Twenty-Two point someone: Quarter-Life Lessons from a fresher

Photo by Tran Mau Tri Tam on Unsplash

One of the reasons I’m deviating from writing about a DIY machine learning project is because I realised, well apart from the fact that medium is already full of so many of them, the need/scarcity of ‘real’ advice that can be followed by a college student or someone in his/her late teens and early twenties.

Now that I look back at college life, I wish someone had told me how to do it the ‘right’ way. This ‘right’ is debatable and varies person to person, I know all of us learn at a different pace, and sometimes we only learn through our experiences and most often our mistakes. Even though I always encourage people to be curious and explore various experiences but I wish I had a guidebook to refer to when I found myself in situations which were extremely unfamiliar and confounding.

I then wanted something that an average 18 years old could use and fall back on. I didn’t want fancy motivational quotes typed on a coral pallet bordered with palm leaves and cute doodles(advice never looked more optimistic right?), Pinterest and Instagram are already flooding with so many. I wanted someone to paint the world as it is and look at me in the eye and tell me, “Adhya, be practical, this isn’t(or is) going to work out”. Yes now that we have narrowed down the word, ‘practical’, whatever is coming along might seem to engender from an air of pessimism(I call it having a good idea of the world).Still, being 22, I would rather know the harsh realities than continue to wander in the false security of my ‘bubble of aloofness.’

Before continuing, I’ll like to introduce myself and tell you ‘why’ you should read this, all the way from the top to the point you get tired of scrolling but continue to scroll. The ‘why’ is simple- I’ve probably made all the mistakes a 20 year old can during college. I’ve been directionless, I’ve been confused, I’ve taken more than I could have handled, I’ve made silly decisions, I’ve been in the wrong company, I’ve been a rebel, I’ve been lazy and, I’ve been everything you told yourself you wouldn’t be when you made that new year’s resolutions list.

dream: here’s a picture of me after eating some chocolate fudge(hence the smile) at my favourite cafe near campus

But I’ll tell you ‘why’ you should still listen to me, cause I’ve learnt, through my mistakes, to overcome these obstacles, I’ve fought to become who I am today, and I continue to explore and learn from life, reflecting and introspecting on my experiences and sharing those that have been of immense use to me. I’m just an average 22 year old software engineer, but I hope my averageness and mediocrity can inspire you to achieve excellence and become the best version of yourself. (Link to my LinkedIn Profile if you want to connect: https://www.linkedin.com/in/adhya-dagar)

Here we go, in no directed order of importance, your guidebook to your early twenties and beyond… (An exhaustive list of quarter life lessons as learnt by a few of my friends and me)

I believe in not just reading stories, but extracting useful implementable information from them and finding avenues to apply these learnings to my life. To segment my thoughts and make them more interpretable I’ll structure most of my learnings/experiences into the following categories —

1.Situation+ Task

2. Action + Result

Few things to keep in mind before moving ahead-

18. Know what you want out of your college life

Situation: I feel I entered college in a hurry, I was so overwhelmed by the fancy books and the new found independence that I almost forgot what I wanted out of the next four years of engineering. Did I want to be the best coder out there? Did I want a high-paying job? Did I want to do something for the community- a cool invention maybe? Who did I want to be after four years? I feel having the knowledge of this in advance helps you streamline your goals and efforts.

College can be distracting with so many people doing various things according to ‘their’ needs and desires. You often end up doing something just because another person does it so effortlessly and it looks like the right thing to do. But if you ever find yourself chasing a friend’s goal or blindly doing something because he or she wants to do it, stop. Rethink. Reevaluate. Think about why ‘you’ are here and what ‘you’ want.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Action: It isn’t easy to know it all initially, but with every passing day be a little more sure about where you want to go. Try to document your journey and your goals in a journal. Validate(check the feasibility) your goals by discussing them with your parents/mentors/industry experts (preferably with someone who has observed you for some years). By the end of your third year in college, try having a clear picture of where you stand and what you have to do to be where you want to be.

