Graduation … the time of year when old people like me want to tell recent graduates how and what they should do with their lives. It’s a time-honored tradition generally ignored by said young people, including yours truly back in the day. And in actuality, you have to make all of your own mistakes and learn all of this stuff for yourself, but I am going to tell you anyway, because well, I’m a columnist and I need a column for this week.
1. Travel, travel, travel. After we graduated from college, my best friend and I worked all summer slinging shrimp po’ boys and burgers at the beach so we could finance our backpacking trip through Europe. It was a grueling two months of sleeping in hostels — some awesome, some creepy — and trying to find places to wash our limited amount of clothing so we wouldn’t stink up some of the most beautiful museums and sights in the world. (Though I can report some parts of the world do not seem to frown upon body odor.)
But it was also two of the most amazing months of my life because I saw how the world was so much bigger than the relatively tiny bubble I had been living in up until that point. Sure, you can watch endless hours of the Travel Channel or Anthony Bourdain traversing the globe eating weird food to get a glimpse, but there is just something about seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing the sounds and breathing the air (fresh or otherwise) of a foreign land firsthand that can’t be replicated. And now is the time to do this. Once you start your career, get hitched and/or have kids, your windows of opportunity start to close on getting enough time to take such a trip.
2. Be a risk taker. No, you don’t have to jump out of an airplane or off the side of the mountain to be considered one. Maybe you choose the job that makes less money but you are more passionate about, or head down the path everyone is telling you is the wrong one but your gut is telling you otherwise (unless your gut is telling you to become the next Pablo Escobar — then you should probably listen to everyone else), but otherwise do what feels right, which may not necessarily be what makes the most sense to everyone else but makes perfect sense to you … at the time, at least. (See #3 for more info on when your gut lies to you.)
3. Even if you made the wrong choice, it may lead you to the right one. After the trek through Europe, I came home and immediately started looking for my first “real job” with my communications degree, feeling certain I would get one in a month, maybe two … tops. When I didn’t find one immediately, I panicked and figured I needed to go back to school and change direction. Without any knowledge of the industry whatsoever, I decided I wanted to become a screenwriter. So I applied to the University of Texas’ program for such in Austin and moved out there. Almost immediately after entering the program, I knew I had made a huge mistake and that was most certainly not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I dropped out and moved back to Mobile, feeling like a failure and sort of like I was just drifting.
But the move proved inspirational in other ways. While I was in Austin, I became a huge fan of their alternative weekly, The Austin Chronicle, and when I moved back here I kept wondering why Mobile didn’t have a paper like it. Rob and I began talking about the possibility of starting one. Eventually Lagniappe was born and 13 years later, here we are. I often wonder if I had just stuck around and tried to find that first “real job” for a little longer, and had done so, where I would be today. You never know, but my point is sometimes it takes a wrong choice to lead you to the right one.
4.Your partner for life. Your heart is probably going to get broken into a thousand pieces at some point in your life and I say it’s a good thing. Make yourself a playlist of horribly sad songs and wallow in it until you can’t wallow anymore. I always preferred to listen to my break-up mix CD while curled up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor – you know, for dramatic effect. But then you eventually have to get off the linoleum and get back out there.
You’ll always remember the first night you go out and feel good again without thinking of what’s his-or-her-name. It’s the night you know you are going to be OK and also the night you know no matter how painful a break-up can feel, you will get through it and be able to move on. And this will probably happen more than once and that’s OK too.
Surround yourself with good friends along the way and eventually you will meet the one who is incapable of shattering your heart, who is your constant source of support, not of ridicule or rivalry, who loves you for your strengths and in spite of your weaknesses. And you will suddenly realize this is why I had to cry so many tears and listen to “I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” a thousand times, so I could get to the person who does. And all those nights on the kitchen floor will seem totally worth it.
5. And now for the most cliché piece of advice of all: Really don’t sweat the small stuff. I am a natural-born worrier, so I have to remind myself of this one all the time. There have been times I’ve almost given myself an ulcer fretting over some situation that seemed like a really huge deal at the time. When I think back, I feel ridiculous I wasted so much time doing this.
Sure, you have to assess situations and take action, but don’t let them consume you. Make best friends with another cliché saying, “This too shall pass.” Because it will. And “it” will be replaced with something else, and then something else and then something else.
That’s just life and worrying about a situation rarely changes the outcome of it. Trust me, I learned the hard way on that one.