5 Things They Don’t Teach You At Uni: A Letter To My 19-Year-Old Self

This one’s for all the students out there.

If you ask me, I’ve never been a fan of traditional education models. Depending on what you study, curriculum is often outdated — especially if you’re pursuing a career in digital marketing. (I see the irony here, as I write this piece for Monash University — one of the oldest and noblest institutions out there.)

BUT there ARE many gifts that tertiary education can give you — and hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back, here’s what I’d candidly tell my 19-year-old self.

1. Uni friendships profoundly shape your career

The people you meet in class are more than just drinking buddies and weekend hook-ups. These people become business partners, colleagues, clients and customers. You go through the awkward transition from graduation to real life at the same time too — meaning you benefit from an invaluable sounding board and source of inspiration throughout your journey.

Never underestimate the power of these relationships; they WILL influence you.

The power of friendships. Here I am in Argentina with Julian Cole and Rick Liston in 2007. More than 10 years later, we’re still in touch.

Dear Natalie,

First of all, kudos to you for ditching Adelaide and having the balls to move to a city you’d never visited. It was a brave decision that forced you to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends.

In an effort to meet people, you join every club on campus during orientation week that offers free booze. Your formal roles as 1) President of the ski club, and 2) Editor of the Caulfield campus student magazine, teach you more than just drinking games. It forges strong connections with like-minded friends — and those people have become the movers-and-shakers that you speak with (and look up to) today. Such peeps include Julian Cole, who wrote the world’s first thesis on Facebook and now leads global campaigns from New York, Joshua Strawczynski, who successfully runs his own digital agency from an island in the Caribbean, Rick Liston, who became a TV celebrity in Shanghai after almost winning ‘The Amazing Race: China Rush’, Chris Garbacz, who launched his own tech startup for photographers here in Melbourne, and Siobhan Frost, who founded her own creative agency in London. You also make plenty of friends that are hardworking employees, and the insights they share on different businesses is priceless.

Get out there and join the committee of a club. Not only do you create memorable friendships and not-so-memorable nights out, but you equip yourself with leadership, teamwork and organisational skills.

2. Ps get degrees

If you don’t get a high distinction for every subject, don’t worry. Ps (meaning ‘Passes’) are totally ok, as long as you’re getting out there. Don’t get me wrong, I still think you should earn your qualification — but equip yourself with life experience outside of campus simultaneously. It goes a long way.

I’m proud of studying what moved me, rather than studying subjects that lead to a defined career. It has given me a raft of transferrable skills I apply today in my business.

Natalie, I know you only want to choose subjects that run Tues to Thurs so you can have a cheeky 4-day weekend all year round. Some people will say you’re lazy, but in truth, you become more active than ever.

You spend your weekends running wakeboard camps, which teaches you leadership skills. You also work on the student magazine, which teaches you time-management skills. You have a part-time job, which teaches you how to navigate workplace conflict.

You watch a lot of documentaries and weird arthouse films, which teaches you to think outside the square. And you go to (a lot of) parties, which teaches you valuable networking skills.

3. Study what moves you

Ask any HR professional today, and they’ll tell you that ‘T’ shaped skill sets are in demand. A narrow field no longer gets you where you want to go (or leads to a fulfilling career); explore what you’re passionate about, find a niche, then develop a range of transferrable skills.

Natalie, congratulations on what you’ve achieved. Who would’ve thought you’d have a growing business and an amazing team of energetic writers that support you every day!?!

You like glossy magazines. You like psychology. You like the arts and French. So you decide to take a questionable mish-mash of subjects that don’t align — but that’s ok.

What you don’t know is that the history of the printing press, combined with how people think and make decisions, combined with ethical dilemmas and popular culture, all contributes to you becoming the female role model in the media and communications industry that you are today.

What’s even more exciting is that I can tell you that a whole new wave of jobs is here and upon us. Forget traditional roles — for example, we have ‘Chief Happiness Officers’ for employee retention and ‘Speech Scientists’ for artificial intelligence. The future is full of possibilities.

