Look Back, Look Forward: Part 1 – Potential and achievement

When the final deadline has passed and all the tests are finished, how does it feel to no longer be a student?

Duncan Robinson, at Sheffield, knows how it feels.  Robinson has been writing about the ups and downs of student life in his “Diary Of A Third Year” column for The Independent.  After one final exam and a bit of rain to cheer the spirits, it ended.  Just like that.

photo by pulihora

photo by pulihora

Today marks the start of a new series on the future after your degree has finished.

Over the following five posts, I’ll discuss:

  1. Potential and achievement;
  2. The differences between your days as a Fresher and now as a graduate;
  3. How post-degree friendships evolve;
  4. What life is like after graduation;
  5. Planning ahead, ditching the stress and embracing the future;

Should the end of your time at uni be so unassuming, as Duncan Robinson found it?  No uplifting music in the background, no parade, no celebratory dance?

After such anti-climax, Robinson pondered the future…and the past:

“I was 21 and what had I achieved? At 21, Wayne Rooney had played for England nearly 40 times. I’m 21 and haven’t played once; all I’ve done is study history for three years. Zadie Smith wrote her first novel during her final year at Cambridge. All I’ve managed is a foray into student journalism at Sheffield. In many respects that’s the scariest thing about leaving university – it’s the point where potential stops being relevant. It’s no use declaring that this is what you could do, or will do. Now you simply have to get out there and do it.”

If you aren’t already out there and doing it, whatever ‘it’ means for you, I agree that there’s no time like the present.  But there’s a lot more to think about regarding your potential:

  • Potential doesn’t stop being relevant.  However, the pressure to “get out there and do it” grows.  Time ticks away…if you see potential in yourself to do something, the quest won’t disappear until you either change your mind or get it done.
  • Everyone misses out on stuff all the time.  Don’t focus on what you haven’t done by a certain age.  Focus on the possibility in front of you and grab it.  The aim is to not let go this time.
  • Does it matter when you achieve something you strive for? Play for England, write a best-selling novel, do anything ambitious and age is irrelevant.  A success is a success.
  • Potential stays, but available excuses dwindle. Robinson says that potential stops being relevant when you leave uni.  I don’t agree.  It’s the excuses not to build upon potential which become irrelevant.
  • Who cares if you don’t show potential in something yet? When you graduate, half the jobs that’ll be available throughout your working life won’t have even been invented yet.  Who knows what jobs you’ll be doing in 10, 20, or 40 years down the line?
  • An achievement for you can mean nothing to someone else.  Sure, many would agree that Wayne Rooney and Zadie Smith have managed grand things.  But I know people who would shrug their shoulders at playing for England or writing a novel at whatever age.
  • We all need a dream for a rainy day.  As Duncan Robinson stood in the downpour after his final exam, I doubt he was dreaming about getting published in a newspaper, because he’s already achieved that through his column.  Many aspiring student journalists would love to be published in a national newspaper.  But there’s still plenty of time.  Which leads me to the final point…
  • Comparison is dangerous.  You aren’t Wayne Rooney or Zadie Smith.  You aren’t Duncan Robinson.  You aren’t me.  Whoever you compare yourself with, you’ll see both positive and negative traits.  At least one achievement will bug you because you haven’t done it yet.  But you’re living life differently.  Some things you managed long ago will still be on their to-do list…
    Duncan says, “you simply have to get out there and do it”.  Time spent comparing yourself with others is wasted time.  While you compare, you’re not out there.

What are your thoughts about the future?  Is there anything you wish you knew more about?  Would you like to be a student forever or will graduation not come too soon?


  1. its not about time but achievement, of course. and to get something, we do not need to think about a long time or age. even our grandfather still have more time and power to finish his study. and after that, he still want to achieve many hopes they wish.

    1. You’re right, our grandparents have the time to achieve all they want. Potential doesn’t decrease with age. Gary Vaynerchuk spoke at Rilsconf 2010 earlier this month and said that the older generations understand a lot more about achievement and are willing to spend as much time as is necessary to achieve. He said that they’re in a better position to take the time to build up successes than most younger people are. Their patience really is a virtue!

      Thanks for your comment.

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