University is a circus: less like Soleil, and more akin to the charming-however-acutely-unhinged Britney Spears musical rendition. We, students, are the performers slacklining and trapezing from one checklist item to the next, trying to finish the show without plunging to our doom. We take turns teetering across a tightrope that is taut with the cross-directional strain of GPA pressure, recruitment stress, job toils, health woes, and social balance concerns. But we are not necessarily aware of what is waiting for us when we reach the other side.
To cope with this uncertainty, we have inadvertently shelved the most important years of our adolescent advancement in favour of learning by imitating, and living deadline to deadline. We are not learning innovative new tricks, and so we risk becoming as obsolete as the traditional circus industry itself.
As it turns out, the unchanging and restrictive nature of this future-focused act is setting us back in terms of important soft skills, and is in fact counterproductive to our future plans. A report from earlier this year by PayScale and Future Workplace shows that recent graduates are lacking in grit, curiosity, and communication abilities.
Our prospective employers are noticing: the same study cites that 50% of hiring managers feel that recent graduates are not well-prepared for their new jobs because of limited skill development.
But all is not lost. Combining the knowledge and technical skills we develop in pursuit of our degrees with soft skills fostered through simple fixes such as trying new things, meeting new people and coping with change, may help us achieve both the job and mental stability we seek.
According to Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University, starting right now is our best shot at having these skills become a permanent part of our personalities, even as adults. Steinberg reports that adolescence today lasts for 15 years – longer than it ever had for previous generations. He goes even further to say that this extension of adolescence can be a good thing if we play our cards right; it can improve our social and cognitive development if we use this time to experience novelty. This is because our brains are at their peak “plasticity” during adolescence, meaning we will never never be as susceptible to absorbing and retaining new skills for the long term as we are now.
We are in our developmental prime. It is time we trade our daily exposure to the stale, sweat-laced air of the Robarts stacks for a fresh new routine and attitude. We need to place our soft skills in the same standing we do the knowledge we are conquering in class in order to grow into successful members of society.
So find the time to get out there and do the things you’ve been misguidedly putting aside in the name of your education: learn the languages, take the dance classes, join the quirky student groups, experience the art exhibits, and all the while meet new people who aren’t like you. And do it sooner rather than later, because the most important class of them all is out there. And skipping it is costlier than we think.