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  • Writer's pictureThe Mentorship Spot

Finding Your Purpose in University

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

By Sucheta Khurana

I am a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Kinesiology at Western University. The past three years at Western have shaped me into a more positive, productive and opportunistic individual. The courses I’ve taken and extracurricular experiences I’ve been part of have taught me a lot about finding what works for me.

I started my first year at Western with the intention of becoming an optometrist. I chose my program because it had an BSc module which allowed me to take courses like human physiology in my first year! Even though I was in Kinesiology, I was taking a lot of electives related to optometry school, so I had a really packed first year. I thought I’d be able to handle this since I had always been a ‘planner’ and did well in high school. I was extremely eager to be able to apply my skills in a new and tougher environment. However, my transition to university was more brutal than I expected. I struggled to keep up with assignments and exams, and gradually started to let go of the good habits I used to have with sleeping, eating, and exercising. I became rather unhealthy both mentally and physically, which resulted in me being too exhausted to go to class some days. I thought I was the only one at the time, but this is a reality that a lot of students face in their first year. The transition to university and college requires organization and time management skills that aren’t particularly taught in high school. There is really no one to hold you accountable and guide you, especially if you’re living in residence in first year. I noticed that it’s really easy to prioritize the wrong things and give up responsibilities in favour of other things, such as staying up all night to watch Netflix.

After a rough first year, I found out that I wasn’t eligible to take the courses I wanted to in the next school year. I was obviously devastated, but I realized that the actions I took in first year had consequences. I stopped blaming the circumstances and things out of my control and started to take the required steps to bring myself to where I wanted to be. I took a few summer school courses to bring my average up and I used the entire summer to experiment with different career paths I may want to pursue by volunteering at various places.

Through that journey, I learned more about my likes and dislikes. By putting myself through different experiences I eventually started to get a better grasp of what I was good at and where I wanted to improve, and what I wanted to leave behind. I realized I didn’t want to pursue optometry at all — I think this initial interest was because I was good at sciences and it sounded interesting but less intimidating than being a doctor. That summer I worked on finding my purpose, and now everything I do centres around fulfilling that purpose. I agree that the word “purpose” might sound a bit strange to some, but figuring out the intention behind all my actions gave me an end goal to achieve.

Now, all my projects, plans and even extracurriculars align with one end goal. I noticed since I realized this, I stopped categorizing myself. Doing so allowed me to branch out as personal trainer and health coach online. I also embarked as a harmonious health advocate and a proud co-founder of my own snack company, which is launching by end of May 2020.

When going from high school to university, what university-related goals did you have and how did these change through your first and second years?

I think going from high school to university, my goal was to have “a fun life”. I thought I’d have a lot of time on my hands. I was excited to dive into new hobbies, extracurriculars and experiences beyond school. Instead, I found that it was quite the opposite. I constantly felt overwhelmed with school. Classes, quizzes and deadlines were burning me out to the point where I felt I lacked time to spend with myself, and my loved ones. At that moment, I thought that I didn’t have enough time, but really it was me not knowing how to manage my time effectively.

I also planned my life for the next four years as I entered University. I decided every course I was going to take to get into optometry school, and I basically put myself into a category of a “science student”. I never allowed myself the choice to explore my interests through other electives. When discussing this with my peers I realized that as students we were too scared to branch out and explore certain subjects because just sticking to what we believe we were good at was a much safer route.

I took mostly science courses with a few mandatory kinesiology courses. I wasn’t too fond of the kinesiology courses because I wanted to focus on science but now, I am grateful that I had to take them. I say this because through those kinesiology courses I was exposed to so much in the domain of science, a lot of which was way beyond my understanding at the time. Anyways, my point is that going into first year I thought I would follow my four-year plan and solely take the courses I ‘needed’ to take, not courses I might be interested in exploring. After first year however, my electives started to span a broad range, with basics such as human anatomy and biomechanics, to specialized courses like psychology, research methods, ethics, and entrepreneurship.

My mindset around sticking to one thing started to disappear, I was able to delve into new interests and understand what I really wanted to go for.

Can you describe the extracurriculars you’re involved in?

In first year, I didn’t do anything outside of class. In second year, I joined Western Indo-Canadian Students’ Association (WICSA) and Grow Cook Learn, a non-profit organization. I was director of communications for WICSA and I was director of design for Grow Cook Learn. Both positions required me to create promotional content and spread awareness of the clubs. In third year, I was director of fashion show communications for WICSA, and was part of a great team that executed the second ever South Asian Fashion Show at Western! I was also director of design for SickKids at Western which I really loved. I also started to dive into Western’s entrepreneurship space in my third year.

Why did you specifically decide on joining those extracurriculars?

