Lessons Learned from Undergrad

By: Benjamin Pickard

After 5 years, 4 co-op terms and God knows how many dollar bills, I’m finally done my undergraduate degree. I came to Waterloo in the Fall of 2008, pursuing a BSc. in Kinesiology, and now all that remains is convocation. I chose Waterloo for the co-op program specifically, but I have gained much more than simply the opportunity for paid work experience. In my time here I’m happy to say that I’ve earned more than a degree, and I’ve learned more than I was taught. And while I didn’t follow the typical path, I’m happy with where I’ve ended up. I’ve had a wonderful and somewhat unusual experience at Waterloo, and I want to share my “secrets.” Hopefully you can take this and use it to get far more out of your education than a degree.

Getting through a degree can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be. Also, it doesn’t have to be all school all the time, which many students seem to think. While undergrad isn’t all smiles, beers and girls, as Hollywood makes it appear, there’s more to getting an education than what you learn in lecture. What you get out of your time at school is what you put into your time at school. It’s up to the student to determine if all he does is study and learn what is presented in the curriculum or if he pursues interests and education beyond academia. In my time at school, I gained 4 years of work experience varying from personal training to Varsity Women’s Volleyball strength coach to fitness facilities manager. I helped establish the Warriors Strength and Conditioning Club and presided as president for my last 3 years on campus. I’ve faced the challenges of becoming a father part way through my degree and the changes this entails. I’ve had semesters where I spent more time learning extracurricular material than academic material, yet still succeeded in school. I’ve fostered relationships with many people from diverse walks of life with unique interests, and I look forward to continuing those friendships for a lifetime. After all this, I’m finally entering the working world by interning at an awesome gym and starting down another unusual and possibly treacherous career path, but I love the challenge and refuse to settle for the “nine-to-five” norm.

1. Stress is Overrated

During 1st and 2nd year, every paper, assignment, quiz and exam would dominate my life. Stress would rise and fall with the workload, and the coming exam would always be the topic of conversation. I’ve learned now that stress is how you perceive your circumstances and is created by the individual, not the environment. I believe that managing stress is the key to surviving both University and possibly life. My personal mantra: “If worrying doesn’t help the situation, don’t worry about it.” Put things in perspective and make a plan. You may find that all that stress is for naught.

2. Partying Inhibits Success

When I was in 1st year I averaged 3 nights a week of drinking. My friends and I went hard, and though there are lots of great memories (and lots I don’t remember), it wasn’t conducive to success. Don’t get me wrong, I highly value the friendships I made. In hindsight, though, limiting the amount I partied would have been a good call. As years progressed, I didn’t go out as often and although that means there was some lost fun, I became significantly more productive, tried new things and overall felt better about myself. Going out for a casual beer with friends can have the same benefits as partying your ass off but without the consequences. Live a little during your time at school, but make sure your social life doesn’t’ kill you.

3. There is more to School than School Alone

I know most people measure their self-worth by their marks, but unfortunately regurgitating information is the main component of a good mark. Although not failing out school is important, there are two things you should consider. First, school is only a means to an end. The means presented to us in the form of our class schedule isn’t always the best possible route. Second, school doesn’t teach us everything we need to know to reach the end. I’m happy I pursued extracurricular education, sometimes at the expense of school, and I think it is a necessity for any student that wants to be successful in life. Keep the end goal in sight, and don’t let your education get in the way of your education.

4. When Managing People, Work to their Strengths

The Strength & Conditioning club grew to what it is today because of all the awesome people that helped me out. Although somewhat accidentally, I let everyone take part in areas that they were the most interested in. As it turns out, this is the best way to do things, as it fosters their natural desire and skill. This is summed up in a great quote by Mike Boyle, “Great managers would offer you this advice: Focus on each persons strengths and manage around his weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses. Don’t try to perfect each person. Instead do everything you can to help each person cultivate his talents. Help each person become more of what he already is. ” Courtesy of http://strengthcoachblog.com/2011/04/27/selecting-players-and-employees/

5. Develop People Skills

The ability to interact with people is something that isn’t taught in a textbooks and is something that many won’t ever learn. Everyone should read Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The entire book is founded in the idea that one should “be a nice person, and take genuine interest in others.” I don’t think anything in life will go as far as a smile, a firm handshake, eye contact and saying “thank you.” Everything else is secondary. Everyone you interact with is going to remember how they felt when interacting with you, and the impression you leave could last a lifetime. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

One of the best reads ever.

