MYLP: The Undie-years- Navigating the undergraduate years toward your profession, career and mission in life

Tighty wighties or boxers, or do you go for the boxer briefs?  How about the European butt huggers?  Undergraduate years are like experimenting with the pair of drawers that your going to be most comfortable with (I limit this to the Brothers, analogizing for sisters on this point seems highly inappropriate, even for me!)

If you went off to college then you should be focusing on your grades.  Make sure you understand your learning style (see Academic counseling or places like UCSD’s OASIS) so you can make the most of your learning experience.  You want to do good in your classes, so you get more free time and also get opportunities to intern (experience based learning is the reality of our economy today).  I say this bit of advice to all my mentee’s- don’t worry about CHOOSING A MAJOR the first year and half you are at college.  If you went to community college or to a four year institution, plan your first two years around the general education courses you need to take along with the transfer classes needed to go from a junior college to a university. (if this is not making sense go read my post on Senioritis)

The planning you do at this juncture is critical and as always be proactive by making these plans in consultation with your parents, counselors and if you are blessed with a mentor, use that person for input and advice.  Impress your parents at your maturity and desire to involve them in the process.  Regardless your transition from high school might be rough, so I always say play it safe and take the bare minimum of courses needed to be a full time student.  In the end you will want to socialize and do things that are new/fun and its best to manage all of that in a way that doesn’t affect your grades.

If you  are a science major, than you need more “well rounding”- if your in the humanities and social sciences, well so is like 60% of the folks at your school and most of them are unemployed or struggling or worse competing for very limited Masters and Ph.D. programs.  You will need to be “well rounded” regardless what your focus is.  Unless your absolutely brilliant or are majoring in the four careers that isn’t faced with unemployment- best you work with what your good at and build up some exceptional skills and experience.

This is where you need to find consistency, discipline and a passion toward an arch of activities that will

a) help you get transferable skills

b) provide life experiences and

c) help you gain an edge over your competitors.

Pre-med folks, honestly, everyone goes to volunteer at a “hospital”, so get smart and think about something unique.  Here is a hypothetical “pre-med student” to help you understand my point:

You like swimming- might of swam on your high school team maybe?- and you are pre-med, looking to stand out?  Go be a lifeguard, get advance first aid training and teach kids how to swim in your spare time.  That, right there is an arch that brings together your personal passion, your career aspirations and your academic work.  You get transferable skills, you showcase leadership skills, you indicate your ability to empathize and work with what you will find to be challenging experiences and if you’re lucky some European guy wearing a speedo will need mouth to mouth resuscitation and you, you my friend, will be the one to give it to him.  BAM!  You saved a person life and now can speak to that experience in your medical school application.  If you got your academics in order and you achieved decent success on your MCAT your a shoe in, hopefully, to an American Medical school.

What the hell am I talking about?  Well to really draw it down to simple, basically I have provided you with- an amazing resume, a means to keep your grades decent, showcase your ability to have consistency, discipline, focus and growth (its not like you will become a swimming instructor over night…); you get an amazing personal statement (While serving as a life guard I learned that my passion for swimming allowed me to save a persons life.  It is with this passion that I am applying to your EXTRAORDINARILY EXPENSIVE MEDICAL SCHOOL because you offer me the best opportunity toward my professional dreams of becoming a UNDER PAID AND SEVERELY UPSET PEDIATRIC SURGEON); you get a good source of “alternative, but strong” recommendation letters, you diversify your life experiences as long as you have some of the traditional stuff but all of this is grounded on your passion, that thing that really makes you happy in life.

So as college students dont fall into the trap of doing what Muhammad X and Fatima Y gone done, find an arch in your life that you can develop separately but bring neatly together toward your professional aspirations.  Also challenge yourself to do things that you might not initially feel like you are going to like, those make some of the best personal statements.  Don’t get peer pressured into cookie cutter learning styles and plans, go at your own pace and make it worthwhile- taking five years instead of four and doing a study abroad program is WORTHWHILE.  You working in a science lab playing with flies?  Well so are so many others, so you better work on trying to get published or do your own unique research.  If your pre-med consider not doing the hum drum Biology major, go into Economics if you like money and business and development.

Also, by January you need to figure out what you’re doing in the summer besides taking summer school.  You need to build your resume and resume opportunities fill up fast.  The first two years should be of planned-controlled exploring, but you should hone in on your major by the end of that period and more importantly have internship opportunities lined up that are going to help you in that major and toward a career goal.  Also always be flexible with your plans- shit happens, say Alhumdulillah and suck in some air and figure out how to move along.

