Unsolicited advice from an Honours student

I don’t remember the first time I walked on campus. I can’t really remember what I saw, what I said or what I did. But I will never forget that feeling. The feeling of promise; a new start with freedom attached. With each breath I exhaled anticipation, with each beat my heart pumped adrenaline. I braced myself with excitement while brewing nervousness in my stomach. My smile was wide and in my glossy eyes were all my hopes reflected.

Those first days of uni: they can be quite something.

Now, I’m an Honours student. Have things changed? Well, firstly, my heart does not flutter logging into the student portal anymore, neither does it skip a beat walking through the buildings on campus. But, for me, university is still an exciting place.

That is not to say though, that my experience has been perfect. From my three years in undergraduate Commerce, I would like to say I’ve learnt many things. But, in the sense of coming to understand my passions, my goals and my dreams, I have not. I feel almost like I’ve gone backwards.

I came into my first year of university so sure about so many things. I was so very sure of my economics major, so sure of my future career and how the next five years would pan out. I’m sure you’ve already guessed what comes next:

I was wrong.

I had this creeping, unrelenting yet anonymous and almost undetectable sentiment – one that did not crystallise in any cohesive thought until my third year of university. Is this the right course for me? As you may have guessed from my authoring this article, I like to write. I like to read, I love story-telling in any format, and – perhaps most of all – I love creativity. But, for a while, I felt stifled in my degree. It was giving me maths, not essays; theories, not creative outlets. For a long time, I believed there was something wrong with me.

I felt in my degree that there was one expected path. Whether you do finance, economics, marketing or anything else, you need good grades, you’re expected to network, you’re expected to do case competitions, you’re expected to get an internship that leads to a graduate role. You do your three years (maybe four) in a highly competitive environment – especially in economics, where the job opportunities are much more limited than in accounting or something similar.

While, for many, this path may be well suited to them, for others, it does not work out so well. Perhaps you have other interests – politics, history, literature, psychology, writing. In the current economics curriculum, there is not too much room for these passions.

But if that sounds like you, as it was me, that’s not the end of the story. It’s not all bad. Economics is a very general discipline that can be applied to a variety of industries and careers. So, luckily, it is a safe bet. One of the best choices for the risk averse (and indecisive) student. Every bank, every large firm, every business in general needs someone who understands economics. Luckily, economics give you a good background to many different areas. For instance, Steve Bullmer, CEO of Microsoft from 2000 to 2014, studied economics. So did Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-mart. Believe it or not, Arnold Schwarzenegger did too. As did Cate Blanchett (albeit not for long). If you look up ‘famous economics majors’, you’ll see an impressive list. And, more pertinently, you’ll see a list of varied occupations.

In writing this article, I had two objectives. Firstly, to say how good economics has been to me. It might not seem like that, from half of my article, but it has. When it comes to me – Ms Indecisive, Ms I-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-do-with-the-rest-of-my-life-and-I-like-to-complain-about-it – economics has given me a good base. I feel like I can manoeuvre in the workforce with my knowledge and with my skills. If you, like me, don’t think the heavy mathematical and theoretical coursework is for you, don’t fret. You can get the skills you need and use it as a springboard.

My second point is – and it’s something that I’ve not yet touched on, but it’s just as important – things go wrong. In your degree, and in life. Whether we’re studying economics or studying something wholly different, we cannot expect each goal to become reality. We cannot all be interns, we cannot all win case competitions, we cannot all be on student committees, we cannot all ace every assignment. I said before I ‘felt stifled in my degree’. A perfect example of things not going right. Let me say: that’s alright. Nothing is perfect – trust me, I learnt the hard way. It’s a simple concept, but I know both from personal experience and witnessing others: people tend to sweat the small stuff. When your frame of reference is skewed, by culture and by expectations, it often results in a warped self-worth. Try not to succumb to those pressures.

Instead, enjoy those three short years, work hard and learn lots.