I think first year was a lot of not being able to fit in and feeling away from home. So, WICSA was a place where I met many like minded people, who valued culture as much as I did. At Western in first year, I started to feel more like a number, so I’m glad that I was able to find my ‘home away from home’ in WICSA, and it was fantastic — it was a fun time and I met lots of great people. I saw Grow Cook Learn as my way to give back to the community — I knew I had the skills to create and promote content and wanted to use that to help others. In third year, I joined Sick Kids Western in the same efforts. I wanted to use my skills to give back to a great cause and spread awareness. Western entrepreneurship however, started simply by my roommate and I attending a few workshops because we wanted a few more things to put down on our resumes for a summer job. But little did we know, the workshops would get our wheels turning and give us the confidence to come up with a business idea of our own!

How do your extracurriculars contribute to your career and/or life goals?

I grew a ton through my extracurricular experiences, WICSA made me realize that my culture is very significant to my life, and I never embraced it but being part of WICSA brought me closer to my culture. SickKids and Grow Cook Learn taught me a lot about managing my time. The positions I held with these clubs also gave me a glance on how social media affect’s a person’s mindset, and actions. I learned immensely about how to promote and connect with different types of individuals.

Right now, I’m trying to launch a business in the food industry, bringing Makhana (an ancient seed from India) into the Canadian society. Without WICSA, I wouldn’t have even thought about bringing a culturally rich ingredient to Canada, something I had grown up eating but didn’t know how to explain to others. Moreover, being comfortable with social media analytics, algorithms and promotion strategies made me more confident about the content I post in efforts to reach customers.

What advice do you have for someone who is having difficulty finding purpose in their university journey?

I think the biggest thing is finding what you already like AND what you want to improve on. A lot of people just go with what they’ve grown up being good at, without realizing that they have the power to grow and improve over time. Understanding my purpose was difficult at first but once I realized I have easily accessible resources it started to become a lot clearer.

Finding your purpose takes a lot of personal time, constant re-evaluating, and reflecting. If you’re looking for a good place to start, ask yourself where you fit in and what changes you want to see in the world. I wanted to educate and uplift people, and that lead to me working as a fast food cashier, to a personal trainer, and now to an entrepreneur.

Here are some tips on how to get to finding your purpose:

1. Be mindful of what you’re doing with your time. Create a plan! And remember, a plan can be readjusted at any time — you’re not locking yourself down to one future necessarily, but it is good to have at least a rough idea of the path you are on.

2. Use the resources around you! You have the world at your fingertips, all you got to do is access it. If you are a university student, chances are that you are aware of the resources around you (many of them free!) but you just haven’t put in the effort to utilize them. Some good examples: career advisors, academic advisors, seminars/workshops, clubs, books, podcasts, coaches, etc. All the help you need is there, so take advantage of it!

3. Evolve. “All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” ― James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Make an attempt to learn other skills outside of school. Maybe read one book a month or listen to more podcasts or take skillshare courses — do that for yourself! You’re allowed to do things that you’re passionate about while you’re pursuing a larger goal such as your undergrad — make time for your own ambitions, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

4. Stop looking for approval. If the intention behind what you do is to please someone else, then you are not aligned with your purpose. As students, we constantly do things that will make us look successful in front of others or make our parents proud. However, it is important to know that it might not make you happy in the long run. You become the most successful individual, but you won’t be happy unless you’re doing something that is serving your purpose. The uncertainty of others liking or disliking the actions we take leads us to be hesitant towards fulfilling what we truly want to do. We aren’t perfect; we care about what other people think of us, and we let that drive our actions and well, our whole lives. We get so caught up in our own mess, overthinking about own actions, and focusing on what others think of us that we don’t really care what others are doing with their lives. In other words: no one cares as much as you do about what you’re doing, so you may as well take actions that fulfill your goals.

What do you recommend for those entering university to get ahead and/or not fall behind when they initially start university?

Time management is important. Set a schedule for yourself that’s separate from your class schedule, account time for meals, exercise, and socializing. Figure out what works for you and stick to it.

Take responsibility. Recognize that a lot of what you’re doing is in your control. For example, if you’re watching Netflix for 6 hours a day, the reason that you’re failing a course may not be entirely the professor’s fault. I’m guilty of not using my time efficiently in first year and having this mindset that it wasn’t my fault, but when I realized that I could improve my behaviour, my grades and the stress that I felt vastly improved. The Netflix example is extreme, but you should realize that your responsibility isn’t just to read slides or try to memorize — it’s to understand material. If you’re not extracting information in a way that you can properly comprehend, you may want to change your study techniques. Anyway, I think my main point here is that you have more control than you may think, and it can be really empowering and useful to acknowledge that responsibility.

Interviewed and Transcribed by Rachel Snelgrove

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