Encourage your friends to study what excites them. I promise it will pay off. I’ve seen too many people in their late 20s ditch certifications in things that don’t interest them, wishing they’d stuck with their gut earlier on in life.

4. Your professors are way cooler than you think

Believe it or not, your professors could become your most powerful allies in the future. They are always happy to offer advice. Plus, they know a lot of people (you never know who they could introduce you to).

Professors can be boring at times, but they are human beings that love sharing knowledge — so take advantage, and soak up as much as you can.

See? Professors can be cool. Here I am with Frank Chamberlin at a 50’s Hollywood party. Other than teaching and dressing up for social occasions, he also loves coffee and footy (he even used to umpire for the VFL).

Natalie, I know you aren’t captivated by all of your teachers. But you should stay in touch with the cool ones — like Chris Canty, for example. Did you know he develops an app called The Happiest Hour, which has been downloaded 120,000 times with more than 6-million views a year, and counting?

You will learn the importance of mentors four years after graduation. You’re launching your own business and serendipitously meet Frank Chamberlin (who lectures at Monash University). Even though Frank is never your teacher, he becomes a trusted peer for almost 10 years. He’s incredibly generous with his time and opens many doors that lead you to your current mid-30s self. Imagine all the opportunities you could be presented with by nurturing these kinds of relationships early on! FYI, other staff members from the Department of Marketing known for providing invaluable guidance and support to students include Peter Wagstaff and Paul Loughran.

5. Resilience is a skill you will practise, time and time again

Things don’t always go to plan, but don’t beat yourself up; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If there’s anything you learn at uni, it should be to develop enough confidence to roll with the punches. Everything will be alright.

Natalie, the last thing I have to tell you is that despite your education in the classroom, life will always stand in the way. It might be other people. It might be the economy. It might even be yourself.

One of the first hurdles you’re going to overcome during your studies is the reality that working in fashion isn’t for you. Having dreamed of being Editor of Vogue since a child, you’re going to score yourself a job helping out backstage at fashion weeks while studying. Sounds glamourous, but it’s really not. The people you work with are pretentious, dramatic and superficial, and the hours are long. But don’t worry — you turn your attention to other things. And you still manage to get a job in magazine publishing after uni.

The next major hurdle you’ll overcome is the Global Financial Crisis. After 1.5 years of backpacking and working in ski fields, bars and restaurants around the world, you come home to Melbourne and can’t get a job. But this is a blessing in disguise; you decide to go out on your own, and look where you are now!

Other hurdles include older professionals, who will patronise you for being too young, as well as demanding clients, who will push you around. You don’t deserve to feel like an imposter or a slave. Just be yourself and do your best — that’s the best you can do.

Finally, the worst hurdles are the personal ones — like illnesses, deaths, and painful relationship break-ups you’ll go through that will prevent you from bringing your A-game to work. Although your future self is yet to start a family of her own, she’s terrified how it will impact her life-work balance. But dusting one’s self off and getting back up on your feet is a privilege — it makes you a stronger person. You should be excited about what the rest of your life holds.

Yourself in 2018

This article is my own honest opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Monash University or its staff.

Originally published at https://www.monash.edu.

About the author: Natalie Khoo built her business in Australia off the back of the 2008 recession. Having made all the mistakes since day one, she’s passionate about sharing her learnings with other business owners on a similar journey. Natalie’s career highlights include taking a 3-month scuba diving vacation in 2019 and not checking her emails once. She travels between Melbourne, Australia, and Austin, Texas, with her partner James.

To find out more: Visit the Avion website or follow Natalie on Instagram.




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Natalie Khoo

Natalie Khoo

How to do a stint on the other side of the world, build a business, cancel your wedding & not kill your partner during a global pandemic & more. 🇦🇺🇺🇸🇬🇧

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