Sunday, May 6, 2012

Advice for Recent Grads

The start of May means soon a new crop of college grads will be let loose into the world, free after 17 some odd years of enforced education, ready and willing to make their way into the world.  As someone who is now almost a decade away (ouch) from my own college graduation, I started thinking about the advice I most needed to hear when I was trying to find my own way in my new post-graduate life.  Here are a few highlights:

Be Careful with Credit Cards
Assuming you are one of the lucky ones in this day and age job market, you will soon have a "real" job, which comes with a "real" salary.  Naturally, you might believe that that means you will have more disposable income than ever, perfect for spending on fun nights out with friends and the corresponding cute outfits.  That said, living in the "real" world comes with a lot of "real" expenses.  Rent, groceries, insurance, cable, cell phone bills, electricity, water, heat, internet... all of it adds up in a hurry.  Not to mention the fact that your new job might require transportation (train tickets, a car payment, car insurance) and a new professional wardrobe that does not consist of Uggs and sweatpants with writing on the butt.  All of this adds up, and if you're making charges on credit cards and not paying the balance off every month, it will add up a lot more quickly than you think.
If you already have a balance on your credit card, pay it off as quickly as you can.  Call your credit card company and ask them to lower your interest rate.  They usually will, and if they don't you can always threaten to transfer your balance to another credit card with another company.  Avoid just paying the minimum balance.  Interest rates on credit cards can be as high as 28%, meaning that the $500 you spent on that new bag that you just had to have can actually cost you $640, and that assumes you don't start with any other balance and pay all of your bills on time.

Do It Now
Whatever it is, whatever you have always wanted to do with your life, do it now.  If you want to travel, buy your ticket.  Sure, you might not have the money to stay at amazing hotels and it might be hard to get vacation time while trying to get your career off of the ground, but things will only get busier when you get older.
If you want to live in another city, pack up and move.  There will be plenty of other people your age looking to meet people, and after 4-years in college you're totally wired for a new experience.
If you want to try a certain career path, go for it, even if you have to start with an internship or wait a little longer to find a job.  When you graduate it's easy to worry that you'll never find a job and feel like you need to jump at the first opportunity that comes your way, but it's OK to be a little picky.  That doesn't mean you're allowed to sit on your butt waiting for the right job to magically come to you though.  Pound the pavement, do your research, and find a position in a field that you can be excited about.  It's far easier to make a career change when you're younger and don't have to give up the paycheck and credibility that come with experience in one field to start fresh with another, and when no one else (a spouse, child, or dog) is depending on you to have a steady income.

Take Care of Your Health
You will have less free time now than you did in college, and fitting in workouts between a full-time job, happy hours with coworkers, and new episodes of The Bachelor can be daunting.  Not to mention the fact that your college probably gave you access to a free gym with a plethora of classes, equipment, and resources to help you every step of the way.  Now it's up to you to find a routine that you can get onboard with and stay motivated even when life gets busy.  Whether that means meeting up with friends for a run instead of dinner, or trying every class at your gym until you find one that you get excited about, do it.  The routine will keep you healthy and sane, which will help you make better decisions in every other area of your life.  Get sleep, take your vitamins, wear sunblock every day, make regular doctors' appointments.  Your health is the biggest investment you can make in your future.

Stay Close to Your Family
Mark Twain once wrote, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."  
Your parents and family members are your best resource for any questions you have as you navigate your new world, and they always have your best interests at heart.  Whether you're trying to decide between potential love interests, car insurance companies, or new employers, family members make great sounding boards, and they are much cheaper than a therapist.

Know What You're Willing to Sacrifice
Remember the scene in The Hills when L.C. chose her boyfriend Jason over her dream job in Paris?  As a viewer it was easy to think she was a moron, sacrificing her professional dreams for a personal dream that seemed like it should be right there waiting when she got back.  Of course, she could have gone to Paris, lost Jason, and always wondered "what if."  The point is, you need to know what your bottom line is, what your priorities are, and what you are willing to sacrifice to get where you want to be.  What are your deal breakers in a relationship?  In a friendship?  In an apartment?  In a job?  Know what you want, choose your battles, and fight for the things that are important to you.

Take Risks
In my career I have the privilege of meeting a lot of very successful people, and in talking to them about how they got to where they are, one theme seems to come up time and time again.  All of them saw an opportunity and when the right time came, they took a calculated risk.  Not a totally reckless, impulsive risk, but a calculated risk.  They started their own business, bought a franchise, changed career paths, invented something, quit something, or tried something totally new.  When you get older the stakes get higher and you have more people counting on you.  If you have something that you believe in and think you can be successful in, take the leap.  Even if you fail, you'll have plenty of time to dust yourself off and start again, and at least you won't have any regrets.

Finally, take pride in what you have already accomplished.  College isn't easy, and you survived.  Now is your chance to make your dreams come true... you just have to go out and do it.

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