You will want to socialize, you will face drama due to that experience.  The experience will put your morality to the test, along with your values and principles.  You will question everything in life eventually.  *****looking for yourself, feeling lost, confused, etc***** You will feel like a zombie (trust me, being an Undie is nothing like being in graduate school so don’t over emphasize your experience, the world will not cry for you).  You will most likely behave at your worst.  Your world might just utterly stop making sense.  You will talk fast all the time or will take a back seat, when you do talk you might always say the wrong things.  You will find new sense of pride in your culture, nationality, heritage or you will run screaming to the hills from all that.  Its to be expected- but you should find a way to manage this-finding-yourself-process or else you will loose yourself in it, but I do admit, its probably the best part of a college experience.

You need God.  You’re now in a place where all you have are the principles and values you were raised with.  All around you are different lifestyles, different norms and values that will challenge the core upon which you are built on.  You will either reject and create a bubble, reject and embrace this new world; stumble awkwardly through the mess or find a way to thrive while embracing your core values- that choice is also yours.

Take refuge in God, stay God conscience, be cognizant of peer pressure and anytime you feel like doing something you will regret don’t struggle with yourself, I say run to God and seek refuge with God.  Don’t ask for patience or perseverance or determination to overcome the tests and trials and temptations, ask God to grant you the grace to see yourself through the test, provide you with the Mercy of his refuge, acknowledge your desire (for X) so that you can ask God to provide you with what is better for your eternal life (REMEMBER THAT PART, this whole life thing isn’t about you being here, but rather it is for you to do your mission, God entrusted you with it, those things that count toward your afterlife).

Finally surround yourself with people who will bring the good out from you and encourage you to do the right things, you can’t shelter yourself, in fact, I highly recommend not doing that because when you get to working full time, you’re going to be in for a real surprise, but definitely don’t throw yourself out into the deep end of the lake when there are dangers you just are not aware of.

Disclaimer about the MSA- I just told you to hang out with Muslims, and part of college Muslim life is the Muslim Student Association (MSA).  I am an MSA-head, guilty of being a former vice president at my school and all sorts of other MSA activities-for-the-greater-good-of-the-Ummah.  While the MSA is amazing and necessary and critical, there are limits and there are just down right things that are more important than the MSA.  You should go to the MSA because its a community (you get great advice on classes, notes, tests, books…the company of good people); Ramadan and prayers on campus.  Halaqahs and other social events.  The MSA will enrich your life, will add drama to your life, will provide you with some of your best friends for life.  You will want to help out, eventually some of you will want to run for leadership positions- which is wonderful.  (I am speaking to the MYLP Alumni)

But all of you MYLP kids have a degree of activism that I believe should outgrow the MSA within the first two years of being there.  Do your thing and move on to other leadership positions outside of the “Muslim bubble”- dont get stuck there, make friends with other folks, be leaders in other causes, leave leadership of the MSA for the non-MYLP folks.

For those stumbling onto my blog who are Muslim, know this about the MSA: you need to figure out what the MSA means to you, what you have to offer the MSA, but more importantly what the MSA has to offer you.  If the equation does not equal out you should be asking yourself why are you involved in its activism and if the answer to that question is that “its fee’sabilillah brother” then I can’t help you.  You need to help yourself, nothing here or anywhere else will be of use to you because the blind answer to my question is not one that understands themselves very well.

Robert Frost has this oft repeated and very much cliched poem, I want you not to just know it, I want you to live it, experience it, embody it.  If you don’t want to be mediocre then I am telling you to be one with the poem.  If you want to survive, indeed, thrive in the new economy and the globalized world then you need to hustle, what I present to you above is your hustler manual.  Go forth and learn not to get by, but rather how to challenge yourself to become a better person, overcome those challenges (or learn from the failure) so that you can ultimately thrive as leaders.

Go back to the main MYLP blog post.

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7 thoughts on “MYLP: The Undie-years- Navigating the undergraduate years toward your profession, career and mission in life

  1. This was worth the wait, Affad! I’m really encouraged by your advice to not be afraid to take the “road less traveled” and not follow the cookie cutter lifestyle. Also what you said about taking chances that may not have considered before is good advice. Like the swimming scinerio, to find our own personal ‘niche’ that creates arche you speak of, should we just look into what interests us personally? Personally, I’m still uncertain about career goal, but I have an idea of the direction I want to go into insha’Allah, so what should I do? Just play off my hobbies, things I’m good at, etc and just let the arch create itself when I am finally certain about my career choice? Lastly, what’s your advice on staying on top of internship opportunities and such? I mean, what you said about knowing what you’re doing this summer by January is really good advice, but I think my problem is I fall behind and don’t realize that I need to be on top of things until it’s almost too late. And when I do realize that I need to get on top of things, I don’t know where to start looking for the opportunities you talk about, so how can I keep myself aware and alert so I can get involved with these resume building opportunities on time? IE, social networking, “knowing the right people”, researching?

    Yeah, so those are just the questions I have right now! Hope my comment was sufficient. Jazakhallah Khair for the post, it’s really helpful, for me at least, to hear from people like you and get advice that I can actually implement in my academic/ future career life insha’Allah! 🙂

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  2. Hey Rabee, happy it was useful for you. So your comment requires me to dissect my answer for you, especially since you asked some really good questions!

