Student stories: 4 unexpected lessons from a year studying entrepreneurship

13th February 2017

This is a great article written by 2016 Master of Entrepreneurship alumna, Edwina Kolomanski – first appeared on LinkedIn.

It’s a year this week that Madeleine (my girledworld co-founder) and I met for the first time. We were two in a cohort of almost 20 students, all about to start a year-long Masters program at the University of Melbourne’s Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship.

Adding to usual first-day nerves, there was another layer of anxiety shared amongst us as this was a brand new course, curriculum, faculty and with a building that wasn’t quite finished yet.

Before this first week I had never heard of lean, agile or a business model canvas and it turns out I had no real understanding of entrepreneurship. I’d heard of Branson, Jobs, Gates … but that was pretty much it!

This past year I have been on a completely unexpected learning curve. Yes, I’ve learnt a lot about business, innovation and the world of Silicon Valley but the most profound learnings are applicable to much more than just entrepreneurship…

Here are some of the highlights:

1. Find your person

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You hear people encouraging you to “find your tribe” quite a lot and, I must admit, I cringe a little when I hear that saying. But I do think that finding people who energise, encourage, challenge and support you is so, so, so important.

What is misleading about “finding your tribe” is that it makes it seem like you need to find a whole group of like-minded people when, really, all you need is just one person.

I feel extremely fortunate to have turned up at the Wade Institute at the same time as Madeleine. We’re the same and different in many ways but every time we talk (which is a lot these days) I feel inspired and energised, with the belief that we can do whatever we put our minds and efforts to.

We laugh a lot. We have meaningful conversations. We have many shared values. And most importantly we listen to and empower one another.

Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely road at times so make sure you’re on the journey with the right people.

2. Learning to love learning

Before my Masters I never thought that I liked learning. Scarred from undergraduate degrees that required endless prac reports and essay after essay, at my first graduation ceremony I vowed that I would never go back.

Ha! It took me just under three years to break that promise and I was enrolled in a post-graduate degree. So what was different this time around?

By the time I turned up to do my Masters I’d already seen the inside of three different organisations. Some things I liked, some I didn’t. But what really struck me was in some work environments, continuous learning wasn’t a thing. You learnt your place, your job and that was it. If you weren’t surrounded by curious people, you could easily stop learning right then and there.

I never thought that this was an issue until I found myself desperate to acquire new skills, seek new information and self-educate outside of working hours. I didn’t want to admit it but I missed learning.

Entrepreneurial education has taught me to scan, read, gather information from any reliable source. From reading case study after case study, I’ve seen how little bits of information can drive big change and innovation. You need to keep your eyes and ears open for information all the time – you never know when the dots might connect on something amazing!

Amusingly now, I’m dabbling with the ol’ PHD idea … but give it a few years at least!

3. Just start

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Put your hand up if you’re highly self critical *typing pauses as I raise my hand*

It can be so hard to judge your performance. Expectations are unrealistic. Nothing is ever good enough. It can be easy to be in a constant state of ideating and planning without ever actioning anything.

This is fear. You need to move past it.

My message to those reading is to simply start. Whether it be entrepreneurship or something completely unrelated, just start and see where it takes you.

A year ago that’s exactly what we did and we haven’t looked back. We’ve had a year of learnings, new friends, connections, inside jokes and a whole lot of memories!

4. Be kind to yourself

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During our last semester stress levels were high. After a presentation, one of our professors came up to me to see how I was feeling. We’d spent weeks and many late nights preparing for this presentation and in hindsight it was pretty good! But being the hypercritical personality that I am I was immediately looking for all the weaknesses and areas of improvement in our performance.

After a few minutes of drilling questions to our professor like “What do we need to do differently next time?” and “How can we improve the value proposition of our pitch?” he stopped me and said:

“You are one of the most self-critical people that I have met in more than a decade of teaching university students. Today was good. The work was good. You’ve put a lot of effort into this. Be kinder to yourself and the work that you have produced. Yes – you can always improve but everything is ok. ”

Wait. What? You’re not supposed to know that I’m self-critical – you’re just supposed to think that I’m a smart, hard-working student. Yet this little bit of insight and feedback made me start to really think about the way that I treat myself.

And it isn’t just limited to your professional life. My best friend recently told me a piece of advice. She said:

“You need to talk to yourself the same way that you would talk to me or any of our friends. The next time that self-critical voice starts drilling you, just stop and imagine me. Would you say the same thing to my face?”

We’re so kind and encouraging to our friends but so quick to criticise ourselves. I haven’t mastered this one yet but I’m learning to be more mindful when the self-critic in me comes out to play!

Yes, be nice to others but BE NICER TO YOURSELF!

It’s amazing what a difference a year can make. Here’s to another year of new friends, learnings, and memories in the making!

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