I originally published this post on PolicyMic.com:
I recently read a fascinating and controversial blog post by a millennial who defended her (our!) generation from verbal attacks that Baby Boomers and other older folks use to discredit us. The irony is that these people, who are currently in positions of power … and, by many accounts, have screwed up pretty much everything (the economy, the environment, education, etc.) for future generations, are the cause of many millennial problems. This post inspired me to create a list of what I’ve learned since I graduated college in 2007, because when I look back at my own worldview at that time, I realize that I knew nothing about the way the “real world” operates. The point here is that there is still so much time to do amazing things, yet there’s got to be a focus in so many aspects of life:
1. This is just the beginning
You needn’t have changed the world yet, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying. Think of all the people who made their best accomplishments when they were 40, 50, 60, etc. (Betty White!!!!!!)
2. You’re not in college anymore, so don’t live like it
Do you really need to go to bed at 4 a.m. and then wake up still hung-over at 4 p.m.? Nope. You just missed a beautiful Sunday. Do you really need 19 drinks when splitting a bottle of wine will do? Nope! Do you really need to play beer pong in lieu of having interesting conversations? Nope!
3. Don’t eat garbage
Pay the extra couple of bucks to eat good food. Cut the fries for salad, but be totally wary of any dressing other than olive oil and vinegar! I’ve eliminated 99% of my meat consumption after reading “Eating Animals.” And I’ve noticed that my former bald spot has disappeared, which I attribute to the lack of antibiotics in my body. Stock your fridge with fresh vegetables and your cabinet with healthy snacks (Caveat: my mom recently gave me some sort of health bar that was made of corn and sugar, so read the labels or use the Fooducate app when shopping). Have it delivered if you don’t live near a grocery store.
4. Throw enough rolls of toilet paper at the wall, eventually one will stick
Don’t apply to one graduate school and think you’ll get in because you’re totally awesome. Maybe you are totally awesome, but chances are 50 other people are too. Don’t apply to one job because it’s like totally perfect for you. Believe me, there’s someone else out there who’s taking a pay cut and a lower position to get that job too.
5. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
Why do things half ass? Don’t think you’ll get a job if you don’t know every little detail about the company where you’re interviewing. Don’t think your startup will be a success if you don’t know all about the technical aspects, marketing, advertising, branding, competition, and even the day-to-day secretarial work!
6. Your dream job at 21 might not be your dream job at 26
At 21, all I wanted to do was be a screenwriter and write movies. And now, having written quite a bit, now I think I’d dread sitting alone in an office all day, not having human interaction, and having my work changed 496 times before it appears on screen in a form that is totally different from what I created. I’m still writing, but I’ve had way more fun creating journalism, advertisements, blogs, and comedy than I’d likely have in a traditional screenwriter position.
7. Your major kind of matters … if you want to go to school at all
I went to college before the recession, and I was frequently told, “You’re a smart kid, you can major in whatever you want.” So I studied English and history. And while the former is pretty useful for me, in today’s economy, I would suggest that you study something you are passionate about that will also lead to potential opportunities. If you can’t decide on a major, you probably shouldn’t be in school at all. If you can’t afford school, why get into debt? Get a job while you figure out what you’re passionate about. Take a gap year to work or intern in fields that potentially interest you. Having lived in Europe, where people typically work before embarking on their studies, I believe there is a greater sense of contentment that people are making the right choices rather than choosing majors based on having the fewest additional requirements, as I likely did.
8. Not everyone lives like they do in America
In Denmark, cycling to work is the norm. In India, many people prefer to drink water warm rather than ice water. In Spain, most people still take a daily siesta. It’s important to realize that the sheltered life you lived in America is not the norm: Not everyone owns a house, not everyone has a car, not everyone goes to summer camp, and not everyone has access to extra-curricular activities. Take the time to learn about other cultures, because there may be significant ways that you can improve your own quality of life.
9. Leave America … for a while
I am appalled that so few Americans have passports. (Only about one-third of the population, a historical record high, but still shockingly low!) Use the internet to plan a cheap trip. Do you really need another beach vacation? No, have an active vacation exploring a new place. And use Couchsurfing.org so you can actually meet locals! I recently ran into a guy from my high school who never left America but on a whim bought tickets to India for himself and his girlfriend when he saw a great deal. A three week trip totally changed his life. Jet Blue flies to Colombia for the same price as it costs to go to California. And tons of airlines fly to Panama for cheap … but if you go to any of these places, promise me you won’t stay at some isolated resort!
10. Stop being insular
I don’t care if you were in the Long Island Jewish sorority or the Indian-computer scientist a cappella group in college. Meet other people. Hang out with them. Learn from them. They will be better and more interesting than the people you already know. And as a result, your whole world-view will change.
11. You get jobs by knowing people
It’s true. Sending out hundreds of résumés is usually a waste. Pound the pavement in creative ways. Informational interviews? Sure. Telling everyone you know that you need a job? Yes, don’t be ashamed. Contacting someone you met only once who work at an interesting company? Of course you should! Because if you don’t do all of the above, believe me, someone else most certainly is!
12. Take care of your body
13. You don’t need a lot to be happy
Cook a freaking meal yourself. It’s therapeutic. Walk in nature. It’s free. Explore an ethnic neighborhood. You will most certainly discover something.
