Advice for Incoming TKS students
I’m Izzy, and I’ve been part of TKS for two years. It’s a human accelerator program for high school students.
At TKS, we focus on training problem-solving, tech/science and interpersonal skills. I’ve had such an incredible experience going through the program.
I got to do workshops at Google, meet people like Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) and speak on global stages like Web Summit (largest tech conference). These are the “results” I’ve seen from the program, but they’re not guaranteed. TKS is a life-changing experience for students who want to leave this planet better than they entered it.
I get quite a few questions from incoming students for “advice” going into their first year of the program. So, I thought I’d compile it all here.
Spoiler: How I “did” this all wasn’t rocket science; it was just hard work. Everyone wants to get the results, but very few want to work hard. I’m proud to be one of the most hard-working people out there, and most people around me can attest to that.
Don’t just take my word for it. I asked some of my closest friends to describe me in a few words:
Now, here are 10 pieces of advice from a hard-working TKS student.
1: Seek clarity if you don’t understand why something is important.
TKS will expose you to brand new concepts and methodologies.
You’ll learn about habits, frameworks and content production. As someone who has been through it all, every time I’ve been reluctant to do something suggested to me, I was wrong.
Smart people helped build and design TKS. Everything they expose you to has an intention behind it. There’s a reason why. And it’s often a very good one.
I’m not saying to take everything without question. Ask questions. Seek understanding. It’s incredibly important to know why what you’re doing matters. If you do this, nothing in TKS will feel like “homework.” You’ll love what you do, and you’ll want to do it in all your free time.
2: Be willing to change your perspectives/approaches/beliefs.
Things will be different and surprising. The worst thing you can do when approached with novelty is shut it down. Don’t be overly skeptical.
Going into TKS, I didn’t have many expectations. I didn’t set expectations for myself. I didn’t even have many expectations of the program. I was just willing to learn.
I came in with an open mind, and that served me well. Try not to expect anything. Don’t expect results. Don’t expect sessions to be a certain way. Just be a sponge, learn, grow and be excited by novelty. The start of the experience may be not-intuitive and even confusing, but if you remain open-minded, you’ll experience some unfathomable results.
3: Treat TKS as a toolbox.
When you go to your dentist, how often do you ask them to fix your car engine? Probably not very often. Does that mean they can’t be of value to you? Well, no. They can fix your teeth, just not your car.
TKS is a lot of things, but it is also not a lot of things.
Ask yourself how YOU can best use TKS, not how TKS can be of value to you.
When I say it is a lot of things, I’m talking Amazon’s entire warehouse inventory a lot. There are so many components to the program, and there is so much you can takeaway.
TKS will give you the resources. The mentorship. The friendship. The guidance. The tools. The frameworks. The support. The connections. The confidence. Whatever you want. But it’s up to you to turn the valuable information into action. It is up to you to make use of this world-class ecosystem.
Understand the resources TKS has to offer and leverage them. You get a lot more when you ask a dentist to clean your teeth than when you ask them to fix your car engine.
4: Make it a priority.
When I joined, I had two priorities: TKS and school.
I never took up extra clubs to “resume pad.” And, I am horrible at sports, so that kept me pretty focused.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. At my school, I did the leadership club for one year called LOFT (leaders of tomorrow). You lead several workshops and volunteered around the community. The value I got from that vs the value I got from TKS is not even on the same spectrum. “Clubs” and “TKS” in my opinion/experience, is like comparing a preschool education in a random town in Wyoming to Harvard. (Nothing against Wyoming!! It’s actually my favourite state.)
When I did clubs “leadership” oriented clubs, or joined “councils/committees” all I got was a high five and maybe a nice piece of paper. By investing into TKS, I discovered my passions, travelled to 8+ countries, met CEOs, scientists and leaders, made my bestfriends and finally felt happy.
I know people have commitments. They’re club presidents. Debate champions. Whatever you want to be. Do what makes sense for you, I know I value quality over quantity.
Regardless of how many activities you do, you’ll see value as long as you put in some work. Make sure you are dedicating enough time on TKS.
How much time is that?
If I got a pet duck for each time someone asked me this question, I’d probably have to move from my home in Toronto to a farm in Wyoming. A big farm.
You don’t do TKS the same way you’d do homework (at least I don’t treat it like that). It quickly becomes a lifestyle. It becomes what you love to do. You finish your homework to “work” on TKS-stuff.
