Its been a long time since I was able to describe myself as “just” graduating from college. The interim between being an undergraduate and person contributing to the world has a steep learning curve, and it might be one of the more strange transitions in someone’s life. These are 25 things I never read from a book in college but were definitely worth the tuition. I hope that my daughter who is in college and my son who will be soon find the time to read this. These are things that have helped me prepare for what’s next.
1. You win some. You lose some.
The lowest moments might end up being the best stories. You only build character (and a good repertoire of stories) with some bumps in the road. So what you lost your shoes while you were wearing them, on two separate occasions, in two separate cities and then had to walk home barefoot, your feet caked with mud? So what you gave your girl friend a black eye while dancing to Florence + the Machine, then promised to write Bernadette Peters a thank you note for her inspirational come back? So what you just professed your love to your friend in the dorms, and he responded with a silent high-five? Drink an iced tea! Tomorrow’s a new day!
2. Don’t live by the idiom, “go big or go home.” It should be, “go big, then go home.”
When you go big, then there’s no other option but to go home. Sometimes that might involve a certain authority figure telling you and your friends to go home. Enjoy these nights while you can.
3. Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
Whether you focus on research or work on a manuscript, art installation or YouTube channel, what you do in or outside of the classroom matters a lot. If you aren’t woohoo-ing your “passion” or the “passion” that your parents say is your “passion,” curb stomp it and find a new one.
4. Let people off the hook.
Also remember to let yourself off the hook. People make mistakes. Forgiveness opens doors. Holding grudges keeps them closed. Recognize when people are just being themselves and try to believe that they are doing the best that they can. With that said:
5. Stick your feelers out for bull shitters, and establish your boundaries.
Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of because you are a precious angel from the heavens and better than some yahoo who mooches off of other people’s generosity. Typically, people are pretty great, but everyone turns a corner and runs into Mr./Ms./Mrs. Tight Pants who thinks he or she can just sweet talk their way through life.
6. When you DGAF about the little things, life is more amazing.
No one wants to hear about how your macchiato wasn’t “extra hot.” Don’t live your life wringing your hands with worry. When the real stress comes your way, you’ll need more than just a macchiato or Chia.
7. Never use the excuse, “I’m tired” to turn down a good time.
If you are actually tired then go home, brush your teeth and sleep. Otherwise, get your shit together, and be out in the world with people. All your best friends will never be within such close proximity. Unless you end up joining the Navy; then you’ll be living in a submarine with all of them.
8. Be grateful for all those awful first dates.
Some of them weren’t even that awful — just an overall “meh.” They weren’t for you, and you won’t be it for someone else. Probably for a lot of people. You are still the most beautiful/handsome, cool, funny human of all the humans. It’s hard to figure out your type, but it just takes one person to make you realize what your type is.
9. A spark is special. Don’t think it comes around often.
Whether that’s with a potential love interest or your new best friend — we are animals, my dear Darwin, and the pheromones are at work. You can’t resist your nature! In the case of romance, that sparkly individual will most likely be one of the best kissers you will ever lay your lips on.
10. “Ohana” means family, and family means no one gets left behind.
That’s right, I just quoted Lilo and Stitch. You have your family and then your friends, which make up your second family. Put them at the top of your list because people are indispensable and they are the breath of life.
11. Follow your intuition.
Forty-five minutes before a final, I had this sudden urge to leave the coffee shop I was studying in and go to the testing room. As I was walking through the center of campus, I ran into my friend who was in the class but going the opposite direction. I stopped him to see where he was going and he said, “Didn’t you get the message? The testing room was changed.” (This was LONG before the age of e-mail) I would have never known if I didn’t listen to that weird moment of intuition to get up and go. We can say this was just a coincidence, but that small moment meant a lot. I would have missed the final, subsequently failed the class and probably would be in jail now or living off the grid somewhere.
12. Obsessions are okay.
They are heightened moments of passion and interest that always come to a natural end. It’s like Picasso’s Blue Period, if his Blue Period is your laptop streaming The West Wing, Supernatural, Parks and Rec, Game of Thrones, or anything regarding Honey Boo Boo Child. You’re an artist and will not be deterred!
