For as long as I can remember, my identity was wrapped up in being a star football player. Coaches said I had good athletic ability and technique for being so young, especially given I was bigger than most at 6-foot-3. I wanted to play in the Canadian Football League or the National Football League.
In high school, I had my pick of universities because I’d landed seven football scholarships. I chose the University of Alberta because it offered the most money. People knew me as the “football guy.” It was who I was.
Until right around my third year at the U of A, and then it wasn’t. (More on that in a second.)
University life is full of stress, expectations and disappointments. But you can’t beat how it tests you and helps you learn more about yourself. I may not be walking away knowing exactly what I’m going to do with my Bachelor of Arts (economics) degree, but I’m way more confident and agile than I was before I started, or than I ever was on the football field.
Here’s a few surprising enlightenments I gained during my degree. I sure didn’t see them coming.
“There are 168 hours in a week—what you choose to do with them is up to you.”
I really hate the stereotype I’m just another dumb jock, so I’ll bust that myth out of the water by mentioning that I graduated with a 3.9 GPA.
Now I can confess without judgment, I trust, that I nearly blew up in my first year. I’d started in another faculty and quickly realized it wasn’t something I was interested in. Plus, life was chaotic. I was living in residence (enough said), attending class in the mornings and going to football practice every day from 3 to 9 p.m. Of course, assignments fell by the wayside.
First year was not my best year and I knew I needed to make a few major changes, starting with studying something I cared about. I’d always been interested in business finance and analytics. I’d ask my parents to explain trading as a kid, I held curbside lemonade stands, traded baseball cards and I got on the stock market as soon as I turned 18. Plus, I’d taken an economics course in one of my options, and enjoyed it.
I wrote off my first year and transferred over to Arts to major in it. And I buckled down. I wrote down everything I needed to do in a week, scheduled it and gave myself rewards when I accomplished the list. Teammates and classmates were also helpful when asked, sending texts to remind each other about assignments.
I soon realized that there are 168 hours in a week—what you choose to do with them is up to you. With a strong work ethic and no procrastination, there’s plenty of time to do all the things you need to do and want to do. For me, that included launching a business website called Newlyinvestor.com in my last year at U of A.
A lot of friends used to ask me for stock tips because they knew I was getting a 15 per cent return on my investments, and I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I build a website so everyone can see all my business ideas and advice for new investors.’ It’s generated a ton of visitors from around the world, and now I’m focused on monetizing it with membership fees.
“Don’t expect the fruits of your labour to come right away. Or ever, in some cases.”
I’m just calling it like it is: the Golden Bears did not perform well when I was on the team. And it wasn’t easy to put so much effort in and so many long practices, only to lose all those years. It can beat you down.
It wasn’t until I reflected back on it that it occurred to me those years weren’t lost: they taught me perseverance and patience. I learned how to keep my chin up and keep working, and that’s a virtue you can hold onto—not just in sports.
University is like that—a lot of hard work with no immediate returns in sight, at least for four or more years. You learn to find satisfaction in the smaller achievements. That discovery is priceless and will pay it forward when you enter the real world.
“Worry about your own expectations, not everyone else’s.”
Mid-way through my university experience, I suffered a bad concussion on the field. It wasn’t my first. The trainers told me about the long-term risks of continuing to play, especially given my history of concussion, so I weighed my options. I could live to be 80 and be healthy, or I could compete for the one-in-a-million chance of playing in the NFL and having a shorter life.
I quit football, and it was the hardest thing I’ve done. Losing that ‘identity’ made me sad, disappointed and depressed. It took me nearly half a year to transition from student-athlete to just a student, and I did it when I let go of the expectations everyone else had of me.
I knew I needed to focus on being a student but also seeing the world from outside of sports and setting my own expectations. I embraced studying and working on my business and I found my way because I did the following . . .
“Trust in yourself. You will find your own definition of greatness.”
I wasn’t sure what I would do with my degree in economics, so I participated in a lot of extracurricular activities outside of studies. I helped the Nigerian Students’ Association of the University of Alberta put together an inaugural event that won a $5,000 bursary. And I joined the student entrepreneurial organization ENACTUS, and the University’s Arts Work Experience (AWE) program.
The latter gave me a ton of resources to explore career options, such as finding a job shadow program. I followed a City of Edmonton finance guy in the investment department for one month. At an AWE conference, I met the fund manager for the Boys and Girls Club and volunteered there helping with fundraising events and other initiatives.
A degree can open to the door to a ton of opportunities, and you can’t know what you’ll like until you explore options with confidence.
Today, I am gaining great experience working in marketing at a company, and like I said earlier, the truth is I don’t know exactly what I will be or how I will get there now that my degree is under my belt.
But through trial and error, heartbreak and experience attending the U of A, I learned I like to work hard and that because I believe in myself, I will be great no matter what I do. That’s worth the weight — or more — of my 3.9 GPA.