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Read Letter


My dear Jack, I did promise to do you a letter on how to be a good student. Here I am fulfilling my promise. You can share it with your friends. I’m of course writing with the benefit of hindsight. And I have the benefit of life and experience.

You have to take a larger view of school if you want to succeed in life. University is that phase of life for the development of critical capacities for success. You don’t go to school to learn how to fail, you go to school to potentiate yourself for success. It’s important you understand this or else university will just be a rite of passage for you – the next phase after secondary school education.

There are critical capacities you must develop if you want to succeed in life. One of those is the ability to focus. You’ve got to learn focus. Focus concentrates energy. There are too many distractions in school and if you’re not careful you’ll excel at every other thing except the reason you went to school. Focus. Parties, babes, booze, social experiments, peer pressure, wanting to belong, seeking to impress, fashion, pose, religious activities, political activities… All these have the potential to make you lose your focus if care is not taken. I’m saying the primary reason you’re in that university is to get your degree. Don’t lose that focus. If you do every other thing except get that degree what’s the point? It’s not just about financial loss to your parents, it’s also about missed opportunity. Opportunities aren’t generous. It’s why they’re called opportunities. They derive their joy from being few and far between.

What education does, what education is SUPPOSED to do is give you capacity for reasoning at a higher level. When you read books it’s not just for knowledge sake it’s also about developing reasoning capacity. As you read try and figure out how the author thinks – the structuring of thought. When you read a book you’re experiencing someone’s mental processing. Develop brain muscles. If you don’t develop mental processing capacity you’ll be limited in life.

When you read don’t just cram the material and regurgitate in exam. It’s important you UNDERSTAND what you’re reading. Understanding is key. It gives you latitude for creative enunciation. This was the point my Law of Contract lecturer sought to establish when he gave us an open test in school. We could bring in text books. He wasn’t going to reward us for regurgitating material, he was looking for thinking capacity. In the search for understanding you may need to read extra-syllabi materials. A good student resources knowledge. Don’t forget it’s not just about acing a particular exam it’s also about life. Don’t restrict yourself to syllabus.

Now, you can’t really succeed in school without something called discipline. Discipline is about applying yourself, being consistent and systematic. It’s why you must set time for studies everyday. That’s consistency. Fix a time, stick to it. Of course you have to have drive. If you don’t have drive you won’t succeed in life. That means pushing yourself. You’ve got to be self-driven. You must have inner motivation. Don’t rely on external stimuli. You’ll be reactionary and almost never do anything unless compelled. Even emergencies may not move you – it’s that bad. Don’t wait for external propulsion, motivate yourself. Some people won’t read unless their friends are going to read. That’s bad. You’ll soon learn that in life you’re on your own. You ought to be self-motivated. You ought to have your own imperatives, have your own vision. If you’re weak in certain courses seek help from those who are proficient, those who understand it. If you don’t understand a topic approach your lecturer or any student that understands. That topic could be the difference between good and poor performance in exam. It may be your saviour. What if it’s a compulsory question in exam? Align yourself with brilliant students. Attach yourself to them. The discipline they exercise will rub off on you. Iron sharpens iron.

You need to work hard. Whether in or out of school you won’t succeed without hard work. There is always rigour involved in success, just that we don’t see it. The rigour takes place behind the scene. “Working smart” can’t replace hard work. Smartness speaks to efficiencies it does not speak to industry. Work hard and smart. Hard work involves being thorough, being rigorous, perfecting the output, refining it with relentless dedication. It’s about getting it done, not resting until it passes muster. You will need that rigour in emergencies. As a young man I read about Ronald Erwin McNair. He was the black astronaut and physicist who died in the Challenger mission in 1986. The shuttle exploded seventy-three seconds after take off killing all seven astronauts. Near the end of his doctoral program he lost all the data for his thesis – that was accumulation of two years of specialised laser physics research findings. He never complained. He simply started all over again. He produced a second set of data in less than a year. And the second set was better than the first. That story has always motivated me, especially when I lose a file. I just pile right back in to meet the deadline. No point crying over spilt milk. Be determined to excel. You’ve got to set that button. It’s a mind set. Be determined to be one of the best students in class if not the best. All it takes is rigour and discipline. And being smart upstairs. You have the capacity. Set your bar high and pursue it.

