I guess you could say I stumbled into engineering (as one does). I did well in my math and science classes throughout high school, so when senior year rolled around, it seemed logical to apply to engineering schools. I truly had no idea what it was going to be like; all I knew is that it would be a challenge. Actually, that’s a lie. I did have one particular vision of studying engineering: one day being able to understand special relativity. And now I do! Well, sort of.
It wasn’t always a pleasant journey. In fact, I wondered for a while if I’d even made the right choice. But now, at the tail end of my senior year, I can say that I have no regrets. Engineering challenged me in all the right ways and pushed me harder than anything else could have. Along the way, I learned some lessons that I later realized apply not just to engineering, but also to life in general. So here are some takeaways:
1. Know what you don’t know.
It sounds simple, but it’s actually not. Figuring out the holes in your understanding of a concept or problem takes a lot of work. You’ve got to do research and ask the right questions. Countless times, I have gone in to a professor’s office hours with a list of specific concepts I don’t understand—after spending an hour making that list. Do your homework.
2. Understand the problem you’re trying to solve.
Yes, this sounds a lot like (1) but I promise it’s different. And not just because I want 5 things on this list. I’ve noticed how most people, including me, tend to jump to solutions as soon as we’re presented with a problem. If someone asked you, “How do you get millennials to save for retirement?” Maybe you’d immediately think, “Obviously they should save more of their paycheck.”
But think harder. What’s the real problem? Are millennials spending too much on bulletproof coffee and avocado toast? Or do we have different financial goals than our ancestors (the baby boomers)? Either way, you can’t arrive at good solutions to any problem until you know the problem inside and out.
3. Learn how to work on a team.
Have you ever heard the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself?” Words to live by. Just kidding!!! I love working on my own, so it’s always been hard for me to give responsibilities to others and share the work. But you always have to work in teams—whether it’s in a marriage, or at work, or in school. So learn how to work well with others.
4. Failure is certain.
Okay I lied; there are 4 things on this list. But that actually dovetails well with my last point, which is about failure. My dad always says, “Success is an occasional visitor. Failure is a constant companion.”
Social connectedness has made perfectionists of us all: we want to get everything right on the first try. But what if instead, we learned how to fail fast and smart. What if every time someone said “no” or “best of luck” or “we’ve decided to go with another applicant,” we re-examined our strategies and tried again harder. After all, you only need to find one way to make the lightbulb work. (That was a Thomas Edison joke.)