Hello — I’m a student and don’t know anything. Can you help me learn?
TL;DR: Networking as a student is one of the most valuable ways to help generate the luck you need to be successful. But this requires acknowledging first and foremost how little you know and how much you stand to gain from the wisdom of others.
There are already a million books and articles on how to professionally network (“How to win friends and influence people” — go read this). Ultimately this will not be an article on how to do that specifically. Instead, this is all about highlighting and understanding your “Student Superpower” as a crucial element of your future success — specifically, in that you are able to acknowledge publicly that you don’t know anything… but want to...
If you are a student you are likely at school because you seek to learn, grow and move in a specific direction. That, or your parents wanted you to go to school, and therefore to fulfill their hopes and dreams (which are counter to yours) you are currently dragging yourself through school trying for that #CsGetDegree’s life.
Let’s imagine though for the sake of argument that you are a student because you seek to learn. You have come to a place in your life where you want to get somewhere else, and are trying to achieve that. Great. Good luck. You’ve got this. I believe in you. Go change the world.
The simple truth is that in my short 6.5 years in the university system what I’ve seen more than anything (which saddens me deeply) is a lacking ability to recognize just how little we (the students) know. It’s easy to get flustered about a specific topic, but easy to forget the bigger picture. This is a bit disappointing because if we’re “doing it right” school shouldn’t be so much a bar we’ve achieved as it is a sense of self that we’ve grown to understand and can move forward from with intention.
At the time of this writing, I have already acquired for myself MS, BS, AD (someday I’ll add that second Masters and Ph.D. so please forgive me if my “achievements” don’t reach your expectations). During all those years in school I’ve seen students “achieve success” through graduation, and then struggle to find themselves the moment school is finished. Or more specifically — struggle to find the employment that they seek to either 1) pay off a ridiculous amount of student loans, or 2) find fulfillment and ownership over their life.
Why is this?
Why do people go to school… and then wander like lost sheep afterward?
*takes a sip of coffee… looks out the window…*
I have a theory…
It’s because they never fully understood the value of their Student Superpower.
They were never able to fully admit to themselves how little they know, and because of this once they were set free out in the big-old-blue, they slammed immediately up against the fact that they don’t know anything. Yes, they know they need to grow, but seemingly cannot admit publicly how little they know as part of recognizing how much growth potential they still have left. Perhaps this is also known as a personal entitlement (anyone smarter than me feel free to correct this assumption)?
In other words, students can very easily struggle to be humble. Because of this they never ask the following question:
“Hello, I’m a student and am trying to learn more about what you do…”
Translated this easily reads:
“Hello, I know nothing and am looking for help, you look like someone who has made it, can you share with me your wisdom so I can become you?”
People like to help other people — generally speaking. We thrive off the idea that what we have to say and share matters to those around us. So when someone seeks our wisdom it makes us feel like we’ve made it, that we are indeed successful.
In other words, our ego drives us (in my personal experience) to share our own experiences. Why else would I be writing this article on a warm Saturday afternoon when I could be outside enjoying the day? Because I believe I have something to share that is of value for others… and perhaps a bit because of the whole Covid-19 global pandemic thing that is still raging into 2021.
Are you asking for help?
If not… why?
What is holding you back?
Is it that you might like what you will hear?
Because while you have the Student Superpower you are also likely struggling to leverage it to the fullest most maximum potential. This likely stems from the fact that even though you are at an institution to learn it’s far too easy to let our own ego block us from seeking the real help that we need.
— — — — —
You make your own luck.
Here’s a short story. There was once a group of people — all friends, who in their youth used to hang out a lot to talk about life and play board games. A few of them sat and mused openly one day that they were looking for the right opportunity before they did anything but right now they were comfortable—why ruin a good thing?
A few of them kept sitting — waiting for that opportunity to arrive.
A few others stood up and just started working “hard” on an opportunity they saw.
A few others stood up and began to ask for help to work “smarter” not “harder.”
The group grew old(er).
Some had families of their own.
They met up again after years passed.
Can you guess who was likely to be more successful?
Can you guess who was likely to be more fulfilled?
Can you guess who was likely to have more ownership over their life?
Was it the people who waited for the right opportunity? Was it the group who stood up and worked hard? Was it the group who asked for help from others to work smarter and not harder?
Sadly this is a real story of a group from my old hometown. Those who sat kept sitting and lost control of their lives forced to toil away working on tasks without purpose. Those who stood and worked hard found a taste of success but lacked ownership and fulfillment. But those who strove to work smarter found people around them that could help lift them up through sharing their hard-earned wisdom about applying knowledge in the right areas.
Opportunity is all around you. Open your eyes. Take the leap.
There are a million quotes similar to this, but I’ll end this narrative with the following verse: “You make your own luck.”
— — — — —
Student Superpower + Luck = Success.
As a quick recap of this article so far, I’ve covered two central topics:
- Your Student Superpower = you know nothing — but want to learn.
- You make your own luck.
Combining the two of these is an extremely potent equation.
