Lifelong Learning

I know what you are thinking; yet another story on the lifelong learning one acquires in colleges. I will just be reiterating the stuff you have heard a hundred times; how college creates everlasting friendships, refines communication skills, promotes self-discovery, blah-blah-blah. This story is different. This story presents the lifelong learning skills one acquired in college that are rarely discussed in college classrooms or written about in academic journals. It will also not be about the stuff written in college student blogs and tweets. You know, the stuff about sex and partying. This isn’t about this either. This will be the in-between stuff.

For starters, college teaches how to be resourceful. (I would prefer to say cheap, but resourceful is a classier word.) As a working adult, gone are the days when you stare at the cash machine trying to coax out an extra $20 bill that isn’t there. In college, and the period shortly after, most likely, you learn to—make that you have to—live on the minimum. That’s just life. The upside is that it forces you to be resourceful. Rather than go anywhere on Friday night to quench your thirst, you have to find the places that offer the cheapest beer. They’re out there, you just have to do some homework. Big date on the weekend, again, you cannot afford to go anywhere. You need to do your homework and find the place that is both fun and cheap. Perhaps that’s why pizza places do so well in college towns.

The list is endless. Chances are you are not driving a new car. You have to learn how to make that hand me down work. And if you don’t have a car, you have probably mastered the local mass transit system or Uber. You know how to get from Point A to Point B on the cheap. Clothing? Jewelry? Cheap but fashionable. Food choices? Cheap. Transportation home for the holidays? Cheap. Laundry? You’ve probably figured out how to minimize this without looking like a hobo. You know which shirts you can get away with multiple wears. And jeans? The gift that keeps on giving.  Levi Strauss had that in mind when he invented them. The miners he was selling to didn’t have time for laundry.

That being said, there are probably things you don’t scrimp on. One would put concert tickets and major sporting events in that category. Even if you get the tickets for free somehow, there always seems to be money for the expensive food, beer, and tee shirts.

College is also a time of experimentation; not necessarily through drugs but through food. The home cooked meals of yesteryear are gone. The college cafeteria, while most likely decent, gets old quickly. Time to discover foods you can prepare on the cheap probably using nothing more than a hot plate or microwave. Of course, Ramen noodles are king here. It’s doubtful mom regularly cooked up pots of this stuff but now it’s practically a staple. Some say it’s an acquired taste. You acquire a taste for it as soon as you realize how broke you are.

You learn to enjoy “instant” products too. Instant mac and cheese and popcorn come to mind. A dairy purest would probably scoff at instant mac and cheese, but college eating has no room for purists. It’s all about survival. Besides, what you may lose in quality you gain in the fact that you are still young enough to consume large amounts of sodium without having to take pills for it. So, I say enjoy.

You also become an expert on the cereal aisle. It’s all there for you to choose from too. There is sweet and not sweet. Healthy-ish and not healthy. There is fruity and nutty. Cheap and not so cheap. Of course, more than likely, you become connoisseur of the cheap. And this is perfect. It combines the resourceful skill with the food expert skill. It gets even better, there are often coupons and “Buy One Get One Free Deals” a plenty. Boxed cereal has a big upside, too. It does not need refrigeration, it’s easy to store, and it can be eaten for any meal period. This includes in between classes, waiting for the clothes to dry, and satisfying the late night munchies. It’s practically perfect. Try them all. Enjoy.

Last, but not least (stay tuned for the sequel to this), college teaches you how to get by on little sleep. This is a skill that comes in quite handy if you have a late night at the office followed by an early morning. Or, perhaps you have an overnight flight for a business trip. You don’t sleep very well on airplanes so you need to be ready for the morning meeting without much sleep. If you do really well, you have college to thank.

The lack of sleep in college phenomenon, although an important skill, is something that often defies logic. Students often say they sacrifice sleep for study, but I disagree. I think that most of the time students sacrifice sleep to hang out with friends and talk about nonsense. Whatever the case, learning to get by on little sleep is a tradition that seems to get passed along to the next generation of college students. Don’t think of it as being constantly tired and draggy, think of it as a lifelong skill you acquiesced to develop while in college.

Time spent in college gives you much to be thankful for. Besides a degree (hopefully) and the soft skills you hear so much about, and the party skills, you read so much about, we learn how to spend, eat, and stay awake. They might not seem like important lifelong skills at the time, but who among us, the millions of college alums fighting the battle for their own type of survival,  would think otherwise?


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