Congratulations, recent grads! You’re likely insanely excited, or maybe scared shitless, to make your way out into the world now. I just want to impart some unsolicited wisdom, remembering how excited I was when I was your age: back when it took a certain kind of person to go online, cell phones weren’t universal yet, and the gaming industry was going through its awkward teenage years despite being about 30 years old.
You probably don’t want to read one of those “When I was your age” rants your parents/guardians are likely inundating you with, so I’m not going to talk about what it was like to graduate at what I felt was both a beautiful but awkward time to get out in the world, the early 00s.
Rather, I’m just going to get into how much the world has changed since and how advice gets outdated faster than ever now.
What my father told me when I was getting ready to go to college in 2003 wound up being totally obsolete by the time I finally graduated in 2009.
Hell, even by 2007 it was pretty obsolete. Dad, I know you’re reading this, and I love you, but holy shit you spent a lot of the early-mid 00s being really clueless about how the private sector works. Dad came from that era when good public sector jobs were bountiful and once you got a job, that job paid a great wage with a 40-hour work week and benefits, you held onto that job figuring you’d get raises and bonuses and even better benefits as time wore on, and then you had nice things like pensions once you were approaching your fifties.
He was mindblowingly young when he got that “really good job” he had for about 30 years and gave me advice that was valid in 1972 a couple years after 9/11. I was already meeting kids at punk shows who had degrees and did everything from serve coffee at Barnes and Noble to making less than $15/hour in offices. It didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me that I better go to college or else my life would be worthless.
I spent much of 2007 and 2008 constantly filling out job applications with the IRS, Defense Contract Audit Agency, the Treasury, and DOJ and constantly getting Highly Qualified ratings just to never make it to the interviews. I was persistent after my Advanced Accounting I professor told the class a story about how one of her former students had a 4-year-old daughter who didn’t even recognize him.
I almost got a job with the IRS in 2009. The vacancy announcement said graduating seniors were welcome. I was communicating with a HR officer who signed government correspondence with a heart, who told me that I needed to submit the final transcript I didn’t have yet by Thanksgiving when my final exams weren’t until two weeks later. So I didn’t get the job.
I later lamented having vision problems and anxiety handling large vehicles so I could’ve just gone for a CDL instead.
If you’re going to college, it’s okay to take longer than four years. It’s actually the norm.
Four-year colleges are just a title. Some of you may have looked at my graduation timeline and thought it was normal, or that I must’ve really fucked up to have taken 6 years to get a college degree. Spoiler Alert: unless you’re coming from the means to focus on nothing but your education, or taking out some gargantuan student loans that entail “pay until you die” plans, 6 or 7 years is actually pretty normal. I took time off to deal with health issues in my sophomore year and then eased up my course load when I started working while still in college. All while people my parents’ age thought that I was partying my ass off and avoiding the real world, and it just made me want to punch them.
I was getting so stressed out from full-time schedules and full-time course loads that something had to go. I figured my health was worth taking a longer time to graduate. If you don’t have your health, what the hell do you have? You’re young and energetic and may be tempted to join this rat race, brag about how you functioned on 2 hours of sleep a week to just get your degree while you already got a job in your field. Don’t.
You can go to school any time.
I wish I hadn’t taken the indoctrination as seriously as I did that I better go to college and focus on finishing school or else my life would be ruined.
The world moves at a much faster pace today than it used to, but this idea still persists. Guess what though? You can go to school at ANY time. Maybe you only have a limited timeframe of going for the traditional college experience where you live in a dorm and are surrounded by other people in your age group and get the party atmosphere, but if you’re serious about building your career, you can always take less credits or drop out completely to focus on building up an amazing business idea or snagging a great job that comes your way. Repeat: you can finish your degree at any time.
You’re young and invincible: you’ve only got a certain number of years before age and obligations start catching up with you, so now is the best time of your life to live scrappy and focus on starting a business or living in a multifamily property so you can rent the whole thing out eventually, writing that screenplay or game design doc, or getting a rental property instead of wasting these precious years trying to make yourself attractive to employers like I did.
Things change at a much faster pace than they once did.
Yes, I keep repeating that. Because it’s true.
It wasn’t that long ago that online dating still carried this massive stigma. Now people will look at you like you’re crazy if you refuse to sign up for one of those sites.
Things don’t get erased once they’re on the internet, but people also have shorter attention spans than they did 15-20 years ago. It doesn’t take long for the next internet hero or pariah to come up, or the next Pizza Rat to take peoples’ attention away from whatever they’re tapped into.
Five years ago, I joined my business partner when I just completely flatlined after finishing my master’s thesis because it hit me that I was 26 years old and it seemed like that “someday” I was going to be creatively fulfilled was getting farther and farther away while I spent my life working on two accounting degrees I honestly didn’t want. We toiled over a business plan to attempt to woo investors of our possibilities with a huge publisher and our own projects. In barely a year, our entire business plan became obsolete when every single adventure game veteran popped out of the woodwork and went to Kickstarter.
