This is the first part in a roughly five-part series on developing an academic mindset that can get you on a fast-track path to success in whatever major you’re in. While I wish I did all of these things all four years, I certainly learned a lot of these things the hard way. But once I implemented these ideas, especially this idea we’re talking about in this post, I didn’t just find more success in classes, but I also found the beginnings of a framework that can inform the way I go about developing my own career. So let’s get into trying.
Trying is cool. It sounds trite, but please try. You’re going to get to Illinois, and you’re going to find out that if you don’t try, you’ll probably be able to make it out of just about any class with some kind of B. Getting to Illinois is no small feat, and if you’ve gained admission here, it means that you’re one of the brightest minds in the country, whether you know it or not. And while getting B’s in your classes is not bad, you’ll eventually find out (by junior or senior year) that if you put in some kind of effort, you can pull off unbelievable stuff. You’re smart enough to pull off B’s without trying. Imagine what you could do if you actually tried in the classes! It’s better to find that out sooner rather than later. There’s nothing scarier than sitting in the union your senior year wondering what could have happened if you had applied your intellect rather than wasting it away.
Trying gets you to enjoy things you didn’t know you could enjoy, and as a result unlocks worlds of new information you can process and incorporate into your own development. If you genuinely tried in bland subjects, you might be able to uncover some hidden beauty in it, much in the same way miners uncover diamonds after countless hours of digging. In Organic Chemistry II, I spent countless hours staring at reactions. Even though the class was hard, by trying in it, I gained a respect for chemistry I never had before. There’s a fascinating simplicity in the way reactions move, and it’s an appreciation I wouldn’t have had if I had written off the class as “too hard” and didn’t make an effort. A school like Illinois is wonderful in its devotion to the cultivation of countless disciplines. You can lose yourself in as many subjects as you wish. It’s a shame, but the truth of the matter is that many students who come to Illinois don’t know how many opportunities the school boasts that they simply waste away because they don’t think it’s cool to try.
Trying in college puts you leagues ahead of everyone else who doesn’t try and comes away with a degree and nothing else to show for it. I think college teaches you work ethic more than anything else. Trying in college teaches you how to develop a sound work ethic, and that is invaluable in not simply the job market, but also as a skill to use for the rest of your life. Here’s an example: Let’s say you need to learn about a certain chemistry reaction. Right? And it makes no sense to you, but you try, and after 2 to 3 hours of working at it, you get it. Let’s say even though you get it, you end up getting a B+ in the class. Now let’s take someone else who sees the same reaction, memorizes whatever he needs to know, and leaves it after maybe 10 minutes or less. He gets an A in the class. Who’s going to do better once they hit the workforce? Probably you, and the reason for that is because you’re training yourself to make genuine attempts. No one cares about chemical reactions outside of chemists, but they do care about how dedicated you are to achieving your goals.
So try. Take notes and make your own study guides. Do quizzes *by yourself* (aka, no Quizlet, no Coursehero, no Chegg). Read Wikipedia articles on what you’re learning. Go to office hours. Ask questions in lecture. Trying is cool.