14. Stop looking at what other people are doing
You are not Mark Zuckerberg. So what? Your dad is not a senator? So what? Yes, it sucks that you did not think of Facebook in 2003, or that you were not born into a gilded family with all of the connections of modern royalty. Wake up in the morning and be happy that you’re alive and plan something interesting to do that day, rather than rotting in front of your television or on the internet.
15. Do unpaid things but don’t be someone’s lackey
Write an awesome article for your personal blog, or become a blogger for a site that produces content that interests you. It will get you more attention than picking up a Starbucks latte for Mr. Middle Manager. (One day, I swear, I’d like to see some American kids grow a pair and start an Interns Union that spreads virally!)
16. Make it better for the next generation
We were most certainly screwed by the greedy, narrow-minded dingbats in Congress and at every other level of government. Now is the time to elect the next generation of leaders and use technology to our advantage! (Let’s make sure our next crop of leaders come from our generation!)
17. Have sex
Or if there’s nobody around, masturbate. You never have an excuse not to have pleasure. If you’re reading this, you ostensibly have internet access. That means you’re three-fourths of the way there for the latter. As for the former, the internet makes that part really easy too. Just use protection so you don’t get HIV or HPV.
18. Turn off sometimes
I’ve been actively shutting off all of my electronics after work and on weekends. And it feels great. Don’t worry. If there’s an emergency, you probably can’t do much about it anyway. This gives me time to think about doing productive things like thinking up this list and thinking of new awesome ideas, projects, and businesses.
19. Don’t buy crap
Why do you need clutter? Why do you need nine pairs of jeans? Why do you need 14 pairs of shoes? Live simply. It’s easier. That said, spend good money on products that will last rather than spending multiple times on junk. <—A uniquely American problem.
20. See doctors sparingly
Preventative medicine and staying healthy goes a long way. Look for natural treatments before you fill your body with pharmaceuticals. Eat lots of raw garlic if you ever feel sick. Works for me every time.
21. Work on a project you care about
For me, journalism, in all of its forms, is my way to try to make a difference, even if I’m not getting paid. Maybe it’s volunteering at a hospital. Maybe it’s creating a non-profit. The world needs more good ideas.
22. Learn that you’re not always in charge
While independence is awesome, existing organizations sometime have it right. Be humble by helping others with their ideas rather than working on your own! It will teach you quite a bit about getting more done with a team than you would on your own.
23. Don’t get stepped on by authority
Just because someone wears a uniform doesn’t mean they’re right. (And I’m not just talking about rent-a-cops and meter maids!) Stopped and frisked? Issued a citation for an offense you didn’t commit? Fight it in the courts and you’ll learn way more than you would by paying even the most trivial fine! (Yes, I have been wrongly cited for parking legally in front of my own apartment and I have another interesting story that I will discuss in a future post, but for now, listen to these examples of injustice!)
24. Find mentors
Good mentors don’t come along every day, so when you do find a person willing to share their knowledge and wisdom with you, thank them, cook them dinner, and provide them with a never-ending flow of red wine so they continue talking. Cultivate mentors so it’s not even a question that they’ll be there for you when you need them.
25. Find mentees
If you’re smart, don’t just tell me, show someone else why you’re so awesome. It may be your mentee who’s working with you/for you that makes an idea a reality, or even crazier, a mentee could one day be the person you’re working for, on the next big thing.
26. Back up your data (regularly!)
Jesus! I never want to meet another person who has their hard drive wiped out without backing it up. (Hello cloud storage!)And one more addendum: Do not keep liquids on the same surface as any of your technology. You should know by now that this stuff isn’t covered by warranties.
27. It takes hard work to do anything
Sure, there were those few employees at Instagram who worked there for about four days before the company was bought for $1 billion by Facebook, and that 18-year-old kid from Brooklyn who won the $1,000 a week for life lottery game, but these people are the rare exceptions. It feels a lot better to be working for a goal, rather than waiting for something that to fall into your lap that will likely never even happen. That said, don’t be that person who is in the office working on nothing until 10 p.m. just to look like you’re busy. You oftentimes get your best ideas from talking with others or being outside of the office.
28. Save money
Do you really need to take a taxi 20 blocks? Walk! (Or take public transportation). Invest in a bicycle! Do you really need that second $40 bottle of wine with dinner? Leave the restaurant and buy the same bottle for $10 at the store! Do you really need a third winter jacket?,,,Don’t get into debt. Do you want to wake up every morning thinking, “50% of what I earn today goes to some douchey bank?” Nope, you don’t. Nothing is free, especially not money. So wake up and smell the real world!
29. Love people … or pets … or both
Take the time to love people. It’s much more important than watching a TV show, or a sporting event. Do good things for those you care about, and you will find immediate rewards. Be passionate. (And if you do love pets, remember, loving people is also really important…and most people don’t care how cute your dog is.)
30. Get lots of sleep
Yes, Ariana Huffington has said this before me, but I agree wholeheartedly. Not only should you sleep well, but sleep in appropriate conditions, such as in a very, very, dark place or with an eye mask.
31. Take risks now
When you’ve got a wife or husband, and kids who will go hungry if you don’t feed them, and a mortgage to pay, you will be much more risk averse. Since you probably don’t have these things now, start that company, take that trip, try that new sport, take that language class, and indulge in that passion project!
32. Paraphrasing George Orwell, break any of these rules sooner than doing anything outright barbarous.
PS -I am not a self-help guru, but now I’m starting to think it wouldn’t be so bad if I was!