You hear about communication a lot in college. Public speaking, writing, negotiation; they are all part of a curriculum in one concentration or another, and in certain contexts,they are important.
But you know what form of communication will separate you from your peers and define who you are to those around you? The kind that occurs in high stress situations, when a colleague, or a boss, or an adversary is arguing a point and you have to keep cool. OR, when you are talking to someone you like, and you want to let them know how you feel, but don't have the courage to summon to tell them. Or, when you are dealing with a person who is being less than graceful with your feelings or your belongings or your boundaries, and you just can't get up the cajones to tell them to back off.
These are all very important situations you are going to find yourself in, and find yourself in often. The skills that you need to expertly navigate these situations are not ones that you will find on almost any syllabus. But, this shit is important. This shit is your-whole-life-long important, and the sooner you can begin integrating these skills into your life and practicing them, the more confident you will become and the more ready you will be when it really matters.
These events; conflicts, confrontations, and romantic entanglements (some call them relationships) are what keeps most adults up at night with worry over whether or not they said all they had to say, or if they said too much, or if they made like a doormat and let someone walk right over the top of them. These things matter, and if you want to enjoy your life, if you want to truly make the most of life's small but important moments, you will learn and practice, practice, practice. Being adept at this type of communication is what can make your life feel like a series of victories. Being not so good at them? A series of disappointments. A series of scenarios where someone else is the star of your movie. Don't let someone else be the star of your movie.
The good news is that it comes down to just one thing. Yes, believe it or not, though there is much practice involved in this type of communication, though complexities abound in these situations, there is one strategic key that will help you improve and improve quickly when practicing. One magic instrument that you can play which will entice all the village folk to follow you wherever you lead them.
This instrument is self-awareness. I will give you an example:
You have your eye on a person. You like watching this person walk. You like listening to this person's voice. Hell, you even like the way this person smells. But you just can't get up the courage to talk to this person. Why? Because you are worried about the wrong thing. You are worried about whether or not this person likes you. That is what keeps you, ultimately, ironically, from finding out.
You are working at a job and become aware that your coworkers are talking about you. You are not sure what they are saying, but you are quite sure that they spend a fair amount of their time not doing their jobs, and instead, talking about you. You have become aware because of the fingers that point in your general direction across the office. You wonder what is going on. Have you done something wrong? Are you wearing the wrong deodorant? Are you two inches too short? Again, you are worrying about the wrong thing.
One more example to bring it home? Why not:
You have a roommate who keeps borrowing your stuff. This roommate not only borrows your stuff, but on occasion, ruins your stuff. This has been going on for months, but you have not said anything because you are worried that you will look like a bastard. Again, you are worrying about the wrong thing.
In every single one of these scenarios the one thing you should be thinking about, considering, and promoting is you. Your values, your hopes, your aspirations, your grand plans for the future. As you shift your focus away from yourself, and on to others, you have lost the meaning of your own life. When you find yourself in any tricky or uncomfortable situation, your awareness of your values, your desires, your boundaries will serve you better than any knowledge you may or may not have about others. Think you know what someone else is thinking or feeling? You are fooling yourself and wasting your time.
Your best tool in any tough situation is your awareness of you. How can you come to this magical place? Well, there is the tricky part. By your very nature, you change. You shift. You grow. There is always more to learn about you. Yet another reason why you should not be worrying about what other people think. You have your hands full with figuring you out. Here are some handy tools you can use to become more familiar with yourself:
There are millions of ways to learn more about yourself. But in the end, you should always be asking: "Self, what do you think? How do you feel about this?" The more times you get an answer, the closer you are to figuring yourself out. For today.
How does this help? In stressful situations where you must communicate, very often there is anxiety. Are you wrong? Have you offended someone? Have you made some sort of critical error that has put your relationship at risk? It is in these moments that it is most helpful to remember you. Remember that the only thing that is really required of you is to be yourself. When you are bending to other's expectations of you, or trying desperately to fit in, you lose your footing. You have a reason to be stressed. You are not in your own skin, rather, trying someone else's out.
