Dear 1st year me…
I’m officially done school! My last exam got cancelled basically which is a huge win because I am suffering from major senioritis. Though we don’t graduate until June, the hard parts are all over now and I wanted to take this opportunity to look back on my time at Waterloo — all the ups and downs. It hasn’t always been rainbows and sunshine (I’m kinda glad that I’m done) but now that the end is in sight and it’s finally sinking in, I’m going to miss it a lot. I hope that someone reading this can learn from my mistakes and apply my learnings to their own life. Thank you to everyone who has made this journey so memorable — thank you for all your support and guidance along the way.
Dear 1st year me,
What an exciting time in your life! Moving out, having to find new friends, meeting up with old friends who also choose Waterloo… the anticipation really builds a high expectation for this next chapter of your life. Looking back on first year, these are the top 5 takeaways.
1) Don’t stress about what everyone else is doing — I feel like everyone says this but it’s so true. In first year, I based everything I was doing on what other people were doing, from what clubs to join to what jobs I should be interested in. Of course, you don’t really know any better in 1st year and it seems safest to follow the beaten path. I can still remember crying because I didn’t make it into the interview round of summer conference applications for one of the Big 4 accounting firms. Did I actually want to work there? Not really. But everyone else around me was getting interviews! In the end, I got another summer conference offer and accepted a job at EY but left after 1 co-op term. I laugh when thinking back to that dramatic and emotional night but also it makes me sad a bit — the environment I was in made me think I wanted something so much that it devastated me to the core when I didn’t get it. I did all the right things (networking with the partners, connecting with upper years, doing lots of extracurriculars, having a 90+ average) and still things didn’t work out — it was an important lesson for me to learn! I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and this mild setback (which seemed like a looming disaster) was nothing more than a pebble on the road in the bigger picture of things. EY was amazing place to start my career and I look back on those days fondly.
2) Make the effort to connect with faculty — they can be scary at times and some have a reputation of making kids cry but ultimately the vast majority just want what’s best for the students. You’ll have the occasional prof who’s out to get everyone with 40% averages and ridiculous midterms but that’s just part of university life. I know it’s a struggle to go to office hours (I hated walking back and forth from class to residence) but it pays off! If you have questions on course material, DEFINITELY go. If you want to learn more about the prof’s background or just want to chat, still go but skip if you’re very busy.
Some profs who have made a huge difference in my life and I’m so thankful that I took the initiative to reach out and that they reciprocated with nurturing advice and guidance. Thank you for being supportive and honest through the ups and downs, going beyond the duties of a professor to become trusted mentors.
3) Marks are important — a lot of people and “LinkedIn influencers” have posted or shared stories about how marks aren’t everything and they don’t really matter. Looking back, I think that I stressed about marks too much (as the only child in a Singaporean household, my parents were surprisingly laissez-faire but that didn’t stop me from putting pressure on myself) but the work ethic and habits that I developed in 1st year ultimately served me well through 4.5 long and hard years of AFM. Marks aren’t everything — this is correct. Marks, extracurriculars, job experience, and volunteer initiatives all play their part in landing you a job but just marks won’t do you much good.
However, they are valuable in 2 ways
- Getting you in the door for an interview
- Enabling you to have more leeway later in university when shit actually starts to get tough
My friends and I have been chatting lately about how much more we would have treasured our time on campus if we had known that the last time would be more than a year ago (August 2019 for me). We would put off hanging out with friends, going out, having parties and generally relaxing more because we wanted to maximize our enjoyment in 4th year, with jobs already lined up and our degrees basically completed. This dream was unfortunately disrupted due to the pandemic so I guess what I’m saying is…. don’t let this be you!!! Enjoy, work hard, study hard, and relax in moderation as we don’t know what is in store for us. The phrase “times of uncertainty” has been tossed around a lot since COVID-19 started but really all times are times of uncertainty and should be treated as such.
4) Keep a good balance of friends in your program and ones in other programs — super important! When I first started at Waterloo, I mainly stuck to my friends from high school that I already knew, since it was way easier to grow closer to friends I already had than try to make all new friends. I wouldn’t say that it was hard for me to make friends, but it was hard to let my guard down and trust people in my program, especially since AFM has a reputation for being competitive and cutthroat at times. However, I’m glad that I opened up and let myself be vulnerable and real around them because they’re the ones who were experiencing the same struggles and obstacles at the same times as I was — after all, how was I supposed to complain to my engineer friends about a dude I didn’t like in this club that only AFM people know without also giving backstory about 10 other people who were in the story??? What CS person would look at a job and say it had good work-life balance if it’s 7–7when most startup and tech jobs have a 9–5 expectation? Having different perspectives broadened my views but my AFM friends provided a shoulder to lean on when course work was piling up.
I’m so grateful to have found friends who are equal parts supportive, fun, crazy, smart, and real. Friends are one asset class that I strongly believe you don’t have to diversify too much — a few quality picks will go a long way to lift you in the ups and the downs. :)
5) As much as a company / club you’re interviewing for is evaluating you, you should evaluate them too — until about the tail end of 3rd year, I’d say that I was willing to do whatever it took to get the job that I wanted and honestly for all the wrong reasons. I never stopped to think whether the job was a fit for me because I was so focused on proving that I was a fit for the job. I now see that this mentality is near-sighted for 2 main reasons
- You must know your own worth
- You reap just what you so-wwwwwwww (*Adele voice*)
Of course, it’s hard to know what your value to an organization is when you have limited experience and no guidance. However it’s ultimately this good fit, the achievement of “flow” where challenge meets skill, that makes a job fulfilling and engaging. I guess what I’m saying is that I no longer feel like I need to act a certain way to impress or ingratiate myself with the company I’m recruiting at because it’s a two-way street: I am assessing them as much as they are considering me. But let me also note here that professionalism is pretty good practice — being yourself doesn’t mean throwing slang terms around or calling your interviewers “bro” or “dawg” or messaging professional mentors with “xD” (this actually happened to a friend of mine).
Onto my second reason: I strongly believe that you get what you put into any experience, be it work, academic, or personal. And this isn’t just a “me” thing — I’ve seen it from many peers in a common narrative where someone is disappointed because they didn’t get that elusive investment banking job or elite PE firm (I’m speaking of co-op / internships here — full-time is a different ball game). What separates winners from losers, in my mind, is how they deal with this setback: There are those who let it spill into their lives from then on, colouring their experiences, and there are those who shrug it off and commit themselves to learning as much as they can. I would argue that someone who makes the most out of a no-name, lower tier work experience (person A) is better equipped to achieve their career goals than someone who has a big, well-known bank on their resume (person B) because person A wants it more. They have proven themselves to be resourceful and resilient facing less-than-ideal circumstances and this an important trait that is often overlooked.
And that just about sums it up! Thank you Waterloo for these past 4.5 years — it was definitely the right decision. I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life but I’m a bit sad to be leaving this one behind, especially without a proper sendoff due to COVID times. Time to drop a cheesy, overused quote.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”