graduation advice for grads

I was hungover when I walked across the stage of my graduation last year, as I had been much of college. I straightened my posture, opened my eyes wide and made a giant grin spread across my face, just as had done throughout much of college. All these speeches about how we were the future, how we’d be changing everything in the coming years, how our ideas and lives and actions affected everything more than anybody else’s (a claim I am still unsure of) were designed to make us believe in ourselves, or something. But inside, I was shaking with the knowledge that I would soon be released into the world with zero idea of what I wanted to do with my stupid little 22-year-old life.

When I arrived at school in 2008, I had just been extracted from my incredibly suburban life in Syracuse, New York and transported to an incredibly suburban life in Orange County, California with shots of life in Los Angeles spliced in between semesters. I spent the next four years switching from majoring in opera to thinking I’d be a writer to law school aspirations to imagining life as a poet, all the while working as a makeup artist, partying and dating the exact same dude over and over and over.

Every time I switched career paths, I would implode with simultaneous optimism and fear. I dreaded the day when I would actually be forced to choose, when I would finally have to say, “Yes, this is what I will do. Yes.” I assumed there would someday be a lightbulb and that suddenly, I would know my life path — or at the very least, my career path, which seemed like the same thing for years.

hangover graduation advice for grads

I WAS SO SICK.

After I graduated, I got in the car with my mom and cried. I had so many grad parties to go to (though my own had been the night before, thus why I was so hungover), but I was just so tired and afraid and overwhelmed by the prospect of failure. After a few weeks of sheer panic combined with preparing to move to New York City in June, which meant saying goodbye to all of my California friends and comfort, I shipped off back to the East Coast.

It did not go well.

New York was not for me at that time, to say the very least, and a month later, I wound up moving back to Syracuse and in with my parents — a fact that I was dubiously embarrassed of at first, though I realized I was lucky enough that I could even do that. I then spent two months in a deep depression, afraid to go out into the world, perpetually doubting each and every one of my abilities. I barely ate and, because of the medication I was on, I slept for 18 hours at a time.

But then, in August, I spent some time time with one of my best friends/on-and-off partner of the last eight years. Because of how comfortable I have almost always been with him, I was able to put my feelings into words where, previously, they had just exhibited themselves in facial expressions and posture drops and weeklong streaks when I didn’t see the sun. I confessed to him that I was afraid, apathetic, depressed and filled with dread. To make a long sentimental story slightly shorter, he told me to just start doing what I’d always enjoyed: writing. He has always known me as a writer (we met in creative writing class in the tenth grade, as silly as that sounds) and knows that it’s one of the only things I actually like to do.

So, I resolved to attempt a career in writing even though I was unsure if it was what I wanted to do whatsoever. And it was great! Well, great to think of, at least, except I had no idea how to start, where to look for jobs and how to apply places. As a makeup artist, I had really just known people who needed me, who then referred me to other people, who then referred me to other people still, and so on. But I knew almost nobody in the writing world, lived in Syracuse and had majored in f’ing poetry.

I applied to dozens of places, perhaps over a hundred. I rarely got responses, and when I did, they were rejections. I felt terrible about myself, having no idea why I wasn’t getting any positive emails or letters, not a single indication that I was a qualified candidate for…anything. I began to miss California and its safety, warmth (literal and figurative), and comfort, as well as my old job in makeup. Though I had quit it for numerous reason, going back to it seemed so appealing after my realization that I wasn’t anyone’s top choice for a job.

However, I wound up finally applying to an online internship writing for a blog, which was incredibly lucky and very educational. It was unpaid, so I had to work at this telemarketing job for minimum wage, as well as doing other things on the side. I was living with my parents, which (as I mentioned earlier) felt shameful, but in retrospect, it worked out so much better that way. So much better.

I was able to work while still having some type of stability. I was able to save money, maintain a steady schedule and improve my resume. I never went out and I slept quite a bit, but this was for a good reason now: I was goal-oriented, finally, and felt the need to have healthy habits that would support this. It wasn’t exactly the shiny new Adult Person life that we all hope for when we’re about to move onto the “next step,” but it was progress, and progress was such an improvement from the alternative.

All this prepared me for the moment when a dear friend of mine from here, whose first name starts with an A and rhymes with this creature, texted me to let me know that I should apply to The Gloss for a weekend position. I jumped at the chance, I got hired and I was lucky — once again — that the team accepted me and let me begin writing.

As I’ve mentioned before, I moved around a lot over the past year; first, from California to Syracuse, then to Portland, then finally to New York City in April. And here I am now, my friends, writing for all of you.

So, from both my “things I did right” list as well as my “WTF were you thinking?” column, I have some advice for all the recent grads out there.