“So decide now. What is it you want? Plant your goal in your mind. It’s the most important decision you’ll ever make in your entire life.” — Earl Nightingale

17. Have only one/two mentors/advisors and choose them wisely (preferably early in your college years)

Situation: In college, I admired many people, some were over achievers who had a colossal 330 on their GREs, others were charming Presidents and Chairpersons of prestigious clubs and chapters. A few of them were strangers that I had stalked on LinkedIn — their profiles read everything that I thought I wanted mine to read - ‘Software Engineer at Google’ to ‘Investment Banker at Goldman Sachs’. Being the extrovert I was, I spoke to everyone and took advice from everybody (ranging from 18 year olds to 60 year olds). Which is great, because I am learning a lot, but I realised this method soon backfired.

I’ll tell you why this happened.

Everybody is unique, everybody has a different pace and everybody works differently. Career advice is not a one size fits all game. The people who give you this advice often don’t know you in your full capacity/potential and know your journey/background. They share with you a roadmap/routine that suited them and that might or might not cater to your personality. In addition to this, taking advice from too many people can also land you trouble as it can confuse you about your next steps and your overall goals.

I found myself changing my short term goals every time I spoke to one of my seniors because everyone’s way of doing things was just so different. Everybody had an inspiring story to tell and I was always in awe of them. After some time I realised I was trying to incorporate 7 different plans into my life. Let alone following 7 I couldn’t even follow one person’s advice.

Action:

16. Be grateful, humble and respect everyone’s hard-work

Situation: There’ll be a lot of times you aren’t the smartest person in the room. There’ll be a few when you get the highest score in the most challenging calculus exam in history where almost the entire class flunks. Then there’ll be some times where you need someone’s help with a coding assignment and you can’t seem to navigate your way through. You might feel too proud to ask for help from a peer.

Action: In times of joy, remember to be grateful and kind, in times of difficulties don’t be afraid to ask for help. Approach your peers/teachers/counsellors, learn to leverage the resources and the community around you to make informed decisions.

15. Understand, things won’t always go your way, but that doesn’t mean you’re not on the right path

This takes me back to this very episode of Friends, my stress buster, where Rachel is complaining about her life

Situation: If there were an Oscar for organising and planning schedules/routines/projects, I would expect myself to contest one. I am a planner of all sorts(yes, who uses colourful post-its and craft boards and glitter pens to map things out). In college, I spent time planning the next five years of my life. The projected trajectory looked marvellous. My schedule was so tight that I didn’t leave any buffer. I never thought how my plans would get tweaked if a few things didn’t work out here and there. Life happened, and I faced many rejections which sometimes pushed me into believing in giving up. I was ready to give up my entire ‘plan’ just because one or two things (be it my dream job or a research internship) didn’t go my way. I started doubting myself, my abilities and started telling myself that I over-estimated my potential to the extent I started under-estimating it.

Action: I was on a call with a close friend, and she told me something that gave me immense strength and perspective in my turbulent times. She said, “Adhya, just because one of your short term goals didn’t work out doesn’t mean your long term goals are impacted, your long term plans are still very much on track, this just means that instead of following route A, you’ll have to follow route B or C to reach your destination.”

Remember, there are many ways to reach from one place to another, and if there seem to be none, carve a path out for yourself. Pursue your goals vehemently, and with utmost sincerity, you’ll find some way or the other to get where you want to be.

14. Always have a backup !!! — Sometimes backups are more important than the actual plan

Situation: This is something I realised when college was near the end. I found myself scavenging for options after my initial plan didn’t work out.

Action: It’s always good to have robust options to fall back on; let’s be honest; life doesn’t always unfold the way you had imagined it would. In addition to this, prepare for your backups just like you prepare for your primary action plan. Everything needs work.

