By Jake Sheckter, Business Editor
“Bittersweet” is such a cheesy word. It is a word used to describe some complex emotion without really going into depth or providing any actual information. I believe it’s the ultimate cop-out term for those who can’t precisely articulate the different feelings they may be processing. Perhaps there were too many factors and ‘ups and downs’ on the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences they just went through to be able to express it effectively. Regardless, it’s still cheesy.
In 2019, I had pretty high hopes. As with many YU students, I had just come back from my year in Israel with a lot of dreams, aspirations, goals, confusion, loss of direction, and a few other great things most freshmen deal with. I was moving away from my far-north, Canadian hometown in Alberta and into one of the world’s largest and busiest cities, New York City, to start my undergrad at YU’s Sy Syms School of Business. There were a number of “ideal” goals that I forced myself to view as necessary tasks.
The objectives that mattered most to Jake (pre-university):
- Get great grades. Grades above all. School is the most important thing.
- Get acclimated to city life. Everything is loud and rushing and bright.
- Figure out my career path/passion. I have no clear idea of what I want to do.
Pretty hefty ambitions, right? For many freshmen, their university checklist often looks a lot like mine. It may even be less daunting when you remember that most of those around you are striving for the same objectives. Reflecting on my college experience as a graduating senior, I’d like to propose several tips for first time on campus students.
After a semester and a half, the start of a global pandemic, and moving back to Edmonton, Alberta for the wonderful world of Zoom school, I had great grades but wasn’t any closer to achieving my other objectives. Without the ability to spend time in New York, I was getting farther away from adjusting to the city. Soon, I found myself stressing, worrying, and feeling weighed down by anxiety on multiple fronts. I wasn’t living where I wanted to live, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for my career yet, the schoolwork started to pile on, combined with my obsessive need to get straight A’s, and my mental health started to decline.
The human capacity for worrying is unlimited. Without even mentioning exams and grades, stress comes via numerous channels such as the inability to adjust to a life away from home (far-north Canada for me) and therefore your comfort zone and managing within new social circles. Additionally, many of the responsibilities and roles “designed” for adults, such as home budgeting, obtaining and paying off loans, and getting a job, start around high school and college for most people.
Tip 1: Give more attention to your mental health. It only takes small steps but makes a dramatic difference in your life. Realize that, while very important, grades aren’t everything and that mental health deserves more attention than it gets today.
Towards the earlier days of the pandemic, a surge of young (largely first time) investors made their way to the stock markets for the first time, enabled and encouraged by easy-to-use, gamified investment programs such as ‘Robinhood.’ This massive influx, combined with the uncertainty and instability of the economy, led to the gradual disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. Companies that weren’t performing well were soaring, and others that were prospering were being punished by the market. Volatility became the name of the game, and an impulsive herd mentality caused more and more money to be poured into the market. I started a little group chat with a few friends to talk about stocks, which rapidly morphed into YU’s largest and most active club, the Yeshiva University Stock Exchange (YUSE) Club. The YUSE started as a massive discussion board for all business news, opinions, and stock market education, but soon became an entity that would bring in guest speakers, hold stock review events, and more. The YUSE was my (brain)child, and as the founding President, I cared deeply for the club and my members. With over 200 members, it became an unexpected source of inspiration and strength for me, largely fueled by my sense of accomplishment.
Tip 2: Get involved with student social groups. Join a club, or start your own. You wouldn’t believe how beneficial it can be. It can really make for a long-lasting, positive difference in your life.
With an exponentially larger portion of my time being spent at home, I found myself reading much more. I was blowing through about two fiction novels per week. That, combined with a first year writing class I loved, pushed me to think more about reading and writing. During my second year in YU, the YUSE was thriving, and I was getting the grades I wanted, but I still missed living in the big city (being in quarantine and all) and wasn’t yet sure of what I wanted to do career-wise. As a chronic overthinker and perfectionist, I was working on making more spontaneous (and therefore less stress inducing) decisions.When I heard that the YU Observer newspaper was looking for writers, I jumped at the opportunity without giving myself time to overthink it and it didn’t take long before I had my first article published, obtained staff writer status, and eventually became an editor of the Business section. I committed to a monthly “3 Stock Highlight” where I would do exactly that; highlight 3 stocks that were in the news and/or provided for a good story or read. I could quite literally see the quality of my writing improving from month to month, which, once again became a source of strength and inspiration, largely fueled by my sense of accomplishment.
Tip 3: Find a hobby, big or small, then find university groups and others with similar interests to help you develop and hone your skills and projects. Don’t overthink it; start small and simple. It will provide you with a lot more than just a hobby in the long run.
This particular year started uncoventionally, you know, worldwide pandemic and all. This was the year I was finally going to be living the ‘true’ college life in an apartment with other roommates, being able to walk around campus, and attend classes in person (and finally be in the big city!). I had kept up the great grades until this point, which was partially surprising. Surprising because, in my third to last semester I stated that I was “running on fumes,” in my second to last I was “running on empty,” and during my last semester I was “running on hopes and pleasant thoughts.” However, as a result of working on my mental health issues and the fact that I was already at the “5 yard line,” I found myself participating more in class than ever and really enjoying myself and some newfound peace of mind. With all the different experiences I went through during my time in undergrad, and all the distinct feelings they brought me, I realized I wasn’t the type of person who would enjoy (what I call) the “confinement” of certain jobs. I like to do a lot of things, and I like having the power to start new projects. This mentality reinforced a lifelong passion for entrepreneurship, and helped settle my turmoil over a major concentration and career path. By simply “trusting the process” and letting time and experience do the work, I found that a bunch of the questions and concerns I had which had very wide scopes (what career path to choose, who I wanted to be, etc.) became increasingly clear.
Tip 4: Trust the process. For many of the wide-scoped, open-ended questions that have an unlimited number of potential answers or paths (such as career path, personal interests, and other “lifelong” decisions), the best solution is often stepping back and “trusting the process.”
Often, the things that we planned are not what end up mattering the most. We often think we have everything together; with concrete plans, we have a guaranteed place in the future. As the famous line declares, “man plans and God laughs.” The things that are unplanned, very often result in a better outcome than those planned because we are limited by our own imaginations. The things that ended up mattering most to me were the things I never planned. Life will throw curveballs, but these curveballs don’t have to be negative. I think most of us would agree, if we all got exactly what we wanted as soon as we asked for it, we would miss out on a whole lot of amazing things that we could have never imagined. To conclude with the words of Garth Brooks, the greatest country star of all time, “Some of G-d’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
People ask me how it feels to be graduating, what it’s like to be wrapping up all the projects I’ve adopted and created over the last few years, and I take the time to think of a well-thought and articulate response: