It was mid-afternoon in Beijing's famed Chaoyang District. Small, dark sweat spots were beginning to show through my wool suit. I walked up and down the street desperately trying to hail a cab in the sweltering humidity.
Then, I was 17, alone, and running late for a meeting with executives at one of China's largest banks.
A few months later, I started university having learned everything I needed from one Chinese taxi ride.
You know approximately where you want to be, but never the exact destination.
Eventually, I flagged down a cab and walked up to the passenger side. I sheepishly handed a slip of paper to the driver with the address of the office written down. He looked at it once, nodded, and told me to get in. After about five minutes on the road, he decided to break the silence: "I'm not sure where this is exactly. I just know the approximate area."
It's just like college. You know roughly what you want your life to be like in four years or even 10 years: You want to be successful, happy, and reasonably well-off. But, you probably don't know the exact destination and even if you think you did, this destination will likely change. Stay calm and use this time to explore your interests.
Waiting is stressful. But enjoy the wait.
The traffic was terrible. I could see the minutes passing by as late became later. Despite the stress that built up as I waited, I can truly say that I enjoyed every minute of the ride. In broken Mandarin, I chatted with the driver about living in China, his kids, and what type of woman I should marry.
In life and in college, instant gratification can't be sought out constantly and just the notion of gratification in itself is often misread. We tend to think that in any given moment, we either have gratification or don't, and when we don't, we're waiting for the next round of gratification.
It is true that for good things, you often have to wait. However, we can teach ourselves to feel gratified even while we wait.
Be willing to take a blind shot.
We were getting closer to the Financial District and we approached a particularly busy intersection. As we stopped at the red light, the driver turned and asked me, "Which way should I go?" I laughed nervously. I thought it was a joke, but he repeated the question again. I was mind-boggled - how could the driver ask me, the lost foreigner, which way to go?
I had no clue but there seemed to be more skyscrapers to the right. I told him to go right.
In college, sometimes we are forced into situations where we can either quit or take a blind shot. I encourage you to always take the blind shot: apply for the stupidly competitive internship, try the exchange to that country you can't pronounce, ask the pretty girl out!
People will place complete trust in you. And you'll have to trust them back.
We were finally in the Financial District and even on the right street, but we couldn't seem to find the building. After we drove by a few times, the driver turned into a side street and without saying anything, stopped the car in the middle of the road and just walked out the door. I sat there, utterly baffled, watching him walk away.
He was asking people for directions up to a block away and he had trusted me enough to leave the keys in the ignition so the air conditioning would stay on. Now, I had to trust him to find a way to get me to my destination.
Transitioning to college is a huge milestone in maturity. Roommates, classmates, professors, and bosses will all expect to be able to rely on you and assume that trust to be mutual. Use that to your advantage and know that you are never alone because participating in these adult relationship places you in a network of support.
It's the journey and the destination.
I eventually arrived. Without the destination, I would have missed my meeting and there would be no goal fulfillment. But, without the journey, this experience would have been completely different.
When we enter college, there are a number of universally accepted "destinations": graduation, landing the first job, and generally figuring out what you want to do in life. Although there is plenty of uncertainty in those destinations, we are even less certain about the journey. That is ok.
Many of us need to focus more on creating something beautiful out of the journey while devoting more energy to the destination. Strike the perfect balance of the two early on and your college experience will be amazing!