Advice to My Younger Self

Peter Lewis, Vice President, Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation

By: Peter Lewis, Vice President, Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation

As a forty-something executive, I sometimes reflect on when I was young (and hopefully not too foolish), on how great it would have been to have had the benefit of knowing what I know now, back when I was just starting out. So, if I had the opportunity to give my younger self some advice, here’s what I would say.

Find your passion. When you are young and considering your future, there is generally no shortage of opinion from folks keen on advising you what you should become.  Another way to approach your future aspirations is to focus on what you love. What do you do that makes you happy and that you excel at?  Allow that passion to guide your thinking about what path you will pursue in life.  As a parent, I would never say to ignore the advice from your family; but I will say, don’t allow the voices around you to crowd out what you know you truly love.  Find ways to inject your passion into what you choose to do with your life.

Academics are not everything. Don’t get me wrong:  academics are important. But the truth of the matter is this; when I look to hire someone, I never ask what marks they got in university. I do pay attention to how well-rounded they are, how they can apply their ideas to creatively solve problems and how they can approach issues from different perspectives. I also gauge how well they interact with others and how they work collaboratively on a team, with people of all backgrounds. 

These types of skills are typically not learned in a university or college course, rather they are honed through interactions with people outside of the classroom. While in school, get involved in other activities that diversify your experience.  Participate in student politics. Volunteer in community programming. Broaden your experience to present a prospective future employer with more than just a stellar academic record.

Network, network, network. Some people will crassly observe that success is not always about what you know, but about who you know. And as much as we might not like to admit it, there is a great deal of truth in that. For an intensely introverted person like myself, networking was tough and I didn’t do a lot of it when I was young. In my current role, networking is essential – and I have had to force myself to learn how to network. 

In university or college, you will be exposed to an incredibly diverse group of people – both professors and students. Make as many meaningful connections as you can; you never know when those connections will be useful to you in the future. At the same time, never forget that you can be a helpful connection for others!

Always learn. For many people, gone are the days of graduating university, starting a job and staying there to retirement, 40 years later. Careers today are incredibly diverse. 

In order to succeed, you need to be flexible – able to adapt to a world that changes at an incredible pace. Graduating from school is not the end of learning; it is just another step in what needs to be continuous, lifelong learning. One of my strengths is that I am naturally curious about everything. I am always asking questions (sometimes good ones, sometimes not so good one!), always trying to better understand things and learn new things. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Aim to learn something new every day!

And there you have it: four thoughts that I wish I better understood back when I was in university – and which I hope you will benefit from. Carpe diem.

Peter Lewis is Vice President of the Canadian Scholarship Trust Foundation. He is recognized as an expert with respect to education savings plans in Canada, and has addressed several parliamentary and senate committees on the important role RESPs play in improving access to higher education. As a proud father of seven children, three of which are currently in university, Peter has personal experience in the importance of saving for post-secondary education