Friends. (Reflections 1/4)

Hey everyone ! Welcome to my blog (and first series). Now that university is over and done, I wanted to share some of my experiences accumulated over the past 4 years. Even though I've graduated, I'm still cursed by uni's formal style of writing, so I'm trying my best to learn how to write casually and in a way that's easy for other people to read 😪 After finishing writing about my first year, I realised I wouldn't be able to fit everything in a single blog😅 So now the series has become a collection of posts (one for each year). These posts will mainly be short stories from memorable moments in my life so don't expect anything too deep. However, I've tried to still incorporate a few lessons I've learnt along the way. To save you some time, I've added these lessons at the top of each post (with the one relevant to the post bolded), but stick around if you want to hear the context.

You might have heard a lot of these phrases before because some are very cliché. However, I'm a firm believer that things are cliché because they are true, it just sometimes takes a specific event or two to make you realise how real they are.

  1. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with
  2. Theory gets the grade, practice gets the job
  3. You're responsible for creating your own opportunities
  4. Your habits are a reflection of your identity
  5. 80% of the output comes from 20% of the causes

First year

Going into university I kind of felt like I had been living in a bubble my life. I grew up with basically the same friends since intermediate, so we'd spent a good 7 years or so of our lives together. We've always had similar ideals, liked the same hobbies and have more or less similar ambitions in life. I loved my friends and life was comfortable. So when a few of my closest mates told me they were moving to Australia for university I felt pretty crushed. I realised that as time went by, they would make new friends, experience new things and begin a life that was totally different to mine. I guess what scared me was them changing and no longer being the people I was once so comfortable with. But what scared me even more was if this happened and I ended up remaining the same.

So going into university, I set myself a goal to meet new people. I tried a bunch of different things-sitting next to a new person in a lecture each day, taking on leadership positions, joining clubs etc. But making new friends was hard 😭 When your so used to all your friends being exactly the same as yourself, it was so easy for me to dismiss people by thinking "Oh we're too different, we'd never get along". After a month or so, I had met a lot of people, but there still wasn't anyone I felt I could completely be myself around. Then one ordinary afternoon in one of my lectures, I sat next to this random dude because he was sitting next to someone I knew. I didn't know back then, but this was a pretty big turning point in university life.

When we got introduced by our mutual friend I quickly realised how similar we were. We both took the same CIE courses in high school, had similar hobbies and even shared the same shitty Macleans humour as me (even though he never went to Macleans). I guess this similarity between us made it even a bigger shock when we got our first test result back. I can't remember what paper it was, or what the exact scores were, but I do remember that he absolutely clapped me. I was confused, how did someone who was so similar to myself, who also slept in as many lectures as I did, do so much better than me? Later, I found out from our mutual friend that this guy is an absolute unit, with a 420 UCAS score and runner up to Dux in high school.

This moment got me super motivated for some reason. If I was going to be spending the rest of the year with this guy, why not try to learn a thing or two from him? So for the next few months I started observing and learning from what he did. He went to general library to study? Okay, I'll go as well. Damn, why is he asking the lecturer so many questions? I mean, I'll try think of something too, I guess... But the most biggest difference I realised between us was our expectations when it came to academics. It seemed like he would aim for an A+ in every assignment, test or exam, while my definition of a 'job well done' was an 80+%.

I don't think there was ever a moment where I explicitly thought to myself: 'I'm gonna put in 100% effort into every uni deliverable'. I believe I just slowly started sharing the same mentality as him, as a side effect of being around him and learning from everything else he did. This simple shift in mindset after hanging out with one person (who was practically the same as me in every other aspect aside from his perspective on academics) transformed me from someone who was just above average in high school, to a straight A+ university student that even managed to get a perfect 100/100 in an exam. Even though I no longer think grades defines your success or intelligence as a student (see part 2 to hear my thoughts), I was pretty stoked at the time by what I managed to achieve.

So I guess the question is how? How did I suddenly will myself to do well at university when getting an A+ used to feel like the most Herculean task back in high school? Now that I've finished my studies, I believe the answer is that it is human tendency to limit our potential and expectations, based on what we see around us. If everyone around you is wanting to do well in an exam, it'll likely be a hot topic during conversations and the energy you're surrounded with is all focused on this exam. And because its natural to not want to be left behind in the group, you'll put in a lot of effort into doing well in this exam too. On the flipside, if everyone has the mentality of just wanting to pass, you'll probably think "Oh there's no point trying hard" or maybe "Hmm, I guess I'll go for an A- so I can feel as though I tried harder than everyone else"

In a similar vein, one question I asked myself while I was over interning in Sydney was "why is there such a disproportionate number of UNSW students at these big tech companies". Well, when I visited the campus, I realised that everyone was talking about interviews, internships and grad roles. It's almost as if getting into these top companies is engrained into their CS/SWE culture. In comparison, when I was looking at applying to the same companies, I remember constantly thinking things like "I hardly know anyone else applying for XYZ' , 'Does XYZ even hire from the University of Auckland?' or 'I don't anyone working at XYZ, maybe its more realistic to apply somewhere else'. When you see everyone else around you constantly achieving something, it manifests itself into a goal you believe is realistic- "Hey maybe I can do this too". However, if you lack these environmental factors, then its easy for the 'nothingness' to instead become your reality.

The lesson I've learnt is that we all have this mental model in our mind of what we think is possible. The goal now is to expand this beyond what you can imagine by meeting new people. So go out and approach that person ! No one's forcing you to become best friends, just a short conversation and sharing your different experiences can put something into a perspective you've never considered before. They'll show you what's possible with hard work or maybe even inspire you to redefine what 'possible' means. Also, I watched the Truman Show for the first time recently and I noticed how eerily similar Truman's 'fake reality' is to being stuck in a complacent bubble in real life- comfortably living out the same routines each day with the same people. If Truman didn't meet Sylvia, he might have never dared to set out to find Fiji for himself 😉.

P.S: You're GOATED Casey 💕

"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with"

© 2020 Andrew Hu