Now you might be asking, “Okay Josh, I understand the Student Superpower, but how do I get lucky? You said opportunity is everywhere… so where is it?”
Your opportunity is in people.
Get to know them.
Ask them what they do.
Ask them how you can become them.
If you don’t meet any people will you actually have any luck?
People = Luck.
Even big tech knows this. Though they use the term “Talent” to define the luck they get from people. They are even so bold in their belief that they can simply stick a bunch of people in a room with infinite snacks for a few days and they might just strike gold.
So the next logical question should be: “how do I meet people?”
— — — — —
My Story: how I went from… old me… to new me.
“Hello — I’m a student and don’t know anything can you help me learn…”
I messaged so so so so many people. When I moved from a small rural area in California to Seattle I knew that I needed to meet people. To understand what the “big city” life looked like for people in “big jobs.” I knew that I knew so little as I was a fish out of water. That’s first and foremost why I became a student.
In a typical week, I would message 10–15 people I had never met over LinkedIn (that I had spent hours professional review = proper term for “LinkedIn Stalking”) that were in the design field so I could learn about their experiences. In a typical week, I would receive 4–5 responses from people who saw a student in need. After that 1 or 2 would be willing to meet up for coffee to connect in person.
I leaned in hard on my Student Superpower… “hello — I’m a student and don’t know anything can you help me learn…” Though not quite in those exact words… if I’m honest.
Note: There are plenty of tips and tricks out there for the best way to “cold call” someone, but as a student, you might want to try first with people from your school. Their called Alumni as you may be aware, and often love more than anything to help out someone who is experiencing the same trench that they are in.
I networked my way through cup after steaming cup of coffee (#SeattleCoffeeCapitalofUSA)… often cramming back-to-back coffee meetings into the weekends, after work, and before class to meet with people and learn about what made them tick. My goal was to learn their personal story and gain a deeper and diverse understanding of the industry that I so desperately wanted to become a part of from their unique perspective.
After a single year as a graduate student at UW, I had met with over 100 professionals in the field gathering copious amounts of notes from our meetings. Each time I’d walk away asking
- “What did I learn that I can bring into my next conversation?”
- “What can I ask the next time to help get a better answer?”
- “How can I apply this to what I’m doing today to help me get to where they are?”
Furthermore, it also just so happens that if you meet with someone once, you might just be able to meet with them again. Oh, and did you know that people know people? In other words, you might just meet someone who is willing to introduce you to someone else? Thus it was… the circle of life…
Towards the end of my first year, one person, in particular, said, “Hey, there’s a role open on my team if you’d like to take a run at it I think you’d be a good fit. Wanna change the world?”
I must admit it was luck.
I was so dang lucky.
But was I…really?
Yes… and no.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he talks about success, and the paradox that people must not only understand the luck from externalities that influence their life but simultaneously have the courage to fly against the odds. Success is therefore something almost completely outside of one's control, and yet paradoxically at the same time completely dependent upon that person to take action.
Yes, I was very lucky to meet the right people and land where I am today. This I will openly admit to being true. But it’s also true that after meeting with over 100 professionals and racking up over $600’s in coffee shop bills for all their fancy espresso I simply had generated more opportunities than many of my peers who simply never prioritized it.
Not only that but I’ve done this before. A few times in fact.
And it worked then too.
— — — —
Networking is how students make luck.
Networking can be scary. Actually, scratch that… Networking IS scary. You have to put yourself out there and talk with a complete stranger. Leveraging your Student Superpower is even more humbling because you must be willing to admit that you don’t know anything; in other words, the limitations of your own knowledge and wisdom… which even at the best of times is hard to grapple with. Just remember, it isn’t rocket science. It’s a conversation.
There’s a saying in business: “if you are not moving forward you are falling behind.” This could also be applied to growth. If you’re not growing you are falling behind. And the truth is that if you’re comfortable it is really really hard to actually grow. Consider networking as an amazing opportunity to become uncomfortable — and in doing so grow. Not only that but given the right amount of perseverance, you can contribute to and begin to build up your own personal supply of luck.
Top-flight programs are often self-aware of the fact that their degrees at the end of the day mean very little compared to the network their students develop. Yes, you will receive an education, but you are also paying for access to a select club. These are people that can help make your dreams a reality. All you have to do is have the courage to ask for help.
Marry that with a humble mindset about your own “talents”/ “skills” and you might just find yourself with a better chance of becoming who you want to be sooner than later. Furthermore, you may also be able to find the definition to your direction that would’ve otherwise taken years, if not be impossible, out wandering in the wilderness alone to materialize.
We never get anywhere alone.
Thank goodness we don’t have to.
Remember, as a student you can learn knowledge from a textbook. But true wisdom is knowing how to apply it. Who are the wisest people around you? Probably the people one step ahead of you who can see the horizon. These are the people who have already left the protection of the institution and are in the field practicing their craft with all the consequences of what that entails — good and bad.
There is so much you can learn from them.
There is so much that I learned, and am still learning from them.
How are you using your Student Superpower?
How are you making your own luck?