13. The best things you discover are typically late at night.
You will never regret losing sleep over talking with a friend or going on an adventure. Keep a notepad next to your bed. Record your dreams. Look at your web browser’s history the next morning after you come home late from a night of shenanigans. What you discover will surprise you (see: Wikipedia page for Sandy Cheeks, SpongeBob Squarepants’s aquatic and squirrely friend).
14. Discover your alter ego while you still can.
Not everyone is Sasha Fierce. Beyoncé has boatloads of money. You probably don’t (see: minimum wage job), so celebrate your alter ego as early as possible. In the real world, your alter ego, “Tiny Face” signed to “Mad-Dog Produckshunz” is unfortunately a falsehood. Enjoy it while you can.
15. My friend would always say, “When you see a cray, go the other way.”
Yes, I totally agree if you see them with a shiv or a weird look in their eye. But being a cray isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes people mistake crays for the people who just don’t take anything from anyone and who do their own thing. I like to sit that cray down, and just ask them about life. Which reminds me of a story…
16. College can be a habit-forming time, for better or worse.
College is the most optimum time where each new semester or quarter is like “a fresh start.” But really, there is always a fresh start in life — if you want there to be one.
17. Working for minimum wage is worth it.
For the time being. You may mistake me as your baby-boomer father stroking his dignified beard, but you will never learn the value of a dollar until a job drives you a bit bonkers. Everyone pays his or her dues in one-way or another. But…
18. Your time is just as valuable as money.
They aren’t lying! Time is literally money. Evaluate the cost-benefit of how you spend your day. Sometimes you’ve got to think of yourself as a business with different forms of currency whether that currency is grabbing a cup of coffee with friends or ditching a class that doesn’t even take attendance anyway. What pays you more?
19. You can make anything you want happen.
It’s just a matter of discipline, taking the small steps each day with laser focus. But give yourself some breathing room for life to happen. Timing is everything. Loosen that ninja grip on your goal. Have a bit of wiggle room between you and your nun-chucks.
20. When things don’t go your way, the universe has a way of working out.
Trust that the universe will take care of you as long as you put the work in, are a good citizen to humanity, and keep on keeping on.
21. Travel is a luxury but also an important one.
Your environment dictates your life. Going to Paris or Rome for a couple months won’t make you cooler or, as a matter of fact, it won’t even make you smarter. That’s your own job, not the city’s. Travel rattles your internal story a bit. Study or work abroad if it is financially possible, because you will never see yourself the same way. If not, take the bus to a different part of town, to a new city. Just go places, and your personal plot thickens. As my English professor always said, “The story happens when you place a character against a landscape.”
22. Things grow back. (except for my hair)
So the loss of your two big toe nails might have been due to your Color Guard Training or training for a 1/2 marathon (more likely that one fateful night in Las Vegas). Screw sandal season. Orthopedic sneakers are always in, right? Or maybe things didn’t go your way when you let a friend cut your hair, leaving you with a comb-over, which pushed you over the edge into buzzing it all off like Britney in her Dark Years. It will seem like the worst thing in the world and then it won’t be. Time is a wonderful thing. After a break up, an embarrassing moment, or a falling out, your heartstrings will mend.
23. But sometimes it might take longer than you expect.
The people you love and the people you lost will always stay with you. Give yourself a break. You loved them. And yes, everyone is vulnerable to heartbreak. You aren’t just a starfish that can sever the feelings like a limb. Celebrate the fact that you aren’t a sociopath, and you are a human with a heart.
24. Vulnerability is strength.
Don’t be afraid of your emotions or being vulnerable with people you care about. You often regret what you didn’t say to someone more than what you did say. Moments pass; so don’t pass up the moment to tell someone you care about them.
25. Come from a place of yes.
Explore more. Introduce yourself. Always join in on the game. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “Buy the ticket, take the ride.” Run and try to catch that train that’s leaving the station. No one looks back and wishes they didn’t try.