To be a rounded student read extracurricular materials in your spare time. If you’re an arts student read science, if you’re a science student study the humanities. As a law student I studied science on my own. I understand how theories are derived, I understand scientific reasoning. It’s helped me in my work. Studying extra curricular stuff gives you capacity for lateral thinking. You’re going to need it later in life. As a law student we were made to study philosophy, English, sociology, economics, logic, add maths and sciences in the first year of study. As it turns out those are the subjects powering my professional calling as a brand strategist now. Who’d have thought! If you’ve ever read Carlo Rovelli you’ll appreciate why it’s important to study extra-curricularly outside one’s field. Carlo is a quantum physicist but his books are very accessible to non scientists. He writes arcane stuff beautifully. He draws on history, philosophy and classical literature to explain difficult topics in science. It’s almost like reading Da Vinci Code. Rovelli annihilated our understanding of time, but he used a multidisciplinary approach. He thinks philosophically, deriving insight for solving challenges in science through classical reasoning. Who else can enunciate why we remember the past and not the future in the way he did in his book, The Order Of Time?

You become a maestro when you can crossbreed knowledge. You become an artist. You can borrow templates from other disciplines, model solutions, draw analogies using external frames of reference. I can’t forget how we solved the problem of a bank at Alder Consulting using the traffic flow pattern on a particular bridge as model. I also remember how we used the model of the London Underground for the deployment of new brand identity materials for another bank. We crossbred disciplines. Read classical philosophy, sociology, history, literature, economics, art, architecture. These are things I study. I’m interested in design so I study architecture. It’s about creativity. Besides, being so exposed gives you conversational capacity with people outside your field. I can talk architecture confidently with architects for example. Those classical stuff, including classical music are the parapets of human civilisation. They’re the pillars of human advancement. Study them.

You have to have broad cultural capacity. It makes all the difference. Be a renaissance man. Consume culture – fashion, modern art, music, media. They round you up. Without them you’ll be mechanistic. You won’t be able to appreciate nuances. You’ll be literal. You don’t have to travel to consume culture. Read fashion magazines like Vogue for example. Just flipping those pages does something to you. You appreciate curated material beauty as well as excellence. All those comics we read in junior secondary school… The novels – James Hadley Chase, Nick Carter… Mind benders like Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died… All those games – Chess, Monopoly… They mattered! They helped us develop reasoning capacity and stimulate our imagination. How can I forget the creative structure of Kofi Awoonor’s This Earth My Brother? The alternative mix of prose and poetry… It was brilliantly creative! We learnt speed reading in secondary school by reading one James Hadley Chase novel before lunch and exchanging it for another before closing time. We travelled with James Hadley Chase to his plots. Beautiful story telling. These were early influences. You’ve got to read. Ever read George Orwell’s Animal Farm? 1984? You get to understand politics, ideology and power. You learn political evolution.

You’ve got to socialise. Yes, I didn’t forget I said you’re in school to learn but learning is not just about books. School must pass through you too. You have to learn social interaction. You will need it for networking later in life. Make friends, go to parties, take a stroll with a friend, talk to the opposite sex, take your friend out… Up to you whether you want to have a girlfriend or not, though these things happen in the natural course of life. But girls are not the reason you’re in school. Do well in life and toasting becomes easier. Socialise nonetheless. And you should learn how to dance or you’ll become the star of one of those alumni reunion videos later in life.

Spirituality is important. It helps you to connect at a deeper level and make sense of life. It also keeps you from making stupid mistakes – trajectory altering mistakes. Religion helps you keep your balance. But don’t get so caught up in religious dogma and programs that you fail in your exams. That’s not a good testimony and it makes mockery of spirituality. If at all because of it you should ace your exams.

Be nice to your classmates if you don’t want regrets later in life. Your embarrassment is waiting for you on one of those alumni WhatsApp platforms. Someone is bound to remember your nastiness. Behave responsibly towards women. Learn to take responsibility. Be a man. You will need that in your marriage. Don’t treat women anyhow.

Believe in yourself. Self confidence is often 50% of the job. Learn to marshal your viewpoints in an intelligent manner. Be intentional. Don’t be obnoxious. The despite of your classmates can last a lifetime.

Don’t sweat what you’re going to become. It will become apparent. Sometimes the opportunities you have are your trajectory.

Don’t ever forget a university is an artificial construct. It’s not the real world. There’s something called the real world. And it’s going to come at you right after university. Be prepared.  You soon learn those things you thought were hip on campus… That they’re rubbish after all. You glamourised nothingness. Don’t waste your life on worthless pursuit. Don’t associate with bad company either. Good manners do get corrupted in bad company.

Your future is before you, go for it!

Your mentor, LA.

Download Leke Alder’s FREE e-book, THE GOOD STUDENT GUIDE at

© Leke Alder |

Opportunities aren’t generous. It’s why they’re called opportunities. They derive their joy from being few and far between. Click To Tweet Spirituality is important. It helps you to connect at a deeper level and make sense of life. It also keeps you from making stupid mistakes – trajectory altering mistakes. Click To Tweet “Working smart” can’t replace hard work. Smartness speaks to efficiencies it does not speak to industry. Work hard and smart. Hard work involves being thorough, being rigorous, perfecting the output, refining it with relentless… Click To Tweet
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