Force yourself to do things you did not think you were capable of, and don’t keep putting them off. I was afraid of failure, so I spent entirely too long putting the pieces together when I should’ve just thrown the puzzle in the air and let it land however it wanted to. I was absolutely not ready to move to New York City a couple months ago, and I am admittedly still terrified by this place, but I am so thrilled that I decided to just do it, then figure out the specifics later on — this was a much better approach than my original “do things once they finally seem perfectly safe.” If you wait that long, your opportunities will be gone.

Be proud of yourself!

Seriously, this helps a lot. You finished college! You have done something! Acknowledging that achievement is good for your psyche.

Don’t feel bad about living at home and working for an hourly wage. As I said last year, there is zero shame in having a low-paying job and, if it is possible, living with your parents. Do not feel bad about it, as many people would consider you lucky to have parents who would support you that way. And earning minimum wage is never something to feel bad about; having any income at all makes your goals much more feasible than if you’re the kind of person who winds up without any job at all because they’re too proud to accept or apply to one at their local Wendy’s. A job is a job. Just do it.

Move around. If you are unhappy in a place — truly, irreparably unhappy — then leave, if you are able to (i.e. you do not have a child or something else living that relies on you.) I realize this is easier said than done, but getting rid of the majority of my possessions, moving somewhere very cheap (hi, Portland!) and proceeding to just figure stuff out there was deeply helpful, and much more conducive to progressing than if I had gone off to San Francisco or Shanghai right away, both of which would have likely put me into debt and overwhelmed me. Transitioning is far easier when your self-exploratory phase is conducted within your financial means.

Nobody owes you anything. Do not assume that because you worked hard in school, participated in a lot of clubs, was the captain of anything and had a lot of rad friends, you suddenly deserve a job. You can be brilliant, beautiful, suave and any of the other things I assume people aspire to be, and you still might not get the job because somebody important’s dumbass kid did instead. Is it because life isn’t fair? I don’t know, but it isn’t fair, and it isn’t fair to nearly everybody else, either. Deal with it. Improve yourself.

If you have loans, start paying them back as soon as you possibly can. I began paying mine back slightly before the end of the six months, which helped me adjust to including them in my monthly budget. The interest will grow and it will not stop doing so until you pay them back, so it is best to just do it as quickly as possible.

Do not expect the world to accommodate you. When I moved to Portland — a choice entirely my own — I was still writing on New York time. This meant I woke up at 5:30 PST in the morning so I could post at 9 am EST. Was it fun? No, of course not, because I hate waking up early and it meant I could rarely stay out late. Was it worth it? Yes, of course, because it is my job and if I just stopped doing it, I’d be fired. Everyone I have met whose work ethic I admire is the kind of person who always finds the time and energy to do what they’re asked, and then some. If you go through life assuming that everyone’s going to give a shit that you have trouble waking up early, or that you hate coming in on Saturdays, or you just “don’t feel like” abiding to company regulations, then you will come to be known as “difficult” and your coworkers will know this, and discuss it.

Don’t jump into grad school. If you are 100% certain that you want to get a graduate degree, go for it, but if you are remotely unsure, just wait a year. Find a solid job. Save money. Perhaps move to the area where your top choice of grad school is so you can know whether or not you’ll be miserable there if you wind up attending it.

Do not overspend. Do not overspend. Do not overspend. Do not charge things to your credit card unless you absolutely, positively need to.

Never, ever show up anywhere with the “I didn’t come here to make friends” attitude. You should always be polite to people — with the obvious exception of when people are being totally horrible to you in some way — and you should always demonstrate the ability to work with others, as you will likely require that skill for the rest of your life. You should make friends. Friends are one of the absolute best things about life. Also, it is incredibly rare that people who are rude, overly abrasive and unpleasant to be around are successful. Why? Because nobody cares if they do well.

Here’s the thing about switching career paths over and over: it’s okay. I logically knew beforehand that people often don’t figure out exactly what they want to do in life until later, or that what they thought they wanted to do wasn’t what they want to be doing ten years down the road, but it wasn’t easy to implement that attitude in myself. I’ve realized over time that what I really want is to have a farm and animal sanctuary in Maine sometime in my forties, and being a writer in New York City isn’t exactly doing much for that goal — but it doesn’t have to. We can do things differently in our twenties, thirties, forties and onward, and chances are, we’ll have to.

I am not saying that now that I have a job and have some financial/emotional/whatever stability, I’m suddenly an expert at “growing up.” I’m not. I still sleep with a teddybear and I occasionally have too many cocktails and I like to play video games a lot. But I guess it’s mostly just important to push yourself forward and truly, fully apply yourself. You can be scared — in fact, given the economy and everything else, that is probably more normal than overt confidence — but you have to just keep moving forward. Things will be uncomfortable, unpleasant and unglamorous, but they will probably get better. And if they don’t, you can always come live on my future farm in Maine.

P.S.

(Yeah, I hate me, too, right now.)