by Kevin Neeld

Lazy.  Needy.  Helpless.  Incompetent.  These are just a few of the unpleasant words used to describe my generation.  During the first several conversations with critics of various ages, I met their censure with justifications, examples of exceptions, and criticisms of their own generations!  But as I heard these same words popping up more and more, I shut my mouth and thought about it.  They’re right.  All of them.  There are no justifications for laziness, neediness, helplessness, and incompetence.  There are always exceptions; that’s irrelevant.  The truth is that the number of impressive students is drastically out-weighed by the number of under-motivated, underachieving, directionless, and generally mediocre students.

Get an education, not a degree.  What’s the difference?  Education is a never-ending process of professional and intellectual advancement.  A degree is a piece of paper that says you went to school.  I have been impressed with the number of college students that have been able to get a degree without getting an education.  Unfortunately, many college students are under the impression that their degree will get them a job.  Their reasoning is logical: “I spent over $100,000 on an education, I should receive a quality, high paying job.”  Think about how many people graduate from college.  A bachelor’s degree just isn’t what it used to be; it’s not nearly as impressive as it once was.  I don’t want to give the impression that a college degree is unimportant.  It is, but if you’re expecting your piece of paper to get you a job, I strongly urge you to reconsider your way of thinking.  Few degrees immediately qualify you for a desirable job.  A few exceptions may, under certain circumstances, include degrees in areas like nursing, accounting, education, and engineering.  The idea for this article was born after watching dozens of recent graduates from various fields unsuccessfully search for jobs, curious as to why it was so hard to find a good job now that they’ve graduated.

Through my four years as an undergraduate and one year as a graduate student, I witnessed one common pattern.  An overwhelming majority of students are not fulfilling their potential, and seemingly have no interest in doing so.  I hope this is just a consequence of my particular surroundings, but fear it is not.  I frequently encounter students that attempt to maximize the amount of time they have for Halo or Madden everyday, while avoiding academic probation.  Sound like someone you know?

College is no longer regarded as four years of career preparation; instead, college is typically viewed as an extension of high school, a necessary inconvenience.  I have to admit, taking classes like psychology, philosophy, sociology, and linguistics as a health behavior management major made it difficult for me to see how college was preparing me for a career.  Many students share my viewpoint on these seemingly irrelevant classes, and understandably stop going.  Unfortunately, this has devastating consequences on overall academic performance and daily habits.

The reality is a degree with a good GPA by itself may get you an interview, but never a job.  An interview provides you an opportunity to display your knowledge, passion for the industry, communication and leadership skills.  In many cases, these skills are developed outside of the classroom.  Unfortunately, even if you’re a fantastic student, a college education lacking in career-developing extracurricular activities may not lead to the job you want.  With most jobs, you will need to pay your dues.  No one starts at the top.  However, if you are proactive throughout your education and make the changes detailed later, you will find yourself starting in the middle, in a more meaningful and personally fulfilling position, at a higher pay rate.

Think to yourself, are you doing everything you can to fulfill your potential, both academically and professionally?  It amazes me how many students are willing to actively pursue mediocrity.  Strive for excellence!

Remember, a degree without an education is nothing more than an extremely expensive piece of paper that says you should be smarter than you are!

Now, despite the things being said about our generation, all hope is not lost.  Despite a slow start, it is never too late to turn your life around.

Change your mind state. Be proactive. Take responsibility for everything.  If something goes wrong, professionally, academically or in a relationship, look at yourself for the problem, not elsewhere.  If you want something, go get it.  Don’t stop until you succeed.  Success is often preceded by dozens, hundreds, and even thousands of failures.  Don’t be discouraged.  Learn from your mistakes.  If you quit, you’ll spend the rest of your life wondering if you quit one opportunity before success!  Look up the definition of proactive, write it on a piece of paper and tape it in a place you can see everyday.  A proactive person is one who will always be successful.

Start to take pride in your work. I once asked a class of mine if anyone would feel comfortable reading their papers aloud.  One girl actually exclaimed, “Oh no!”  Would this be your reaction?  Think about it.  If you think you’re work is terrible and you don’t want to read it, why would your professor?!  Starting going to every class of every course you sign up for.  Most classes are at least $1,000 per credit.  A 3-credit course typically meets for about 25 one-hour classes.  Do the math.  This equates to around $120 that you throw away every time you skip a class.  It boggles my mind that students who take out loans for their education still skip classes.  You add the interest rates that you’re paying onto the amount of money you’re flushing and it adds up to a much more unpleasant cost!  College is still the only place where people are interested in getting less for their money.

