Kevin Smith

A lot of people get down on college students these days.

“They complain too much!” “They don’t want to work!” “They have unrealistic expectations!” “They don’t want to work their way up!” “They can’t handle the pressure!”

They are not “resilient,” they say. Even a simple Google search of “college students and resilience” will produce tons of articles on students’ declining mental health, grade inflation, and lack of coping, etc.

I do agree that this generation has more pressure to succeed than any other, and along with that pressure comes even more challenges. Until just ten years ago, for example, if you were picked on in school, it at least ended when you got home. Now, with social media, it never ends. Combine this social pressure with increased tuition costs, more competition for fewer jobs, rising costs of living, how could anyone expect a developing adult to thrive in life, let alone college?

Yet, as someone who has worked closely with college students for over a decade, I believe college students are more resilient than they think, and I’m out there to prove it. I’ve seen so many students accomplish extraordinary things which long-time professionals say they would’ve never dreamed of doing in college. From starting their own businesses, organizing and executing international trips with other students, to even raising $90,000 to bring a student from Haiti to college in the U.S., no one can convince me that today’s college students don’t have grit.

The only thing we do have to do is unlock their potential and then be willing to show them the way.

Here are just a few of the many tips I share with college students all over the U.S., and, when applied, the results are nothing short of amazing.

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. Let’s face it; we make our daily lives as comfortable as possible. From our morning Starbucks routine, Uber Eats, to ergonomic chairs, we freak out if the room is one degree too hot or too cold or if one thing doesn’t go as planned. Life is naturally uncertain and habits that we rely upon for happiness only force us into a fixed mindset, which limits our growth.

Remember, stories of inspiration don’t come from those who never overcame a challenge. Make a list of seven things that make you uncomfortable and do one a day for every day of the week, then rinse and repeat until you find yourself doing them with ease. These things can be anything from asking for critical feedback, listening with your full attention, or simply trying a new food from a restaurant full of people who don’t speak your language. There’s no such thing as a flower that doesn’t grow through dirt, so get your soil ready.

Learn How to Learn: I’ve met brew masters who were art teachers, coffee shop owners and Walt Disney Imagineers who were accountants, and restaurant owners who were chemists, all among countless other successful people who broke free of their restraints.  They all have one thing in common – they learned how to learn.

Too often, we are so afraid to fail that we seldom take on new challenges. Instead, we need to develop a high-tolerance for non-repetitive failure and a growth mindset. This means we need to set a course to try, fail, learn, and grow.

Think of it like dating, the ultimate life-learning experience, where no one shows you how to do it right, so the only way you get better is by failing over and over. It’s not enough for us to become comfortable being uncomfortable, we have to learn from it.  Better yet, we must take the next step and describe what we learned from it. There’s power in describing things, and when you can describe what makes you successful, you’ll enable others to believe in you.

Show Your Grit: You’re not resilient if you don’t show it. Often students get asked questions about overcoming failure, and their responses are mostly dull. Too often I hear stuff like “I got a C on a paper once, so I worked real hard and got an A the next time.” This is not resilience; this is a normal effort. These types of answers are also why more experienced professionals think college students are soft.

We’ve all overcome struggles in our lives. It’s time to own them and sew them together as part of our narrative. Take time to reflect on how overcoming those hardships make you a stronger leader, performer, or better member of a team.

There’s treasure inside of you, but it isn’t worth anything to anyone else if you don’t show it off once in a while.

Kevin Smith is a writer, speaker, coach, entrepreneur, and a long-time professional in higher education. Kevin has spoken on leadership topics and personal success to over 100,000 college students and industry professionals on four continents.

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