So, when you like a person, you are aware that you like that person and it stops there until you can convey that to that person. After that, it is in their hands.
When your co-workers are talking about you, you approach them and ask them what they are talking about. You join in the conversation. It turns out they weren't actually talking about you and a whole level of stress you were feeling evaporates.
When your roommate is habitually borrowing and ruining your stuff, you simply request that they stop. If they have a problem with that, you allow them to have it.
Your concerns end with your personal space. Why? Because you are busy trying to figure out who you are today, not who other people think you are. Not who other people need you to be so that they feel okay.
Just who you are. That is all it comes down to. Not easy, but certainly easier than attempting to fill a role you were never meant to play.
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I was talking to a friend of mine recently who is graduating from college. She is terrified because she does not know how to go about getting a job. She never had a job in high school and never had to work through college. She doesn't have a resume nor anything to put on it except for her education.
This is the way of it right now for a lot of people coming out of college. They were frightened going in to college, spent most of their college careers jumping through hoops, and finished the program frightened of leaving.
She has been regurgitating information and copying the path of so many that have come before her and now she is unable to create something for herself because she never put herself in the position to do so. She was too busy taking prerequisites and trying to keep her grade point average at a place she was told it should be in order to succeed after college.
It is easy to shift into autopilot in college. Though it is nothing like the highly structured high school curriculum, it is designed to keep you memorizing and imitating. There is so much social anxiety and performance anxiety that very often, it is easiest to follow the path of least resistance.
As the image to the left outlines, that is just a small part of what you can do in college.
The one thing that holds true in almost every area of life is that going into an experience scared will not yield as much as when you can put yourself in a position to go into it with curiosity and confidence. It is best to enter college with an idea of what you want out of it, or at the very least an idea that you will leave an entirely different individual than when you entered. "A job" is a great goal to have, but what about fulfillment? What about meaning? What will help you grow and succeed as a person and a professional after school?
There are a lot of skills that people learn, hard skills that enable them to do a job. But what about the intangibles? What about setting yourself apart from others who could do the same job with the same education? What can you do, what can you learn that will set you apart, make you unique? These are skills you can learn in college without going to classes. Here are five that will be invaluable throughout your entire career:
Those are the big five. You want to learn more? Great. Over the next five weeks I will be outlining how to get your soft skills up while you are going through college.
Until then, keep your eyes open and look for opportunity. You might be surprised where you will find it.
Do you know someone with a child on the precipice of college? Or someone with a child in college? Direct them to this website. Or share this post via email, fb or twitter. It might be the difference between success and failure. Though failure is not nearly as bad as it sounds.....
My experience working at colleges and universities and helping college and high school age people navigate through those years has shown me that this is where I can be of service. So, if you are reading this and find that you might not be so interested in the content coming down the pike, you are free to disengage.
If you happen to know someone of college or high school age who is struggling or needs reassurance, please point them in my direction. I have all types of resources and pertinent information to help young people crush it in college.
To open, I will say that at this point, the college experience is very much about the social element. Understanding how to navigate and what to expect and not expect is not something most college admissions people talk about.
Next, what is expected of you at college? Mostly, your money and your ability to jump through hoops. Any real take-aways that you need out of the experience are completely up to you. In most cases, they care about the money you are paying them and not so much about how well you are doing or if you are capitalizing on the college experience. Welcome to the real world.
Lastly, as with most things I talk about, communication is key to getting what you want out of any given situation, and college is no different. In fact, college is the perfect place to practice all of the skills you will need to crush it in the real world.
And you do need practice.
That is what I will be offering; help to the people who need it and can use it to improve the world. I am very proud to be in this position and excited at the opportunity to grow in this way. The website is in a state of flux presently, but by the end of January it will be all ready to go.
Thanks for reading, and if you decide to stay, thanks for staying. It has meant a lot to me.
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