6. If you warm up with 45’s on the bar, I think you’re a bad lifter.

I think this ultimately stems from the person’s approach to the gym. Take for example, someone with a relatively low max warming up with something far to heavy for the first set, such as a plate a side when his max is only 20 pounds more. This warm-up isn’t appropriate, so a year later I see the same warm up, the same max, and no progress. When I look at the people who are making progress, I see them start with the bar. I also see these people doing a proper warm up, following a real program, and actually working on becoming better. They understand that the gym isn’t about demonstrating strength , and they value their progress more than their ego. If you’re reading this and you don’t warm up with the bar, ask yourself if you train to get better, or if you go to the gym to remind yourself how awesome you are.

7. Problems aren’t always problems

When encountering difficult situations, sometimes the only thing you can control is how you handle it. Take time and try to see it from a different perspective. If it’s a problem with another person, how do you think they feel? If it is a problem with a situation, what factors contributed to it? It isn’t easy, but I always try to do my best to see obstacles as opportunities and to never criticize the person for what is happening. Captain Jack Sparrow said it best,The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” If you can change your attitude, you have the power to alter any situation for the better.

8. Admit when you’re wrong or don’t know

There’s something empowering about admitting when you make a mistake, and I believe that if someone admits when he doesn’t know something everything else he says becomes more credible. Why? Because you know you aren’t getting bullshitted. You can never know everything and pretending to only makes you look foolish. Admit your errors and don’t make up answer. Don’t know something? Now you know what to focus your self-improvement efforts now.

9. Prioritize

I learned this the hard way, and there is a lot to be said for laying out what matters to you most and not deviating. If school is first, do that before you go out. If training is first, make sure you get it in even when you have studying to do. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Matt Kroc, and his #1 recommendation for overwhelming success was to prioritize. If he needs to spend time with his family, he makes sure he gets that in, but it also doesn’t mean he skips the other things. He makes time and accomplishes everything he intends to. Good time management skills based around your personal priorities will give you more time to accomplish what needs to be done, and it might also show you what really matters to you in life.

10. Don’t Fear the Unknown

This is a massive obstacle to overcome. In fact, I don’t know if we ever overcome it, but we learn to live knowing that no matter what we do there is always more to come. Everything we learn during our time at school is only the smallest fraction of the unknown, and we need to acknowledge this. It’s far too easy to get complacent with training our minds, and unfortunately the education of many ends once they get their degree. Make learning a lifelong priority for you and surround yourself with like-minded individuals. I can’t say for sure since I still have my entire life ahead of me, but I see this leading to a fulfilling life.

11. Pass On

This is the most important message I can give, and I didn’t even know it until I recently attended EliteFTS’ Learn to Train 6 Seminar. Everything we learn and accomplish could be something others wish they could do, so you never know who you are inspiring. Dave Tate’s wisdom was that with learning comes mastery, with mastery come excellence and with excellence comes responsibility. It’s the responsibility of those who are the best and most accomplished to pass on their knowledge, wisdom and experience to those who are only learning. The part that I didn’t realize until now is that excellence is relative, and even though you may not be the best in the world you may be the best in your smaller group, and that there may be people looking up to you that you never realized. Make sure you take on this responsibility of being an educator. Becoming a teacher will be the next step in your learning process.


Which one of Ben’s tips did you like the most? Have any of your own advice? Share your comments below and remember to “like” us on facebook!

Benjamin currently works as a Personal Trainer, but also has experience coaching UW’s Varsity Athletes as a S&C Coach and as the Conditioning Assistant. Ben is a firm believer that positive thinking and squats can cure cancer, and is always striving to find the most harmonious balance of life, work, and training awesomeness. He is inspired by his fellow WS&C Club executives, and is on the never-ending quest for knowledge. He hopes to one day work as a S&C Coach/Personal Trainer and help people become superhuman.

Pictures: http://www.funnypart.com/funny/stress.shtml, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:How-to-win-friends-and-influence-people.jpg, http://signsbyandrea.com/desgns/attitude-is-everything,http://fallconvocation.webs.com/


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