A friend recently asked me to talk about five things I would do differently if I got the opportunity to relive my undergraduate years. I like to think I made the best use of those years when I studied at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) mostly because I graduated with a First Class, was elected President of a student body, ran successful small businesses and met my wife. Not quite. When I took some time to reflect on that question, looking from the lens of where I stand today, I noted at least five things I could have done better.
- Get a Mentor:
Having seen and experienced the impact of mentors in my life as a professional, I am certain that the biggest regret of my undergraduate years was not having a mentor in my life. I am not just referring to those big bros or aunties that were one or two levels ahead of me or the executive in religious gatherings that dole out advice as the “spirit” leads. I am talking about dedicated mentors who have fully experienced the undergraduate life and are invested in a student’s growth and development. If I had a mentor, I would not have made the terrible decision to invest more than half of my scholarship money from Chevron Nigeria in stocks that I knew nothing about while I drank garri. I could have made use of a mentor when I was deciding on my final year project and how to approach it. A mentor could have helped me make the best of my holidays and those long strikes. I think my problem was I did not understand who a mentor is. I used to confuse it for a role model, and my role models were Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesus Christ. How could they have mentored me?
2. Take classes across-the-street:
It’s quite unpopular in Nigerian universities for students to voluntarily take classes in unrelated departments for just personal learning. Students be like “I never complete my own course work, I go come go carry another person own?”. Here in the US, I see undergraduates in Engineering taking unrelated classes in public speaking, writing or economics to supplement their learning. I admire this. Back in UNILAG, I wish I took classes in Finance. In today’s corporate world, irrespective of one’s function, being financially intelligent is critical. It’s almost impossible to assume some levels of leadership without basic financial acumen. A course or two in finance couldn’t have hurt. Maybe several hours of sleep, but it would have been worth the effort.
3. Learn Microsoft Excel:
I remember when my friends and I stormed Computer Village in Ikeja sometime in 2008. Chevron just paid us our scholarship allowance for the year and we thought it wise to invest some in personal laptops. It was a good investment for any student to have a laptop. My only regret is that I mostly used my laptop to either watch movies or play FIFA ’09. I could have improved my proficiency in Microsoft Excel. I could have learnt more than using “auto-sum” and drawing pie charts. I could have loved to learn how to build a macro and use the “Formula” and “Data” sections of Excel. Proficiency in MS Excel would have helped me make better sales analyses and business decisions on my first job as Key Account Manager and later in business school. I don’t regret playing FIFA ’09 with my friends, I just wish I had spent those times I forced Jide to play one more game after beating me 5–1 learning Excel.
4. Explore Lagos:
I spent 5 years in Lagos as an undergrad and I hardly made it to the Island. In my first 3 years, I stepped out of UNILAG gate only when I was going home for the holidays. Exploring the city in which your school is located, perhaps by taking low-budget weekend trips, volunteering for community development projects, or attending events, could serve as a big learning and networking opportunity. I missed that. Lagos was not like my hometown, Sagamu. I was not a fan of the hustle and bustle of Lagos, but that is a silly excuse!
5. Attend BBQ Nights:
Second semester in UNILAG is when most clubs and student associations organize social events like pageants, hall weeks, and conferences. The most common in my time was the BBQ nights. The probability you would find me in any of those BBQ Nights was less than zero! The prices of their roasted chicken and punch was a turn off. Beyond that, I feared a Fellowship member would catch me there! Brother MLK, the dramatist! Not like my social life has improved. My preferred way to unwind is still on my couch watching West Wing or House of Cards on Neflix, but I think there’s a learning or two from attending some social events as an undergrad.
What would you have done differently?
Michael is an alumnus of the Stanford GSB (Class of 2017) and Africa MBA Fellow. He studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos and currently resides in California with his wife and son. His coming-of-age memoirs, scheduled to be published in 2019, keeps him busy in his spare time.