Dear Jonathan (aged 20)
I wish I still looked as young as you and had your energy. What I do have, is a particular set of skills… well no, I don’t have that either but what I do have is experience and I hope that experience can help you on your way.
You’re about to embark on the most amazing experience and have the time of your life. Going to university is undeniably daunting for everyone. You leave the comfort of everything you know behind to effectively start again in a different part of the country. But like everything that’s truly rewarding, it’s never easy. Never judge yourself by others, some will adapt more quickly, at least outwardly. If you feel you're struggling, take a deep breath and give yourself a month to adapt. If by month three you’re not enjoying it, you can contemplate whether university is right for you, but you’ll take comfort in that breathing space. I have no doubts that you will be fine. You will make friends who you will stay in contact with for life and make memories you will treasure for a lifetime.
Trust me, university will be the most amazing time. Work is incredibly rewarding at times and most importantly, they give you cash, but careers are stressful and overall long. By the time you retire, you’ll have worked for over fifty years. University is the only time in your adult life, where you have legitimate reason for not being in employment and young enough to enjoy it. That is an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself into your studies and all the things you are passionate about and enjoy doing. And at university, whatever it is, you’ll find likeminded people to enjoy it with. Yes, you could return to study in later life (in fact you do) but nothing can recreate that undergraduate experience where you have little responsibility and barely a care in the world but you’re forging your own, independent path in the world.
What is really important is that you recognise the opportunity and seize it. I know you; you’ll be lackadaisical and drift and I’m here to tell you I live with an awful amount of regret knowing that I only exploited 30-40% of the opportunities that university offered. If only I could go back and do it again. So, here are my tips.
Treat it like a job. Get up early and get to university early. Go to lectures or seminars, if you have them. If not, get to the library and work on assignments and take ‘reading for a degree’ literally. Read around your subject. Work through to lunch and take a proper break. Go to the gym and exercise. I found out later this really helps my recall and clears my mind ready to go again in the afternoon. Work through to 5pm, then go home and relax. Take weekends off like a job, go out socially and indulge your interest. You’ll come out with a top degree, great knowledge, a great sense of fulfilment but most important no regrets. If in doubt, do it. Regret what you did do and put yourself out there.
University is four years with your placement year but it will go by in a flash. Take out the holidays, and the accumulation of time at university amounts to not much more than about 18 months. Don’t waste it.
More importantly, contact Steve Jobs and tell him you’ve had an idea for a ‘smartphone' called the ‘iPhone’ (patent it) that operates as a phone, music player and is supported by an ‘App Store’. Agree to a 20% cut of future sales.