The 5 Biggest Lessons I Learned In College

I took my last undergraduate final in June. As I walked out of the lecture hall, there were only two words in my mind: I’m done. Studying for exams, worrying about passing a class or not, walking all over campus; done with all of it.

In addition to being the most memorable four-year span in my life, my experience at UCLA helped me to grow in pretty much every aspect. Here are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned.

Disclaimer: I still have much to learn, and I acknowledge that I am immature in many ways – anyone who knows me can attest to that. I am in no way trying to be a master sensei, but rather hoping to bless you with some things I’ve learned.

“We don’t have many more nights like this.”

In the last couple weeks of college, I found myself saying this phrase quite frequently. It was mostly lighthearted, yet I knew that the time I had with many of my friends really was coming to an end. Though it saddened me a bit, I actually came to find comfort in that transient nature of things.

We read in Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity.” Hebel, vapor, meaningless. It may sound grim at first, but it is this realization that allowed me to see that if the meaningless things are on earth, the meaningful things can only be found somewhere else. As the Apostle Paul writes, “our citizenship is in heaven,” which is a “kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

This truth gives me enormous hope and joy while also adjusting my perspective. I understand that no amount of joy or sorrow will compare to the glory of God we will witness in heaven. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should stop caring about anything and do whatever we please. Rather, we should be motivated by this heavenly perspective in all that we do, because if we compare our time on earth to eternity, we don’t have many more nights like this.

“It’s not about what you know. It’s about who you know.”

Before I graduated, the question I asked my older friends was, “What do you miss most about college?” Nearly all of them said their community.

We know God didn’t intend for man to be alone. Indeed, His triune nature reveals a perfect communion that we can only strive for on this earth. Because we are made in His image, it follows that we all have inherent desires to connect with other people.

Though all relationships start on a superficial level, it is through the conversations, struggles, and ultimately Christ’s grace that result in true gospel-centered friendships.

We look to Apostle Paul and Barnabas to see this dynamic. Though they had their differences, which even resulted in their separation in Antioch, Paul still had love for his brother Barney (my nickname for Barnabas). In the same way, I learned the importance of having friends that will keep it 100, even if it hurts me. If our friendship is centered on Christ, we will reflect His love and grow one another by both challenging and encouraging each other.

One thing I regret not doing earlier in college was investing in my younger colleagues. I was just plain bad at it, therefore I made excuses and was okay with not developing relationships with younger people.

But now I know the value of being the mentor or the older figure. I saw it not only in my life, but also in Paul’s relationship with Timothy, his disciple. I recently led an accountability group/bible study and it was definitely beneficial for all of us; I was blessing my brothers while being challenged and blessed as well by them. There is enormous value in finding a Timothy, a Paul, and a Barnabas.

“I don’t wanna be you, I just wanna be me.”

In his song “Wanna Be Cool,” Chance the Rapper sings that he just wants to be himself. The song fights against the the millennial tendency to compare ourselves to others.

I’ll admit that I struggled with this, especially as I took on positions of leadership. I couldn’t help but look to my predecessors and become highly self-critical when I couldn’t replicate their success in some areas.

Yet, I realized that because I was wired differently, the ministry benefited in other ways. Romans 12 reminded me the strengths I have will be different from those of others. Thus, we must steward our gifts faithfully for the purpose of glorifying God, regardless of what they are.

Once I understood this, I experienced a huge shift in how I approached not only leadership, but also my identity in Christ. Various insecurities that once induced self-pity or doubt now gave me an even greater appreciation of the love God has for me. The fact that our shortcomings don’t keep Him from showing mercy and that he still loves us should move us. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made.

“Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.”

I love this quote from Aristotle. It’s simple, and it applies to both good and bad habits.

The good grades I received in high school didn’t transfer to the college level because of my terrible study habits. I was used to cramming a night before a final and doing well. Yet, those habits had already become so ingrained inside of me to the extent I had to switch majors because I was struggling so much. After that wake-up call, I knew I had to do something.

It took an enormous amount of discipline and accountability to build good habits. The first step was to understand what was important and what wasn’t. After realigning my priorities, I made a schedule. I grew to adhere to it. I got a job. (This forced me to set aside time to study. If you are struggling to prioritize, I highly recommend doing this!) I started to read and pray in the mornings. I stopped looking for time, and instead I made time.

Eventually, these habits became necessities. When I don’t start my mornings with prayer, or if I find myself being idle, there is a noticeable difference in how my day goes. Don’t wait to start building good habits.

“Sit down. Be humble.”

This is probably the most important lesson I’m still learning to this day. I entered college expecting to fly through and land a prestigious job by the end of it. Yet, here I am a postgrad with no secured long-term job. Strangely enough, I’m okay with that.

I attribute this peace to the fact that God humbled me all throughout college. The major change made me realize that my views of myself were highly inflated. It hurt, but it was necessary.

I thought I needed a great paying job to support my family. But God provided for me every single time I was financially unstable, which shattered the notion of a job bringing security.

Even in ministry, both at church and the parachurch, my service became a source of pride. The years of serving made me think that if I were to stop, the ministry would suffer. Yet, through the periods of hardships and burnout, I learned that the exact opposite was true. Even when I served halfheartedly, God blessed my church and campus ministry.  I understood I could be taken out of the equation, and God’s plan would still be realized.

It’s okay to be humble. Actually, God commands us to be humble. So if you’re not, you can bet that He’ll make you.

Daniel Shim is a graduate of UCLA and former president of UCLA KCM.