Sunday, May 13, 2012

Advice for college graduates

My sister graduated from college yesterday, officially making me old enough to dole out some advice to college graduates everywhere. 

You’re not even you yet.

It’s now been seven years since I graduated with my master’s degree, which I earned after seven years in college. Did I change much from ages 18 to 25? You bet. But I evolved even more from 25 to 32. Mostly for the better, I hope. If I play my cards right and keep learning at life, I’ll be a sage, charming fame magnet by the time I’m 80. My point is, personal growth doesn’t stop once you’ve reached the academic finish line — if anything, you find out even more about who you are once you’re out. College will be a distant memory sooner than you think. So always look forward. Oh, and wear your goggles — life often hurls giant bugs right at your eyes.


If you’re at all text-savvy, you know what I’m talking about. If you have yet to leave your hometown, now’s the time to do it. Whether it’s for a job, to experience a new culture or if you just want to go backpacking (lucky you), travel somewhere. You can always come back. And you’ll be the wiser for it. I always considered myself a fairly worldly person, but it took lots of trips and a four-year stint in the Midwest to realize just how different just 700 miles can make in culture and thought. Even more importantly, I learned that there is still much I have yet to learn. If circumstances don’t allow you to physically GTFO, then do it some other way. Take up a new hobby. Toss out some old clutter. Adopt a new attitude. The point is, make a change. Renew yourself.

Keep an ear open to advice and the other ear open to let it out.

Your elders are likely to impart upon you their words of job-seeking wisdom. It’ll come in mighty handy if you find yourself in 1985. At least one well-meaning person will ask if you’ve considered working 40 years with a company and retiring on a generous pension. Another might call you entitled because you think your degree should help you land a job commensurate with your expertise and experience. Every class faces its own unique strengths and struggles. Your strength will lie largely in how you handle the bleak economic climate you face. And one day you’ll have your own outdated advice to impart to the next generation who’ll say, “Skid that fail” or some other future slang. Speaking of jobs:

You are not your job.

I once dated a woman who, when asked what she was, called herself a poet. Part of that had to do with her limited work visa, but mostly it was that she didn’t define herself by what she did to make money. At times you’re likely to find yourself doing things that don’t form the best picture of who you are. So don’t feel the need to answer everyone’s favorite ice-breaker question with, “Department-store drone.” If it’s more interesting to say, “Amateur comedian and champion dreamer,” run with it. Actually, I wish everyone did this.

If success is a ladder, sometimes the rungs are greased.

Since I’ve graduated college, I’ve found myself unemployed for both one-year and five-month stretches. These times alternate with well-paying, gainful employment. Right now, I’m only working part-time. It’s very easy in these situations to feel very low self-worth, not to mention the financial and social pressures that compound it. But when you do land the gig you’ve always wanted (or anything at all), that span has a tendency to fade very fast. Roll with the punches. You never know where those blows might make you look.

Opportunity knocks, but sometimes it’s a ventriloquist act.

Very little of what I’ve achieved in life was a direct result of going for it — instead, a failure led directly or indirectly to a success. I tried and failed to get a job as a copy editor in Louisiana — but the same person who couldn’t hire me there hired me for the same job in Missouri. I always wanted an athletic scholarship, but I sucked at sports. I got one anyway, though, because the university needed a track manager and I had been a solid football manager as a sophomore and junior. In both cases, someone remembered something I had done and it paid off in unexpected ways. So, go for things. Whether or not you get them, you could be planting a seed for something you never thought of — something better.

Leave the rat race to the rats.

It’s perfectly fine to not buy a house and a big car. You don’t have to work in a cubicle. If you’re happy, self-sufficient and compassionate, you’re rich.

Start a collection — of experiences.

When I was a teen, I often pictured my life in my 20s and 30s. It’s too boring to recount here; let’s just say it involved the accumulation of stuff and being safe in all life decisions. That works perfectly fine for some people, but I know now that such a life would have left a hole in me. My favorite post-college memories have nothing to do with money, things or even making out. I may be broke and unestablished, but I live a very absurd life full of crazy experiences. Each one is a story that I can tell well after it gets stale. And those are more long-lasting and satisfying comforts than any toy could ever be.

Listen to George Clooney.

Clooney once said he didn’t want to vote for someone who has spent their whole life running for president. In the age of social media, we’re more worried than ever about doing things that might make us unattractive to peers or potential employers. The good news is, we’re all in the same boat. So the best thing to do is own every situation. Live your life. You may slip up once in awhile, but it’s better than living your life in fear (and, in turn, not living at all). You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it and become a more awesome person.

What everyone should have is a place to trash “what everyone should have” lists.

The only things people SHOULD have by a certain age are: the ability to take care of themselves; a genuine empathy for others; and a sense of what makes them happy. Everything else is peer pressure.

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