Ten Things I Would Tell My Graduating Self

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Graduation season is underway, and a new crop of former college seniors are about to learn that being an adult is a lot harder than it looks.

Just over a decade has passed since I made it out of my university with a newly minted diploma in hand. Since hindsight is 20/20, here are ten things I’d tell my graduating self if I could:

1. “Ditch the ten-year plan.”

You were an ambitious little snot with the best of intentions. But you expended too much energy in working hard, rather than being more strategic by working well. It’s great to have goals and some direction. But just go in understanding that if things don’t work out how you expect, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. It just means the beginning of a new one.

2. “Take a gap year to go abroad.”

I know, you had just graduated with college debt up to your ears. You were anxious about taking any job so that you could start paying those bills. You did what you had to do.

But if it had been possible, I would’ve recommended a gap year abroad. I don’t know if it would’ve made you more hirable, but it definitely would’ve cured some of that wanderlust. Maybe getting a glimpse at how much bigger the world was would’ve helped with some of that anxiety as well.

3. “Have faith in people, but don’t be surprised if they disappoint you.”

People are human, so their capacity for doing stupid things is limitless. Don’t hold it against them. It’s not worth it. There will be times you’ll need to find some grace, too.

4. “Don’t buy the first iPhone.”

5. “Or the first 3-D printer.”

6. “Beware of the entitlement ladder.”

In his book Start. author Jon Acuff warns of the entitlement ladder. It’s a short cut that you think will get you to where you want to go, but it only leads to disappointment. Surer foundations for your career (and life in general) only come with experience and are tempered by time.

7. “Be patient.”

Especially with yourself. Things are not going to work out as planned, and you’re going to make some mistakes. It’s okay. Learn, grow, and roll with it. You’ll have a much better time than beating yourself up over what could have been.

8. “Sleep well.”

Unlike what others may say, losing sleep is not sexy. It’s unhealthy, and your body was not designed to go without restful sleep for long. The deadlines aren’t going anywhere. Get the rest you need, and your work will not suffer for it.

9. “In 2015, Dad will find out he has cancer.”

In 2016, he’ll get the official report that he’s cancer-free.

10. “Go through the fear.”

Acuff called it “awesome.” C.S. Lewis called it “joy.” Whatever it is to you, there’s usually a nasty chunk of fear standing between you and it. Don’t be afraid to go through the fear and get what belongs to you.

Still No Guaranteed Paid Time Off for US Workers

I am currently in the South of France on the second leg of a five-week jaunt through Europe. I found an apartment near Monaco through HomeAway.com that has a not too horrible view.

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Image Credit: Christine Dao

This is a trip I’ve wanted to do for a while. When I had my Salary and Benefits, it was immensely difficult to get any time off (let alone a month or more). I suppose when you have a job with loads of tight deadlines, you pretty much don’t have a life outside of work (unless you just don’t sleep).

But now that I have a tiny business, I have more flexibility to live life beyond work. I started this trip about two weeks ago in the UK to visit with my cousin and her family. She used to live in Australia, and we started talking about work practices in different countries. And we agreed that workers in the US work far more than people in other parts of the world. That can be both a good and a bad thing.

Without a doubt, many (though definitely not all) Americans know how to hustle, how to put in the extra hours, and how to give 110 percent. That drive and ambition can be really constructive—in the proper context and the proper timing. But not always.

Everything, from a car to a plot of farmland, shows that any system under continuous stress WILL (not may) fail if not given the time to rest and receive proper maintenance. And yet the US is still the only developed country that does not require employers to guarantee paid time off. It also doesn’t require guaranteed paid maternity leave.

I’ve never really understood why this is. I don’t condone laziness (obviously!), but I also saw first hand in my own working experience how quickly someone can burn out if he or she isn’t able to just get away from the grind once in a while. And anyone knows that weekends are never enough, what with all the catching up on things that had to be put off during the regular week.

I understand that private business wants the government to be hands off. But with so many regulations on health and safety and what not, shouldn’t insuring that workers have a certain amount of time off out of the year be a no-brainer? Of all the things our government requires of us, I would think that it’s the least that can be done.

But I guess that doesn’t really affect me now, except when the post office is closed for an observance or holiday—like today for Labor Day.

Do you get paid time off from your employer? How do you spend it?