What I will say is your outputs are proportional to your inputs. You have to put in the work, but you also have to put in the right work.
The rule of thumb I’d use is putting in enough work to make sure month by month, when you look at your past self, you’re amazed at how much you’ve grown.
5: Don’t strive for “balance.”
The second most common question I get is “how do you balance TKS and School.” And the short answer is I don’t.
In the same year I started TKS, I also finished two years of high school with (sophomore + junior year) with an average of 97% (I fast-tracked my credits).
I don’t go to a private school. I go to a good, Canadian, public high school. And no, my classes weren’t “easy.” I took the hardest classes I could find at my school.
What are my secrets?
✅ Prioritization (knowing when to focus on school)
✅ Staying two weeks ahead of all my classes
✅ Communicating with my teachers
When it was exam week, I knew I would focus more on school. I always studied. I was never stressed. And I worked hard.
6: Celebrate other people. It isn’t just about you and your success.
The biggest mistake you’ll make is thinking of this as a competition.
You’re going to meet your best friends here. You’re going to meet people that “understand you.” You’re going to ask yourself “where were these people all the X years.”
I was used to competitive environments from school. I took all the hard classes with the overachievers, so everyone around me was fighting to be 1% better than one-another. TKS is not like school. There are no grades.
There are people; awesome people who you should support and cheer on. Don’t underestimate the students around you. Be yourself, hangout, have some fun.
Which brings me to my next point…
7: The only person you’re working against is your self.
Become a better version of yourself. Whatever that looks like.
Everyone’s path looks different, and that’s ok. People have different strengths, desires and motivations — it will manifest into different trajectories.
It’s going to be different benchmarking your progress against yourself instead of other people, but that’s what TKS is all about. A new approach to education. And I promise you; you’re going to learn a thousand times faster.
8: Turn things into action right away.
What’s the point of knowledge if it doesn’t turn into action?
Whenever you learn something, try to turn it into an actionable step.
For example, you may learn about the power of a calm mind, and why it is important. An action you could take is meditating daily.
You’ll hear a lot of words. But if you do nothing, they’ll just be words. Actions breeds understanding which breeds more action.
9: Quit looking for answers.
The education system trains us to hunt for cookie-cutter answers.
There’s a 99.99999% you’re over thinking.
Don’t find comfort in security. You’ll never grow that way. Finding answers to questions like ‘how much time should I invest in TKS?’ won’t help you all that much because the answers don’t exist.
Just enjoy the ride. Take action and learn. Most things in life aren’t a textbook question with an answer 300 pages later. It’s more complex, less algorithmic, and it’s frankly, thrilling.
10: Expect to fail.
None of this should be easy. Not everything will come naturally.
You’re going to make a ton of mistakes. You’re going to cry, feel frusterated and maybe even want to give up.
Get back up.
For some people this is harder than others. I know for me, I drink independence for breakfast, so I am great at consistently trying my best, even after a stumble. Try to be there for yourself.
No one should babysit you. You’re going to fall, and most times it won’t matter; learn to pick yourself up.
11: Enjoy it!
Have. Fun. Trust me, I know what it’s like to take life too seriously. You’ll lose motivation.
This will be a thrilling, exciting, and even addictive experience if you let yourself actually enjoy it. 😎
When I was in the program, I loved it. I loved learning, I loved meeting new people and I loved working on projects. Love love love. It was the most fun I’ve ever had.
So, what should you do know?
Remember, turn everything into action.
Here are 3 things you could start with, but I recommend developing your own list of “action items”:
- Re-evaluate your priorities. What actually matters? What will help you achieve your goals?
- Can you start getting ahead in school? Learning next year’s courses?
- Start supporting other people. Share your study notes. Give your friends compliments (sincerely) and be their fan. Try to demolish your tendancy to be jealous.
When I joined TKS two years ago, I was expecting to learn about science/tech. It turned out to be so much more than that. TKS skyrocketed my personal growth. If you put in the work, do the exercises/activities and participate, you’ll see results. Specifically, you’ll be happier, healthier, smarter, more productive and so on. But, if you’re not willing to work hard, you’re in the wrong place.
Cheers to becoming a better version of yourself, I hope you enjoy it! 🦄
P.S. one thing I regret is not telling more of my friends about TKS. It could have changed their lives entirely. Going into it, I wanted to keep this extracurricular “special” to me. You can learn from my mistakes. Tell your friends, use this experience to grow together :)