The Best Thing I Took Away From College (Hint: It Wasn’t Beer Pong Mastery)
I was “that” kid in high school.
The fat kid who was mocked for not quite “fitting in”.
The quietest kid in every class.
The kid that, while involved in pretty much everything, lacked the friends to prove it.
I was profoundly shy and didn’t attend a single party.
As I await my college diploma in the mail, I’m no longer that kid.
Hard skills are certainly the primary selling point for certain college majors, particularly those within the sciences and STEM fields (I studied managerial economics). However, I would argue there are also quite a few soft skills and traits that transcend these technical assets. There are many that I want to share, but in today’s post, I will focus on the one aspect that really changed my life for the better:
Yes, Social Competence.
Simply put, social competence is defined as the ability to successfully navigate most social and day-to-day interpersonal situations. It sounds like common sense, I know.
“Wow, being able to talk to people is important? Thanks, Captain Obvious”
Trivial as it sounds, dealing with social situations can really be overwhelming.
Trust me, I would know. I’ve struggled with chronic shyness my entire life.
Upon moving to college at 18, the sheer thought of meeting new people made my heart race. I hadn’t really experienced ANYTHING, let alone spent time away from my parents(I’m super close to my family). I had no clue what I hoped to gain from college and what my future would entail. Having been the farthest thing from a “social butterfly” in high school, I constantly thought myself to oblivion:
“What will people think of me? “
“Will they smell my fear?”
“Am I the problem here? It has to be me…”
Looking back, it’s an understatement to say that my social learning curve in college was steep:
- I went to parties for the first time (and realized how much I sucked at beer pong)
- I joined a social fraternity
3. I shared a dorm with a Colombian during my freshman year and 2 other international students my junior year
4. I lost 50 pounds and became “the fit guy”
Oh yeah, and I went to class sometimes…
…Don’t worry, I’m kidding! *nervous laugh*
You might ask: “Ok, but you didn’t mention anything about your course load or networking and applying for jobs? Exactly which of these tie into ‘social competence’?”
All of them.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about college is that anything not directly tied into career-building or coursework has little impact on professional growth. In my experience, I consider the opposite to be true.
Living with international students made me an effective communicator. I learned how to contend with radically different viewpoints and analyze all aspects of a situation. I was humbled by how much I DIDN’T know about the world. I was inspired to learn about things I didn’t know a ton about and became better educated on topics like politics, economics, and business. In fact, it was during this period of curiosity that I chose to study economics.
Losing 50 pounds and teaching others about fitness improved my confidence and taught me that self-improvement is about the process, not the goal. Even in the face of failure, I acquired new faith in my ability to help others and solve complex problems.
Being in a fraternity and placing myself in fast-paced social situations taught me about the value of leveraging networks, putting myself out there, and fostering organic connections with others. I figured out that some social discomfort is okay. More importantly, I realized that we’re all human and collectively have aspirations and insecurities.
These adventures truly changed my life. However, the “social” aspect of these events is only half of the equation.
These are the same experiences that shaped my approach when pursuing jobs or interviewing.
These are the same experiences that taught me how to work my ass off, fail, and get back up again.
And lastly, these are the same experiences where I met some of the best influences in my life: friends who inspire me to continue evolving as both a person and a professional.
Make no mistake, I dislike when people deem their college years and early 20’s as their “golden years”. That’s simply not true. However, the social competence I acquired from college is something I will treasure and apply for the rest of my life.