13. Set long term and short term goals and continuously evaluate your progress and update your goals if needed, also make sure your goals don’t contradict each other

Situation: This is important for the multifaceted ones- for those who see themselves doing a lot in a very little time and who want to do everything. For example, by the start of the last year of college, I thought I wanted to do ‘A’. I was blindly chasing ‘A’, finding related internships etc. But I also knew I always wanted to do ‘Z’ in the long run which was all together a different career path. I am not saying a guy doing ‘A’ cannot do ‘Z’ later, but these two paths are not coherent. If I want to do ‘Z’ eventually, why did I not just work towards it since the beginning? Maybe ‘A’ is something I admired, but now I don’t see myself doing it in the longer run. Here comes a time for making a trade-off, another important thing you’ll learn to do in college- evaluating the cost of opportunities.

Action: Have a long term plan and have short term plans, completing the short term plans will take you a step closer to your final goal. But always revisit and update your plans according to your failed and successful experiences and the circumstances you encounter.

You won’t be able to do everything you like all the time due to time and resource constraints — and in these scenarios, give yourself some time to explore the things that excite you, but know how to move on if it contradicts your eventual goal.

In all, your goals should be synchronous and complementing each other, it gives you better direction and helps you navigate across life efficiently instead of working double in opposite directions.

12. Learn to have a thick skin — people will talk

Situation: Ah, the most challenging advice to swallow and follow. I thought gossip was for high schoolers, but I could hear a hundred something strangers talking crassly about everyone the moment I entered college. And I’ve been a part of these discussions too.

Action: I know it feels terrible listening to negative things about you, but remember that doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t change your worth, all the good things you stand for and your believes.

I read this somewhere and it gave me direction-

Photo by Daoudi Aissa on Unsplash

“Does the sun ask itself, “Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?” No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself, “What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me today?” No it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself, “Am I as big as other suns in other galaxies?” No, it burns, it shines.”

It takes time to develop such an attitude to life; it took me three years in college to not let other people’s opinions influence my worth. And it’ll take you time too, but if you practice this mindset every day, you’ll notice your life becomes much more nuisance free. Do not let other people rent space in your head.

11. Understand yourself- your pace, your potential, your strengths and development areas

Situation: I feel college and your early twenties is a great time to explore yourself. I spent a lot of time in college learning about my likes and dislikes, assessing my potential, my thresholds, my limitations and working on overcoming them. I used my independence to see how I would adapt to a new setting without anyone’s help. And I did learn a great deal. I feel this helped me in my decision making. I knew what choices would work the best for me. It didn’t all come easy to me; there were many times I had an identity crisis; I found my brain in a quagmire. But because I knew my strengths, I knew what to do to get out of such a confounding mess.

Action: A perfect example would be noticing my anxiety triggers and finding my way out through them. I’ve gone through bad anxiety, I’ve had a loss of appetite, and there have been many triggers- deadlines, lacking performance, personal and academic pressures. But I noticed these triggers and tried to find a solution to my anxiety. I avoided putting myself in situations bound to make me extremely anxious(e.g. too many deadlines, postponing assignments). I started meditating for 10–15 minutes a day to keep calm and stay focused and took one step at a time towards solving any problem.

10. Be curious to learn new things(technology/skills) and explore different environments(job sectors etc)

Situation: I was a part of many clubs and chapters and mostly handled the administrative sections. I knew I had good interpersonal and leadership skills. But had I told myself “okay Adhya you are good at this and everybody thinks you’re good at this so you should prolly focus on the management side and not dive deeper into tech” I would have never explored technical applications.

I remember I was always curious to know what other teams were doing, how far the PR team was with social media posts, and how the android app came along? What are different frameworks the tech team is using to build the application?

My haphazardness and ability to not restrict myself to one thing led me to slowly explore advance data science and its application in the social sector. I was passionate about technology, yes, but I also knew my purpose in life was to create social impact and bridge economic barriers in my community. I let my ‘curiosity’ find avenues to apply my ‘passion’ (something you might already be good at) to fulfil my ‘purpose’ (my responsibility towards my community).

