Monday, May 15, 2017

An Open Letter to 2017 College Graduates

Dear 2017 College Graduates- 

Congrats. You did it. 

You celebrated all of your successes with your loved ones. You took many-a-photo. You laughed. You cried. You said goodbye. You drowned your sorrows in one last kegger. 

Then... Oooph. You're DONE. 

I remember the Monday after graduating from college like it was yesterday (Newsflash: It wasn't). 

I woke up in my childhood bed. In my parents house. Jobless. Alone. Slightly depressed.

Me. On Graduation Day. Sad. 

But I had that diploma (or a fake piece of paper rolled up until the actual one came in the mail).

That first day in reality is a tough one. I feel you.

And as clique as it may be, one quote from a Brad Paisley song has always stuck out to me about this very time: 

Have no fear, these are nowhere near the best years of your life.

You may feel like the best years are gone.  Believe me. I get it. You went from being surrounded by your best friends. Going to class. Hanging out all day. Drinking without fear of hangovers (ahhh, the good ol’ days). Living in a bubble of people that are just like you.

Oh, 22-year-old self. 
So… to make your entree into the “real world” a bit easier, I’ve put together a few things that I wish I knew once I left that glorious land of Day-Drinking Football Games Frat Parties Academia: 

1.     TRAVEL. NOW. There is absolutely no better time to travel then right now. You don’t own a home. You aren’t married. You probably don’t have a dog yet. Go out there and do something crazy. Because guess what. Once you are locked into that 9-5, you’ll might have money to spend on a trip but no time to take it. So bootstrap and go see the world for a week or 12.

2.    THANK THE PEOPLE THAT GOT YOUR THROUGH (and / or PAID for) COLLEGE. Now that you are “done” with college, it’s your time to step back and think about everyone that helped you along the way. Did your parents help pay for college? Write them a letter and take them to dinner. Did an academic advisor really help steer you in the right direction and help you graduate on time? Send him/her a thank you note. Did your friend stay up all night helping you study for a Spelling and Grammar test that took you 7 times to pass? Send them a cookie cake! You couldn’t have done this by yourself. So don’t be a jerk.  Thank those people!

3.     SAVE YOUR MONEY. Ok this may be a counter point to No. 1 – but it’s not. Once you start making money in your “real job” it’s easy to spend that money. Quickly. Go ahead and put a plan in place to have a certain percentage of your paycheck AUTOMATICALLY go to your savings. That way you don’t. even. miss. it. Also,  you are 22. Retirement? That’s for old people. WRONG. Start saving for retirement NOW. The earlier you start, the better you will be. I’m no financial expert – and I know bottle service and designer jeans sound like a better way to spend that money now, but you’ll thank me when you’re older. Promise. (I literally sound like my mother). 

4.     DON’T QUIT LEARNING! Just because you graduated, it doesn’t mean that your learning is over. Take another language class. Take a hand-lettering class (HEY YO SKILL POP!) Watch webinars each month. There is always room to continue to learn and grow - personally and professionally. 

5.     GO BACK (and GIVE BACK) AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Don't be a stranger now that you graduated. Be sure to plan trips to get back to campus throughout the year, if possible. Keep in touch with those professors that really impacted you - because you never know what can come of it. I was invited back to speak to one of my professor's classes, and ended up hiring one of the students for a job after meeting him at the class. Also - most alumni associations have "young alum" prices - meaning for a small donation (aka we know you are not rich yet), you can take part in a lot of alumni benefits. DO IT. 

6.     DON’T FEEL PRESSURE TO FIND YOU DREAM CAREER RIGHT NOW. That is in ALL CAPS because I'm jumping up and down and screaming at you right now. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. No one REALLY knows what they are doing. Some are just better at faking it than others. Don't feel that immense pressure to "get your dream job" right out of college. If you did, congrats. But I'm going to guess in a few years, your dream is going to change, and that is ok too. I wanted to work in sports so badly I took a job that paid $100 / week (!!!!) while working insane hours. Although it didn't turn out to be my dream job, it did help me build a lot of skills and a network of awesome people. Don't turn down an opportunity just because it isn't "what you expected."

7.     PLUG IN WITH YOUR ALUMNI NETWORK RIGHT AWAY. As noted above, there is something special about connecting with people that went to your alma mater. I'd work twice as hard to help a UNC grad than anyone else (Go Heels). But really -- that is a natural network that you have at your disposal. See when the next meet-up is in your city and GO. If you're an introvert -- try emailing an alum first to introduce yourself. 

8.     BUILD A COMMITTEE OF STRONG PEOPLE AROUND YOU. It's easy to feel "lost" in the real world. Everyone seems to have it all together. Accept a) that's a lie and b) there is some work involved. Figure out the type of people you want around you and start to seek them out. Do you want a mentor? (see #7). Do you want people that enjoy running? Seek out a run club. It's harder to make friends when you aren't living on the same floor of the dorm, yes, but there are so many other opportunities waiting for you! 

9.   BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PUT ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I hate that this is even a thing. Parents couldn't even get a Facebook account when I was graduating. Just remember that everything that you put online can and will come back to haunt you. Go ahead and do a Google Search of yourself. Be warned. 

10. INVEST IN PROFESSIONAL CLOTHES. Gone are the days that you could stumble out of bed in Nike shorts and an oversized sorority tank. It's time to start putting some effort into your look. Ladies. A few pieces of advice: I don't care how "casual" your office is: Please cover yourselves. No cleavage. No flip flops. No short skirts. NO. Men: Invest in an iron / steamer / go to the dry cleaner. You may still be stumbling out of bed, but at least TRY.  

11. ACCEPT THE FACT YOU DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING. This will make your life easier in and out of the office. No one likes a know-it-all -- personally or professionally. Be humble, LISTEN and observe more than you speak and seek out the advice of people that have experience. "Millennial" is the new four letter word, so prove yourself as someone who works hard, has great ideas and doesn't wine about not having a ping-pong table in their office (I'm sure you'll survive). 



Now, class of 2017. We are counting on you! Go out into that great big world, thank your mom and dad, don't be jerks -- and change the world. 

Or at least change your outfit. 


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