Get to know your professors. Professors rarely spend their entire academic career in one institution.  Why is this important?  They are incredibly well-networked.  Take advantage of this!  Professors have a ton of knowledge, a ton of experience, and know a ton of people.  Who better to learn from?  Volunteer your time for a few professors that are in areas you find especially interesting and exceed their expectations of you.  Not only will they be willing to assist you with breaking into the workforce, but also they’ll likely be willing to write you a letter of recommendation and pull some strings for you.

Intern! I can’t overstress the value of interning.  If you find that your internship is a completely miserable experience and that the work is dreadful, GREAT!  Now you know not to waste any more time in that field and you can switch to something that you’re passionate about!  Inquire about internships your freshman year and start interning immediately.  Most internships are unpaid.  All internships pay for themselves in the long run.  Complement your classroom education with something more applied and you’ll be infinitely more marketable when you graduate.  Frequently, you’ll have several job offers through the internships that you’ve done.  Resist the urge to stay in one place for all four years.  Hop around; get as many different experiences as you can.  Notice the exceptions I listed in the beginning—nursing, accounting, education, and engineering—all typically have internships built into their academic programs.

Take care of yourself physically. As a fitness professional, this is naturally a pet peeve of mine.  The three biggest areas of concern are sleep, dietary habits, and exercise.  Individual sleep needs vary.  Some people can get 4 hours of sleep a night and feel great.  However, MOST people should sleep at least 7 hours a night, and if you’re extremely active, closer to 9 hours.  If you’re like most athletes (and many non-athletes) and you spend the first two of these hours staring at the ceiling, this doesn’t count as sleeping time!  The word “diet” has become associated with some short-term limitation of some specific nutrient or food.  A diet is everything you eat, not a short-term change!  Eat pizza and ice cream?  That’s a diet.  Eating the Atkins way?  That’s a diet, too!  Thousands of books have been written on eating habits.  Most students have a general idea of how they should be eating and know they aren’t eating the right way.  A few quick changes that will have a huge impact on the way you feel are: 1) Eat a quality protein source with every meal; 2) Only eat foods high in carbohydrates in the 3 hours following exercise; 3) Eat high quality fat sources coming from natural peanut butter, nuts, and fish oils; 4) Don’t eat a lot of fat and carbohydrates in the same meal; and 5) Eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal.  The exercise recommendations continue to drop to accommodate an overly lethargic society.  Get some form of activity everyday.  Intense activity for at least 30 minutes, at least 4 days a week is preferred.  If it helps, hire a trainer/coach to give you direction and to help hold you accountable.

Read for at least an hour a day. This is on top of your reading for schoolwork.  Find other books that are not required by your professors, but are related to your field, and read them for at least an hour, everyday.  This is the best way to become a standout in your field.  An hour a day means 7 hours a week.  This equates to about a book every 3 weeks.  A book every 3 weeks equates to about 17 books a year.  This equates to about 68 books throughout a college career.  Think about that.  If you’ve read 68 books that advance your knowledge in your field, and your peers don’t, who is going to have a more impressive interview?  Everyone has a free hour in his or her day; they may just not realize it.  Try reading right before you go to bed; you may find it helps you sleep better.

Save money! Every time you get paid for anything, save at least 10%.  Put it in an account and don’t touch it.  This is a fantastic habit to develop.  Typically when people start to make more money, they start to spend more.  This leads to an unfortunate cycle of earning and spending that never leads to any wealth accumulation.  Wealth accumulation is important because it allows for financial independence.  Don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck?  Start developing this habit immediately.

In Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon says, “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.”  He’s right.  Reading and memorizing the material in your books is essential, but it’s never enough.  Colleges and universities provide extensive networking and interning opportunities that a library card would not.  Take advantage of those now, and reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

Kevin Neeld, BSc, MS, CSCS is the Director of Athletic Development at Endeavor Fitness in Sewell, NJ and the author of Hockey Training University’s “Off-Ice Performance Training Course,” a must-have resource for every hockey program.  Through the application of functional anatomy, biomechanics, and neural control, Kevin specializes in guiding hockey players to optimal health and performance. Kevin developed an incredible ice hockey training membership site packed full of training programs, exercise videos, and articles specific to hockey. For a FREE copy of “Strong Hockey Core Training”, one of the sessions from his course, go to his hockey training website.

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