Action: Not long ago, I approached someone for mentorship who had once interviewed me for a data scientist position. Apart from solving my queries, he mentioned a few things that I found useful, and I might extrapolate his advice to convey my point. I think the way he explains it offered me a lot of clarity so I’ll try to keep most of it intact.

9. Learn how to be in a team- how to plan and delegate, how to communicate with different sets of people and how to motivate your team

Toastmasters-a leadership and public speaking club: here’s a picture of me(clad in orange+pink) and my club members after one of our regular Thursday sessions.

Be it in a corporate job in a big MNC or be it in your software engineering group projects, this is something that’ll always come in use. And this is something I’ve always invested in. Interpersonal skills have always set me apart from the crowd. Many engineers don’t focus on honing their personalities, they are more often found honing their technical skills, but soft-skills are equally important and are used in every sphere of your life.

A good leader, team worker and a speaker should be able to -

8. Have a hobby — what are you outside of your resume ?

Well, this one came naturally to me. I am a trained classical dancer with a diploma. I am a public speaker and am passionate about writing and painting. Even in those 5 minutes breaks between classes, I found myself writing some poetry or nibbling doodles at the corner of my notebooks.

kathak: here’s me performing kathak, an Indian classical dance

Having a hobby did two things for me- It kept me creative and never let reality restrain my imagination and ambition. Writing and dancing let my creative juices flow and offered me a respite from everyday calculus.

7. All work and no play makes Adhya nothing — balance is everything

Situation: I have always been a workaholic, I’ve always had a lot on my plate, be it extra academic credits or cocurriculars. Balancing this with a social life was tough. I often found myself shut in my room with piles of assignments wondering if I was missing out on fun. I thought letting myself out for an evening of pointless fun would push me back on my deadlines and distract me from my line of work.

Action: Remember, you don’t have to pay a tax for being happy or letting yourself enjoy. You don’t have to feel guilty for taking breaks. After three years of confining myself to my hostel walls, I gave myself space to interact with people and enjoy college. I started going out a little more. I noticed this made me happier and livelier, and I was more motivated to work.

6. Invest in long lasting relationships — network

Photo by inlytics | LinkedIn Analytics Tool on Unsplash

Situation: Indian parents are famous for spoon-feeding, and Indian colleges are too. In many colleges you see companies coming for your final year placements, day after day. On average, 300 companies came for placements to my college and all the 2000 computer science students got placed within a few months. Wow, is getting a job as tough as people say?

Well I say getting a job is damn tough when you don’t have a platter of world famous 300 something companies interviewing you.

I didn’t sit for campus placements (answering why would take another 1000 words but you can always connect with me if you want to know). As soon as I started looking for off-campus jobs, the pandemic started. Along with the pandemic came mass firings and down sizing.

Action: But here is what I did, I leveraged my resources, the people I had connected with over the last four years of college, my dad’s friends, my friends’ dads, everybody who could be of some help.
Connect with people on LinkedIn, in real life, college seniors, peers. Remember, these people will grow up to be your colleagues and sometimes bosses. Invest in long term relationships and learn from these people, you never know when someone can help. Your college might have already helped you out with your first job, but you can also use it to help you out with the next five.

5. Ask yourself ‘Is my circle helping me move towards or away from the life I desire?’

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”- Jim Rohn

“One of the smartest things I did in my life was surround myself by people who were smarter than me.”- Ray Zukowski

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”- Bonnie Manter

Continuously surround yourself with people who push you, who motivate you, who say “man, you are capable of so much more, but you gotta work harder and change your current lifestyle”.

Try interacting with candid, direct people who don’t shy away from pointing your flaws and can offer constructive criticism instead of just simple nodding to everything you say.

