It’s commencement time again and I’d like to write a short letter to all those recent college grads with big hopes and dreams and twinkles in their eyes for a bright future. In fact, I was you… almost two years ago already (wow time flies). Unsure of what the future would bring, but eager to start a new chapter of my life.
Just two short years ago I walked across the podium and received my bachelors degree in the field of business. It was a great feeling, knowing I was done and that this particular journey was coming to a close, thus opening a new door and new experiences. For the past four years I could walk down the hall, or the street and be next to my best friends. I could take classes on a host of interesting topics and spend my afternoons reading or enjoying a group event. I had an excuse for living a minimalist lifestyle and I didn’t have to worry about bills! Life, was easy.
After moving back in with the parents upon graduation, changing employers five times and getting rejected hundreds of times for jobs that I thought I was clearly qualified for, there are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way and I’d like to share with this year’s college grads. I hope you take this advice with open ears and even follow some it upon your entrance to the real world.
Stay Living Like You’re Living Today
In college you own a futon, some plastic crates, a computer, and enough ramen to feed a small village. Continue living like that. Maintain a very small inventory (mine can fit in two backpacks) and continue living in a small place. It’s a lot easier to stay living in a small place than it will be to downsize in the future. Drinking wise (if you can’t seem to kick the habit), continue to drink pabst, hamms, and crappy tequila. You’re not rich enough for Grey Goose and Heinekins so stop it! Live small and live below your means.
Don’t Buy a New Car.
Everyone and their mother who graduates college and gets a new job seems to immediately make one of the worse financial decisions available. They buy a new car. Then they take a picture of themselves next to it and post it on facebook and say “Look, I’ve made it!” – It’s like a little mini victory on the way to the American dream. However, they’ve just made a horrible decision that will ensure that they stay in the rat race for several more years. My advice – buy a scooter, a small used compact, or keep the beater you’ve been driving around in college.
Don’t Buy a House.
I tried to buy a house, three times in fact, during and shortly after college. Want to know my feelings about that now? Thrilled that I never closed on any of the properties! Although you may feel like you’re throwing money down the drain by renting the only way I would advise buying a house is if you have 20% down, take on roommates to help you cover the mortgage, and are willing to stay in that same location for 4-5 years minimum. Think about where you were 4-5 years ago when entering college and how much you’ve changed… that’s why it’s probably not best to buy a house. You’ll still continue to change and may land that “perfect job” in another city so by purchasing a home you’re limiting your options and as we’ve seen over the past few years, you might even lose money in doing so.
Perfect Jobs Don’t Exist.
There are wayyyy too many variables to make the perfect job exist. The job title, the boss, the co-workers, job responsibilities, location, hours, rate of pay, and on and on. There is no such thing as a perfect job, and even if it’s currently feeling perfect, that will change eventually. I’m saying this to save you time. Instead of searching for an illusive dream job, begin to create your own by developing skills that interest you and that can be used in your field of interest. If you haven’t noticed there’s been a shift towards freelance work and employees who have a particular skill set that are hired temporarily. Your abilities and skill set will help you get hired and you can literally create your own position by teaching yourself these skills. I taught myself web development for fun after college and look where it took me… here, writing to you.
Open a Roth IRA And Max it Out
If you’re lucky enough to have a decent paying job and some disposible income, open a Roth IRA and max it out ($5,000 annual limit at the moment). Since you’re most likely not a complex investor, just jump over to a site like Vanguard and open the Vanguard 500 fund to mirror the S & P 500 (please remember I’m not a financial advisor). You can always switch stocks later down the road when you learn how to pick investments, but this will get you started. If you take this one piece of advice your $5,000 investment will be worth over $300,000 43 years from now when you’re ready to retire. You’re so young right now that the time value of money is on your side… capture it.
Enjoy the Journey, Not the Destination
Many successful people I talk to look back fondly on their struggles and the challenges of starting from scratch. The journey and your quest for finding out who you are, and what success means to you are the fun parts. If you’ve ever played a video game, or any game for this matter, you know this feeling. You conquer level after level, challenging yourself and struggling onwards. Then after hours or days of work and persistence you beat the game, and then what? You’re bored and the game is now easy and not fun. Life is much the same, so enjoy your journey and your small victories along the way as that is where success is found, not in the destination.
Try Something New And do What You’ve Been Dreaming About
We all have dreams and goals. The difference between those who accomplish them and those who don’t is action. Things have a way of working out when you head in the direction of your dreams and now is the time where you have unlimited freedom to begin pursuing them. For me, that action was buying a one way ticket to Hawaii. For you, it may mean driving across the country, starting a business, teaching english is Egypt, or joining the peace corps. If you don’t start taking action towards your dreams now, you’ll hold that regret forever.
Avoid Horrible Investments
As I mentioned before cars are a bad investment, but so it smoking and drinking. Try to kick these habits as soon as you can because they’ll drain your finances and leave you with nothing more than bad health, embarassing pictures on facebook, and possibly some regrets. And speaking of possible horrible investments…
Don’t Get Married Too Soon
It’s only been about 4 years since you graduated high school and became old enough to vote. As a 22-23 year old you still have about 60 years to live so why are you in a rush? Divorce rates are over 50% at the moment and you have a lot of growing to do before you know exactly who you, and your spouse to be, are. Don’t be in a rush to tie the knot. You’ve just begun your life, you don’t need to be married to share these experiences with your significant other, and a few more years won’t kill you… I promise.
Best of Luck!
Life will not come to you on a silver platter after you graduate with a degree. I’ve learned that over the past two years as it seems holding said degree is becoming commonplace and not exactly the golden ticket it used to be. You may not get a job related to your field of study, you may not achieve ultimate happiness right away, and you may struggle horribly at first, but if it was easy, would it be as much fun?
You, and I, have a long way ahead of us in life. Instead of focusing on the destination and finding “perfect” things enjoy the strengths you have today and what you have that older people don’t. Time, and the ability to do anything you want at this very moment. So instead of thinking you need to go achieve professional success in your field of choice you decided upon when you were in some guidance counselers office at age 17, think hard at this very moment about how you’d like to lead your life and the experiences you’d like to have. You can do anything you want, what’s stopping you?