28 July 2017

GRIT: The essential approach to living a meaningful University life

High school to University has been one of the biggest transitions in my life. In my first few days at University, I faced a dilemma. On one hand, I had the freedom to design my schedule, with an infinite amount of available choices; but on the other hand, it was my first time thinking about my unpredictable future, so I wasn't sure about my first step. In face of uncertainty, I was distracted by novelty and normality, and forget to ask myself what I really wanted. I simply didn't know how to approach university. 

However, it was when I started applying the concept of GRIT that I gradually discovered my real passions and persevered through uncertainties and setbacks. According to the renowned psychologist, Angela Duckworth, GRIT has four elements: interest, practice, purpose and hope. 

Explore your interests. 

It is perfectly normal to start off not knowing your passion, but your interests are a good starting point. Through studies, clubs/societies, programs and work experience, we can experiment and develop our interests. In my first year of university, I initially wanted to major in Marketing, so I became the marketing leader of a university club. Soon, however, I realised it wasn't for me, and I switched to International Business, which again wasn't for me.

Last summer, I did my first internship through the University's Industry Placement Program, from which I developed a strong interest in the intersection of technology and business. That's when I decided to specialise in Business Information Systems, my second biggest passion.

My main passion, however, was discovered through my elective units: Psychology. Thomas Edison once said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work". Failing is like the sculptor Michelangelo chipping away excess stones of a stone until he finds David in his sculpture. Keep testing your interests, learn what ISN'T your passions from your failures, and you will eventually find your real passion.

Deliberately practice. 

We like to enjoy the present moment of doing what we're interested in. However, deliberate practice is about being better at what we're passionate about, by stretching ourselves beyond our current limit as if we're training a muscle. I previously learnt classical guitar, studying it for 10 years, and I practiced by playing the same musical piece over and over again. Real musicians, however, deliberately separate each musical piece into small sections and practice them individually until perfection.

I received 35% for my first university assignment, mainly due to my English writing skills, but since psychology emphasised precise use of language, I was willing to simultaneously improve my English whilst learning psychology. I also read many psychology books, and was willing to study a psychology elective unit on research design and statistics to help me better evaluate psychology journal articles. I was willing to deliberately practice psychology, but not classical guitar. To me, psychology is my passion and classical guitar is my hobby.

Management guru, Peter Drucker, best explains the purpose of deliberate practice: "focus on one's strength and dismiss one's weakness unless they hamper full deployment of your strengths".

Find your purpose. 

How does your passion positively impact others? An author may have good ideas, but unless they're manifested in a book that fulfils the needs of others, it may be more of a hobby than a passion. To find your purpose, remember to think creatively. Many people ask me why not consider becoming a psychologist. My response is that the purpose I see through my passion in psychology is to make psychology more accessible for improving human wellbeing, and I see this opportunity through technology and commercialisation. I recently found a start-up internship through listening to a podcast, which provides an online platform for corporates to improve employee wellbeing. My work has been a combination of Business Information Systems and Psychology. Steve Jobs' creativity, which came from the creative combination of electronics and liberal arts, is an inspiration to me.

Maintain hope. 

Believe tomorrow will be better than today. One way is to develop a growth mindset. Rather than thinking yourself as either good or bad, believe that you always can strive to become better, no matter how good you already are.

Another way is to receive social support. Share your interests and passions with others who are willing to listen. More importantly, seek professional support. I recommend three types of people. Firstly, your role models. What strengths could you learn from them? Reading books is the simplest and cheapest way to learn from innumerable role models. Secondly, the University's career counsellors. They provide full-range career suggestions and support tailored to your situation. Lastly, mentors. The University and societies provide mentorship programs. I am lucky to have had a mentor since I was 16, who not only unleashed my hidden potential, but also kept me on track in face of the uncertain future.

When pursuing your passions or your unique self, you will always confront obstacles, setbacks and even doubts from others.But don't forget, what differentiates the outliers from the normal is the infinite hope inside their hearts.

By Andy Huang, Bachelor of Commerce student (Business Information Systems and Finance) at the University of Sydney Business School.

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