But it also gave me the distinction of saying I went to Kickstarter instead of an accounting firm after finishing my Master’s, so there’s that.
Life will throw you curveballs so you need to take risks.
You don’t know who you’re going to meet or what could happen down the road. The best-laid plans can get thwacked with a curveball in a snap.
Making plans is good but don’t think TOO far into the future. Focus on the present. That dream guy or girl may not pan out, and hell, we still keep learning and growing well into our thirties, forties, and beyond. Your friend circle can completely change and going back to careers, you never know if that degree you just toiled for when employers paid a lot for it when you began studying will suddenly be worthless upon graduation.
Life has risks. We risk being screwed by employers or clients, by friends, lovers, and getting hurt and rejected sucks ass. It can scar you. Both good and bad things can happen out of the blue.
So, don’t plan more than one or two years ahead. Five-year plans are a joke. You don’t know what can happen in few months, let alone a few years, no matter how stable your life may seem. Having goals is great. Challenge yourself, but don’t take on goals that seem impossible or else you won’t bother working towards them.
And taking no risk at all is worse than taking risk. We live in a fearful society that tells you to not bite the hand that feeds you and work within whatever bullshit constructs your employer has created to keep your job, or to be grateful for whatever you’re given: taking risk is a sign of growth and not making decisions out of fear.
Oh, and remember that IRS job I was supposed to get? Yeah, the branch I was supposed to work in shut down during the 2013-2014 furloughs so I would’ve been laid off in 5 years anyway even if I had gotten that “secure” government job. That’s the kind of curveball I’m talking about.
There’s more to life than what you’re presented.
Careers, relationships, work-life balance, saving money…christ, even I catch myself mostly blogging about these things. Whether it’s to provide something concrete and helpful, or question how humans tend to approach these topics. A great many people constantly worry about money or finding a good partner, or figuring out where they fit along the spectrum.
But there’s more to life. For me, the punk scene still holds vast significance in my life even if I can’t make it to shows as often as I used to and am trying to fix that. I have so many other things outside of the scene and being a game developer and writer that I want to try. Maybe you’d like to give more of your life to volunteer for causes that are important to you, or find some other alternative to the traditional nine yards (whether it’s in careers, relationships, or both.) One of the guys in an alternative living community I frequent quit his job to become a caregiver for a disabled man, and it taught him much about life and appreciating what he has.
Maybe travel isn’t a be-all end-all to you, or you want to figure out a way to see the world and other people are telling you your dream is stupid. Figure this shit out while you’re young and your back can take sleeping on cots and campgrounds! That’s the best advice I can give. I don’t regret bumming around the UK for one second. Then if you want to see America, over-the-road truck drivers get to see it all and you don’t have to put up with petty office politics.
Be partnered if you want that, but you don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy either. Only go for it if that’s what you want and that person really means something to you: not because you want to be partnered for the sake of it. There’s all these mental contortions today when it comes to relationships: just be straight about what you want at this juncture of your life. Don’t confuse who you’re with and most of all, don’t confuse yourself.
I was hurt and confused as hell by a man I actually came to care about, when I hadn’t taken a risk on someone like that in a very, very long time: but I was still glad I did it because I now recognize what I want out of a real relationship, and life.
Be true to yourself, and be kinder to yourself than the powers that be want you to.
And hey, there’s more to life than careers and relationships. Make time for the other things in life that you find important or want to know more about. Never stop exploring or questioning!
Ignore the buzz and do what you feel is right.
Maybe this buzz will get ignored as well, who knows. But I just want to say that in light of all the above, life moves pretty fast. One day you can wake up and find yourself single and in your thirties wondering what the hell happened, that you haven’t gotten to do all the things you thought you would’ve and all those dreams have gone unfulfilled.
Traditional careers are less attractive than they used to be. And adults go through multiple career changes in their lives: what you decide at 25 or 30 doesn’t cement your life, let alone what you decide at 18.
Many of the things previous generations had guaranteed to them are a lot harder to get now.
A lot of people are unhappy and never seem to have enough, even if they have a paid-off home and a seemingly perfect marriage.
If you don’t want to go to college, there’s options. It’s not the ticket to success that it used to be. The time and money spent on tuition might be better spent on the down payment for a rental property or hiring a business coach and making good on your plans to start a company and forms of passive income– hell, even just buying into something like a frozen yogurt franchise is more likely to be a ticket to something better. (Because remember, you can go back to school at any time.)
And maybe you just need some breathing room to figure out what you really want to do.
The world is your burrito, and it’s your choice how to dress it. Just know that this lady who went off the beaten path after being brainwashed to stay on it is rooting for you.