It’s May, and all over the country the Class of 2007 will be completing college. Many of the smartest kids will come to Washington. They’ll flood our offices and apartment buildings, and alternate between charming us and driving us mad. They've been making me wonder what I wish I'd known at age 22. So, to you, from me, some unsolicited advice on the art of postgraduate life:
You’ve spent the last 22 years being told how smart and special you are. You’re going to spend the next few years being told that you kind of suck. If you open yourself up to this, and let life kick you around a bit, you’ll be a better person for it. If you continue to think of yourself as the greatest thing ever, you’re going to grow up into a royal pain in the ass who sucks the fun out of everything.
You are your choices. People are who they choose to be. Integrity, wisdom, kindness, and strength aren’t inherent, they’re earned. So is self-esteem. True self-worth isn’t that goofy “you’re all so very special!” routine we learned in kindergarten. It’s so much cooler than that, and it has nothing to do with your job, your thighs or your car. Self-esteem is earned by being a good person, taking care of others, and knowing what truly makes you special. It’s also the strength to not care what others think, and to not let anyone else drag you down. Most of all, don’t let you drag yourself down.
Oh, and by the way, you’re not all that special. I’m sure you’re one in a million. But that means there’s a thousand of you in India. It’s a big universe, and you’re only a tiny fraction of it.
At the same time, don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have anything to offer. Today’s 22-year-olds study abroad, travel, and volunteer in high numbers. You see a bigger world than I did at that age, and for that you have my respect.
Know at least one awesome party trick. Get really, really good at beer pong, know how to find Kabul on a map, or be able to drink stuff that’s on fire.
Screw up. A lot. Make out with a tattooed stranger, dance on the bar, quit your job to hike across Nepal, tick off your parents. Show up for work with a blazing hangover. Change your religion. Do ridiculous things to your hair. You’re at a point where your age is still a valid excuse for stupidity. Don’t waste the chance to be foolish. On the other hand, don’t make mistakes that will haunt you forever. Note that I told you to make out with the tattooed stranger, don’t bring him home. Don’t show up for work with a hangover every single day. Don’t burn bridges. Don’t cheat, lie, or steal.
The tattooed stranger brings us to the subject of sex. Your body is the express lane to your soul, and you need to treat it with respect. If you’re too embarrassed to buy condoms, you are not mature enough to be having sex. That goes double for you, ladies. I guarantee that the clerk at Rite-Aid is thinking about what’s for lunch, not what a dirty little skank you are. Also, Plan B is available from most pharmacies in D.C., without a prescription. Buy one, stash it in the medicine cabinet. You never know. Finally, you can get an HIV test from your regular doctor, during your annual checkup. If you make the test part of your routine, it won’t be so scary.
Fall in love. Get squashed. Repeat as necessary.
Five and ten-year plans are for idiots. Have dreams, and make sure those dreams get bigger over time. Do you want your own business? To travel the world? Prepare a perfect white sauce? Have babies? Know what your big dreams are, and the details will sort themselves out. Of course, in a job interview, have a five-year plan. Even if it’s total hogwash, they just want to see if you have a ready answer.
Don’t let fear guide your decisions. Yes, it’s scary to leave home, fall in love, break up, or change jobs. But it’s scarier still to stay in the same place forever. Have a balls-out, madcap, beautiful life.
Ah, your first job! No, you will not be running the place. You will be answering phones, filing, faxing, and doing the basic prep work for the chef (aka, your boss). All offices have grunt work, and it is not assigned to you as a form of punishment. Simply, it’s work that has to be done, and as you’re the rookie, you’re the one that has to do it. The trick is to get so efficient at the grunt work that you’ll have spare time to do the cool stuff.
You don’t have the worst job in the world. Do you clean up after elephants? Are you a coal miner in China? I doubt it.
Administrative work isn’t always the lame stuff you do on your way to something else. I’m an office manager and I do admin work for a living. I’m good at it. Without me, you wouldn’t get paid, the lights wouldn’t be on, and you wouldn’t have pens to write with. So don’t look at work like mine as the obstacle between you and your lofty aims. Your awesome marketing plan doesn’t keep the doors open, my sending in the rent check does.
All honest work has dignity. Tell yourself that at least once a week. If you can put those words to music, and dance around to it while you collate, so much the better.
Cultivate mentors. But please, don’t be one of those annoying people who is always “networking” and seeing your fellow human beings as potential job references. I hate those people. Most people hate those people. Develop friendships with people you admire, and the rest will sort itself out. I’m lucky to have had so many former supervisors who want to see me do well. (So, thank you, Suzanne, Margaret, Dave, Emily, Dorothy, Tina, and everyone else who has guided me in my career and my life. Y’all rock.)
Parents! Aren’t they awesome? Well, the best way you can show them what a great job they did is to carry your own weight. If you must live at home, do your own laundry. Fix dinner. Don’t hit them up for money. Show them they raised a competent adult. It might take them a while to let go, but they will.
Let’s move on to dating. Always be yourself. You have a lot to offer. If someone isn’t buying what you’re selling, find a way to move on. If you have to edit yourself for someone, or pretend to be someone you’re not, what’s the point? Go hang out with your friends instead.
Be selective. Don’t sit around hoping that someone picks you. You should be choosing each other. Find someone who is nice to you and makes you laugh. Better yet, pick someone who loves you not in spite of your flaws, but because of them. Because your flaws are what make you fascinating.
If you learned something, you didn’t waste your time. It’s only a failed relationship if you can’t figure out why it failed. Also, exes can turn out to be terrific friends.
Live big. Have a full life. Don’t let one thing be your everything, whether that’s your job, your significant other, or your favorite TV show.
Be a good friend. Take soup to someone who is sick. Remember who had a first date last night, and take the time to call and see how it went. Indulge cranky moods, because people aren’t always going to be at their best. Listen. Crack them up. Strive to be the person that your friends call when they have a bad day. Your friends are family. But not all friends are worth keeping. Soul-sucking Eeyores, black endless pits of need, and people with mean streaks should be avoided at all costs. If someone isn’t nice to you, why strive for their affection?
When you have problems, you have choices. You can acknowledge, cry it out, and get over it. Or you can embrace the drama and find the whole thing hilarious. Both methods have merit, I like the second. Otherwise, I would have run out of blog posts a long time ago.
We’re all born for a reason. But your task in life isn’t to find out the reason, or spend years in annoying little journeys of self-discovery. Your task is to bring out what is special in others, and they’ll do the same for you.
When 30-year-olds have 1500 words of advice on how to live, it’s a sign of the Apocalypse. I don’t know everything, in fact, I don’t know much at all. And on that note, I’m done. Take care of yourselves, live big, screw up. It’s a fun world out there.