- Arianna Huffington/Getty Images
For many people, their college years are when they learn some of the most valuable lessons of their lives.
But often, it takes distance and some experience in the real world to realize what’s important.
Business Insider reached out to six successful people to ask them one question: What is something you wished you had known when you were in college?
Read on to see what they had to say:
Author and speaker Laura Vanderkam says she wished she had been more proactive about networking and taking advantage of the resources at her school.
- Lauren Vanderkam/Getty Images
“Simply being a student is a great networking opportunity. People are almost always willing to answer notes from students and meet with students in a way they won’t with ‘normal’ adults. I wish I’d been more proactive about reaching out to people I wanted to meet who were visiting my university, or had gone there, or had some other connection.
“College is also a great time to produce a portfolio of work that you can direct people to afterwards. I wrote a lot of articles for publications in college, but I was often writing quick stories to get a quick paycheck. Since I didn’t have the daily deadline pressure of a full-time job, that would have been a great time to write longer, deeply-researched pieces.
“I think anyone who plans to do creative work after school should really think about the resources you have available to you now that you won’t later. If you want to choreograph dances, it’s a lot easier to find a space at your university, recruit dancers, stage a show, and videotape it than it will be when you are out in the real world.”
Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global, wished she hadn’t let herself get burned out in college.
- Arianna Huffington/Getty Images
“I wish I’d known not to buy into the collective delusion that burnout is the necessary price we have to pay for success. I now know that I still would have achieved whatever success I have, but I would have done it with more joy, more happiness, and with less of a cost to my health and my relationships.”
Randy Garutti, the CEO of Shake Shack, wished he had diverged more from his curriculum. It also took time for him to appreciate the value of staying in one place.
“I had a packed schedule of core business classes at Cornell, yet always found that my favorite classes were electives like ‘Great Books’ where I read classics like Moby Dick and Shakespeare. Sometimes you just need to slow down, not worry so much about what you’re ‘supposed to be’ learning, and explore what else interests you. You might be surprised.
“Also, my first few years out of college were a fantastic whirlwind of living in Aspen, Maui, Seattle and then back to NYC. I’ll never forget when I was leaving Seattle for New York, my mentor said to me, ‘You’re too young and stupid to appreciate this today, but someday you’ll realize, real learning happens when you see the seasons change and you’re sitting in the same chair.’
“Eighteen years later, still in New York working with [Shake Shack founder] Danny Meyer and seeing what we’ve built, I know he was right.”
Former astronaut and motivational speaker Leroy Chiao wished he knew that it takes more than just hard work to find success.
- Leroy Chiao
“My parents were both originally from China, so although I was born and raised in the US, I was instilled with the idea that the important thing in life was to work hard and that rewards would come from that hard work.
“It was not until later that I really started to believe that a big factor in one’s success has to do with relationships and politics. Throughout my young life and college days, I thought that hard work and commitment were the things that would get me ahead.
“I wish I knew then that it is what you know, but it is also about the politics of a situation. This is true no matter if it very localized between a few people, or on a macro scale.”
Amy Bohutinsky, chief operating officer at Zillow, said you can learn something from every job you take, even if your career winds up somewhere else.
- Amy Bohutinsky
“I studied journalism in college, and had dreams of being a broadcast journalist and changing the world through my hard-hitting stories. I got a local news job out of school, and within a few years realized that covering hurricanes, fires, and traffic accidents wasn’t what I had dreamed it up to be. It felt like failure to me because I had only focused on one particular outcome. It was only years later that I realized how much I had learned in that job that colors the way I work today.
“In college, I wish I’d known that it’s less important to focus on what you want to be, and more important to focus on what you want to learn through experience. The most interesting and fulfilling careers take lots of left and right turns, and it takes curiosity, openness and occasional failure to create the best opportunities.”
Dan Lewis, cofounder and CEO of Convoy, said it’s OK if it takes a while to realize what kind of person you are.
- Dan Lewis
“You don’t figure out who you really are until your late 20s and early 30s. Don’t try to do it too soon. It is much more important to be headed in the right direction than to get there as fast as possible.”