I’d be hard-pressed to say I have my life figured out – I really don’t.
After bouncing around through several programs, I found my way to the School of Communication, and consequently, the Co-op program. Fast forward a few years and we land in the present day; Still a fair bit away from crossing the stage, but with a breadth of professional experience three very different companies that I’ve had the opportunity to work.
So why did I put my academics on pause for so many months?
In short, it reframed what I wanted to get from my post-secondary studies. In less than three years' time, I have done project work for a non-profit organization, championed work-integrated learning in a higher education environment, and even supported nationwide internal communications for a multinational software company.
Through the Co-op process, I’ve learned a tremendous amount – more than I can recollect through several journals. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution that I can share, but perhaps you may find these three lessons I’ve learned from twenty-four months on the job to be helpful.
1. Keep an Open Mind and Stay Curious
Simply, you won’t have all the answers. Even after two years, I find myself with more questions than answers, but that is all part of the learning process. Turn to people on your team when you don’t understand – asking for clarity is far from a sign weakness. Often, people are happy to answer your questions and appreciative that you’re curious and engaged with your work.
However, that does not mean you need to lock yourself into interacting with the same three people for the rest of your working semester. Find opportunities to use some of your other skills – often, your interactions with people outside your team can lead to interesting collaborations that you may have otherwise not known about. Welcome the challenge and embrace new opportunities with open arms; This can be one of the best ways to get noticed around the office.
2. Understand the Importance of Humility
We are not perfect in any way, shape, or form – and that’s perfectly okay. Whether you are a student, or a well established professional, mistakes are bound to happen. Understanding humility and learning from your mistakes is an important skill that applies to all facets of life. It’s easy to point fingers at who is at fault for a problem, but is it productive to solving the actual problem? Perhaps, but it takes a bigger person to step back and look at the grand scheme – understanding why something went wrong, and pinpointing what to improve for the next challenge is a crucial skill.
Pause, reframe, and adapt to the situation – shaping your worth based on your mistakes is a dangerous pitfall counterproductive to your growth. Not every situation will be comfortable, and you may find yourself in a vulnerable state, but when we find comfort in our discomfort, that’s when we are most open to learning the most.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Time is scarce when you are in the field – gone are the days of staying up all night during the semester-end crunch. Finding time to take care of yourself is valuable, imperative, and often overlooked. It is okay to take time for yourself – do something in your day that makes you smile, even if it’s something small. Over the past two years, there have been numerous times that I look back and wish I paid better attention to my own health, both physically and mentally.
Undoubtedly, this is likely an important chapter of your life and you want to make the most of your time to build a strong network and gather as much experience as possible. But if you are not in a poor state of being, how are you going to take on these new opportunities? Put yourself at the forefront – it isn’t selfish to treat yourself to a rest day to recharge.
Onward to Lifelong Learning
There are more lessons I’ve learned in my few short years in Co-op than I could ever share in alone article. If I could go back and sit down with my younger self for an open conversation, these would be the three lessons I would share. Perhaps your journey may be starkly different, and everything I’m saying isn’t applicable – that is perfectly okay. I think what we all agree on, however, is that we use opportunities like the Co-op program to learn, grow, and become the best versions of ourselves as we can.