    First- should we just look into what interests us personally?

    So lots of kids are raised to do cookie cutter things- like soccer, or Quran school, or things like that. These are awesome and if your good at them keep doing them, but look at moving beyond just attending something or just playing. Like for instance you like soccer and think you might want to go into law- well there is a lot of stuff that you can do to get you there. Think about it and see if you can come up with a game plan, comment below with your ideas on the “regular stuff that can be made exceptional”. My thing is I think kids, not just parents, need to think outside the box and look at things from a view of what would be a safe but challenging activity. I think you need to find things that are a challenge, and I honestly believe that even if you fail at it the fact that you challenged yourself isn’t a matter of failure as long as you learned something and walked away with that “life lesson.” I can give you all sorts of examples but think of it from your perspective and try to find something you can get into that is your niche.

    2- Just play off my hobbies, things I’m good at, etc and just let the arch create itself when I am finally certain about my career choice?

    Like i said above, hobbies that are “regular” can be made into spectacular experiences that play toward your arch. Now the advice i gave my siblings when they were figuring things out in regards to career and school, I proffer it to you here- don’t focus on making your academic career purely geared toward your professional career. You might decide after three years that your not interested in being X but all you’ve done is taken classes that were geared for x. Well your now fully committed to pursuing a profession you realize isn’t your thing. So if by the beginning of your freshman college year you don’t know what career you want to pursue, or your going to community college, focus on taking the classes you need to fulfill your general education requirements, or if you at community college, to transfer to a four year bachelors program. Here is the kick, if you take this path, don’t just take the easy route by taking courses that are “easy”. You might figure out that you actually find bioengineering a lot of fun, but you only took the simple math courses…well, that sucks if you’re three years in because you just added an extra year. Be smart by keeping your options open, slowly you will start figuring out as you take courses where your mind is at, and as you do internships where your career path is developing, by then you can start narrowing your courses to that path. If you the lucky few, you already know what to do and you plan your courses and your internships with that in mind.

    finally- Lastly, what’s your advice on staying on top of internship opportunities and such?

    This one is hard, i still suffer from procrastination and bad planning! But the whole thing relies on you, you want it you have to get your act together. The “early bird gets the worm…” well its true of internships. There are ways to keep on top of this. First your schools career center has a host of resources on internships, unless you’re coming from a community college, then it varies from college to college. Find organizations that you like- CAIR, ACLU, CWTV…whatever it maybe- sign up for their email lists, check their employment websites. I guarantee you that they will have a section on “internships” and you can see what the requirements are, what is available and more importantly WHEN its available that way you can put it in your calendar for the following session you qualify for. Another way to find internships is websites like http://www.idealist.org or check out the UN’s requirement website. Lots of students dream of amazing internships and while they often “fall into your laps” it also requires planning, but more importantly knowing. Also another way to help you gain “transferable skills” is through volunteering opportunities. Again don’t look for things that are like going into the hospital to say “Hi” to patients once every four months- be committed and consistent if you do things like this so you have meaningful experience. When I interview I usually can tell when a person is BS’ing me about their experience, how? Well a meaningful experiences illicit more details and examples, people feel confident about relating what they are telling me, they are able to express the “skills” they used and the really good candidates can relate how those skills are transferable to the internship or job they are applying for.

    Yes, its also about knowing the right people. But what most students fail with is understanding that getting business cards and brown nosing aren’t “knowing the right people”, worse, this not really using “your network”. You need to build your network, not everyone in your network who is going to help you is an Executive Director…understand? Also you need to learn to communicate with your network on different levels- 1. personal level 2. group level and 3. as a member of a network. Also you need to get comfortable with cold calling/meeting. What does that mean, you wonder? well, for example you hear about this amazing person who’s doing awesome work on helping children orphans become self sufficient adults. You want to do work like this, what do you do? Well the first step is to send an introductory email to the person- maybe they respond, maybe they don’t- but be specific in your questions you send, don’t just be a groupie and more important recognize that this person is a busy person, so don’t waste their time by doing your research. Okay, you do that but what else? Well use Facebook and LinkedIn, you can identify other people doing similar work, or people who know the person you are mesmerized by. This is where you use your network, reach out and start working your contacts. I really can go on and on, because this whole topic is actually a post unto itself and there are tons of books on it. But i hope this gives you an idea of how to go about doing this sort of stuff. Its not something that comes naturally and unfortunately not something that is really taught, so i know it might seem daunting but like i said, there are a whole lot of books written on this that are great self-help resources.

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  3. Thank youuuu so so so sooooo much, Affad! You’ve answered any questions I had on this topic! 😀 I’ll be implementing your advice and thinking about what you said immediately!

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    1. no prob! really happy its helping people! honestly i didn’t think ya’all wanted the info so badly, i feel bad i’ve kept it to myself and only shared on a one on one basis when asked. Share with people, start a education revolution!

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