Congratulations! You’re a graduate. If you’re reading this as a high school senior and you’re headed to college or trade school in a few short months, then you’re about to embark on a wonderful journey filled with rich academia, “finding yourself,” and the freedom to wear athletic shorts and T-shirts 24/7 without societal judgment. You will never again experience a time when your only job was to mature, grow and learn, without any pressure of loan repayments or home mortgages. Enjoy it.
If, however, you’re reading this and you see yourself entering the workforce, then I’m afraid the road ahead is a lot bumpier. If there were three things I wish someone had told me once I took off my cap and gown—someone who was not my mom or dad—this is what they would be:
1. Do what you love, love what you do. (But don’t be lazy.)
In college, and even in high school, I intensely believed that whichever career path I studied for would be the one I would do for the rest of my life. If I’m investing all this time into majoring and interning, then I’m going to stick to it no matter what. But things happen. People change. Life goes on. You might not love what you found attractive four years ago and you’re doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t stop and evaluate what you love to do.
You’re at the perfect juncture of your life to find what you love and pursue it. You’re young and naïve enough to dream big, but old enough to make those dreams a reality. This, however, isn’t an excuse to do nothing. Explore your possibilities by taking on different challenges—live in another country, go back to school, start a company. One of my favorite teachers once told me that it’s worth wandering, or even being lost for a year, if it means attaining a lifetime of direction.
2. Save your money. Don’t overspend.
I still remember the thrill of receiving my first salaried paycheck. If you’re like me and have only worked a string of part-time jobs as a student, receiving a “big girl” paycheck can feel like a life-changing moment. RESIST buying the latest LED TV on a whim or splurging on $80 worth of day-old Halloween candy just because you can. For one, you’ll be eating fun-sized Kit Kats until 2050.
Try to view the years after graduation as your “internship” to adulthood and get into the habit of being responsible now, before you have to pay for it later. You only have the excuse of being a recent college grad for so long and it’s sad to meet thirty-somethings who live paycheck to paycheck with insurmountable debt and no design for the future. When money is good, save for the meager times first and then reward yourself for your hard work. Your future children will thank you.
3. Avoid ruts. Don’t get stuck.
I’ve heard that, around your late-twenties, you begin to see two types of people form very clearly—the ones who haven’t accepted that college or high school is over and still live their lives like one big frat party, and the ones who have used their twenties to grow and move on with life. The former isn’t necessarily defined by immaturity or debauchery, but rather being stuck in the past. They mean to find a job they love, they mean to get out of their comfort zone, they mean to discover and live out their dreams—but they never do. Or rather, they’re too scared to. Don’t be. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Adulthood is much more than getting older, so use this time to grow and become the adult you want to become.