Secondly, engage with people who know more than you, who inspire you and intimidate you. Learn from them until you become them, and continue to learn.

4. Don’t tie yourself down to one definition of success

I come from a service class family, my mother is a doctor, and my dad is an engineer who eventually shifted into management. I went to a school where I studied with children of prominent industrialists and people in business, daughters and sons of New Delhi’s top social and political circuits. Initially, there was one thing common in all my friends, luxury. Everybody came from affluent families. Gradually my idea of ‘success’ got hardened into believing that being able to afford an opulent lifestyle is being successful.

Until one fine day in the seventh standard when my mom who is an academic miracle disagreed with me and told me “Adhya, this is up to you, success can be anything, I always felt having respect in society, from the society is being successful”. Maybe her journey as a surgeon helped her reach this conclusion.

“Success is really nothing more than the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. This means that any person who knows what they are doing and where they are going is a success. Any person with a goal towards which they are working is a successful person.” — Earl Nightingale

When I entered college, my definition of success was very open-ended. I understood everybody is different, and just because you are not earning as much as your friend or are not as famous as someone doesn’t mean you are any less successful.

“Determine your own metrics to evaluate your progress and success. Your definition can be drastically different from someone else’s, and could be based upon your life experiences and priorities. And that’s okay.” — Adhya :)

Growing up in a developing country environment, I constantly asked myself two things — ‘Why is there so much disparity between people?’ and ‘What could be done to make this gap narrower’. Being a computer science student and having worked on a few data science projects, I realised, the potential of data driven decision making. Success to me started to look like implementing my vision to positively impact the community and bridge this gap using technology and data.

3. Discipline yourself — good habits reward you for a lifetime

I can’t stress this enough. I’ll get straight to the point. Habits last a lifetime, good habits will help you throughout your life and bad ones will impede your growth. Here are a few things I followed in college and still continue to follow-

Image by Getty Images

2. Keep you and your environment clean, hygienic and organised. It’s good for your mental health too.

3. Be humble and practice gratitude. Every morning I spend 2 minutes to remind myself of the people and things I am grateful about.

4. Keep yourself fit, go out for a run or workout on the spot. Meditate or do yoga — your choice. Your mental and physical health is in your hands.

5. Have a skill that you can master. You get good at what you do every day and at the end of the day, it’s all about what you do better than anyone else in the world. That’s your profile. Your portfolio. Your signature.

2. Fill yourself with positivity every day

carefree: back in 2017

A lot is going on in the world- war, terrorism, crime. A lot is going on in your phone- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. A lot is going on in your mind- friends, career, family.

Sometimes, things take a toll on us, and we might feel overwhelmed with emotions. During these times, I want you to remember that this too shall pass.

There is nothing ultimate in our lives, the peaks as well as the troughs. So spend time to develop a positive outlook on life and get some fresh air.

The following video inspired me a lot: https://www.facebook.com/RobDialJr/videos/2449568962035366

1. Live in the present, plan for the future

Situation: When I look back, I feel I did the reverse, I was living in the future and planning for the present. I always found myself in a state of anxiety and I could hardly enjoy the present.

Action: Slow down. Breathe. Take a walk. Continuously remind yourself of the present. You are alive, and you are here. You have with you all the power and potential to manifest your life into anything you want it to be. So don’t escape the present and take a chill pill (ahh take me back to 90s)

Straight from K3G

Sometimes, the most complex problems have the most straightforward solutions :)

I hope this helped you and offered you a little clarity and some perspective. I am happy to expatiate further if you want me to.

I hope you enjoyed reading my journey!

Some resources that helped me gain perspective and get back on track:

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If you wish to know more about my experiences and discuss yours you can connect with me on-

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/adhya-dagar/

Email: adhyadagar5@gmail.com

Instagram: aadhya__d

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Computer Science Engineer| AI for Social Good| Social Entrepreneurship| linkedin.com/in/adhya-dagar/

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