout the days, weeks, months, and years of your life, doors will close and new doors will open. Sometimes doors close for good. Sometimes new doors won’t open for years. In those times, make patience your ally. Also keep in mind that changes to your original plan are bound to happen, and they aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
3. People who quit never achieve their goals
It’s simple, but the journey is going to be really, really difficult. To keep going, keep these two rules in mind:
Rule #1: Do not devote any time to entertaining the idea of quitting. Once you start thinking about quitting, it opens the door to actually quitting. It cannot be in the realm of possibility. “By any means necessary” is your new mantra. Many times people feel like quitting when they don’t want to put in the work, which leads us to...
Rule #2: You have to WORK REALLY, REALLY HARD. Like crying, sweating, crazy hard work. You have to put in the time and effort so that you can practice, practice, and practice again. Think about how you define hard work, then work 3x harder. Efficiency is key here, too.
A side note and reality check for my first generation and limited-income college student homies: YOU WILL HAVE TO WORK HARDER THAN YOUR PEERS. Maybe you have to catch up, maybe you don’t read very fast yet, or maybe you don’t write very well yet. That’s okay. It’ll be painful in the short run, but I can guarantee you’ll be grateful in the long run when you eventually surpass them.