There you go. Google basically sums it up for you. You’re in for a scary, hard, depressing, impossible, hard, so hard, privileged, overrated, scary, and depressing year. But, since I graduated one year ago (today) and my 23rd birthday is rolling in this July, I want to give you some advice, as someone older. I know. Believe me, I know. You just sat through four hours of advice from people who are older, but the thing I’ve come to realize is that the people who tell you to get out there and follow your dreams are the very same people who will call you lazy and self-centered when your dreams beat the living shit out of you.
When they were 22, they owned a house and a car. They had a job working for a U.S. Senator and were preparing for their first year as a graduate student at Yale. They had met their soulmate and were about to start a life with them. Sure, maybe they had been un[der]employed once, too, so they think they understand what it means to be a college graduate in the second decade of the present millennium. They’re wrong. I’m not saying they’re terrible people for their ignorance. They love you; they believe in you; they will proudly wear your colors and sing your cheers until the day they die. But they will always be the devoted fans, munching on popcorn and screaming at the TV from the couch when you strike out in the ninth inning.
“What an easy pitch!” they’ll cry, casting the remote across the room and shaking their heads. “Why didn’t you just hit the damn ball?” You’ll be out there alone on that big field, thinking the exact same thing, your wooden bat dragging in the dirt behind you as you hang your head and walk back to the dugout, but after the broadcast ends and they walk into their air-conditioned kitchen to wait hopefully for the next time opportunity hangs within your reach, you’ll still be sitting there. You will clench and unclench your fists, staring vaguely off into the distance, remembering how bright the sun was that afternoon, how dry your mouth had been, the cramping in your palms, and the dust from the field collecting inside your moist nostrils. You’ll remember how much you wanted it, that grand slam to carry your team to victory, and you’ll know in your heart that no matter how much they love you, they will have no idea, because it was an easy pitch, and you missed it anyway.
So, what I’m here to tell you is that I know everything. I know the anticipation. I know the shame. I know the fear, the uncertainty. I know the hope and the disappointment. I know the freedom and the loneliness. I know it all, because I’m older, but I’m no further along than you are, and I can’t really say I ever have been. So I’m here to tell you that Google is right. You are in for one of the rockiest and most haphazard years of your lives, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Google may be right, but I’m here to tell you that you’re going to make it out alive, and here’s how.
This is the first time in a long time, and it probably will be the only time for a while, that you will have enough free time to experiment with new things. Read about book-binding and then test yourself on one of your old books. Browse some DIY sites and make a project out of all those bottle caps you’ve been hoarding. While underemployed, I started taking Irish dance lessons in Medina. I read dozens of websites on public history theory and pedagogy. I used some of my savings to take a trip to Ireland. I learned to use my kitchen to produce edible food. I practiced sewing and experimented with color film. I joined a bowling league and increased my average by nearly 30 pins. The truth is, you’re going to feel like your brain is rotting after college. You’ll forget how to add and the names of your professors. You’re going feel worthless without any schoolwork or exams to study for, but it’s not the work that you’ll miss. What you’re really going to miss is the sense of accomplishment that comes with improvement. So, forget about all the things you can’t do (like finding a job), and start playing with things you might never have tried before. The truth is, learning keeps us young, and it doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. Get out there and do something, do anything, and let your spirit go.
That said, keep your expectations low. I’m not saying you should give in and let anyone or anything convince you that you are hopeless. I want you to wake up every morning believing that it’s only a few more days until your next breakthrough. But I want you to know that your next breakthrough might not be what you’re expecting. Before I got what some would call a “real” job, my breakthroughs included getting the floors mopped before 2am, winning a medal at a dance competition, finishing a roll of microfilm, and having my dance class accepted as part of Oberlin’s experimental college department. I want you to expect nothing, because I want you to learn how to appreciate the little things. I want a meadow of purple and yellow flowers blowing in the wind to fill you with as much joy as a job offer. I want a free ice cream bar at a community event to surprise you as much as a promotion. Expect nothing, rejoice in everything.
The grass is never greener.
But I know how hard it is to expect nothing. You just graduated college. Your degree is supposed to be your ticket to ride the career plane to exciting new places, and it’s obviously going to hurt when you get pulled aside at a security check-point, or your flight was overbooked and you were kicked off, or your 747 has to sit on the tarmac for four hours due to an air traffic control incident. When the attendant holds their hand in your face and tells you you need to wait for the priority customers to board, you’re going to feel like you’ve been cheated. Your B.A. means just as much as theirs, and, if you take pride in your school, you’re probably going to think it means a helluva a lot more. It’s natural to feel jealous. I spent the entire year looking at the people in my graduating class and thinking, “I am such a loser. Look at them! They have jobs in research labs, in journalism, and editing.” If there’s anything this past week has taught me, though, is that the grass is never greener. No matter where you go, you are always going to see someone who you think has it better. Hell, some of my peers even told me they envied me. Me! The girl who works in a burrito restaurant and does free-lance research on the side. The girl who stuck around in her college town and who no one can remember if she graduated or not. All those people in big cities with their big jobs weren’t any happier than me. Like it or not, no matter where you go, you are 22, and even Taylor Swift agrees that it’s miserable. Keeping this mutual misery in mind might make it slightly more magical.
Don’t be afraid of your roots.
This is something else I have had to learn this year. Sticking to Ohio after nearly 23 years of residence in this great state, I felt a little trapped. I saw all of my friends going to New York and Chicago, Japan, Scotland, and Peru. It’s okay to want to be close. My family, my friends, all of my connections are in Ohio. It’s where I know I will be taken care of no matter where I travel. It’s where I know I can find a job, even if it’s just another burrito gig. It’s where I know the food prices and rent costs will be familiar. It’s where I know the dance schools and the sports teams, the highways and area codes. It’s where I know I belong right now, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I am proud to be here, just like I am proud to the the daughter of my Ohio-born-and-raised parents. They may not have their phDs or friends in high places, but they raised me to be who I am today. I may not have gone to a fancy private high school, but I had an excellent education. So what I’m saying is that there is no shame at all in “failing to launch.” You’re not failing. One more time: You’re not failing.
Trust in a transplant.
That said, don’t be afraid to take your roots and plant them elsewhere. My tomato plants are going to be so happy when I take them out of their bucket and put them in a real garden plot. Whether you leave before or after opportunity comes a-knocking, you’re going to be alright. It’s going to be an adventure, but you will never know what’s waiting out there if you don’t take the chance. Take a deep breath, take the recommendations of your friends, take your cat and a set of blankets and hit the open road. You’re not severing ties, you’re just lengthening them. The people who love you will follow you anywhere. Trust in the plunge and set yourself free.
Love yourself before others.
I can’t emphasize enough how much of myself I have lost in trying to please people who will probably never give me a second thought. My taste in music has changed, for one. I had a boy (a stupid, stupid boy) say to me, “Isn’t Josh Ritter like…old man music?” For days afterwards, I couldn’t listen to a single Josh Ritter song without feeling like I was old and not “with-it.” I’m actually listening to The Octopus Project right now, whereas last year I might have been jamming to The Ditty Bops. My diction has also changed. My entire college career, I despised anyone who said “word” as a response to anything. “Yo” was so far from my vocabulary it sounded foreign rolling off my tongue. In the past year, both “word” and “yo” have entered (unironically–dear God, forgive me) my daily speech. It’s all because I want to fit in. I want people to like me. But something I’ve learned is that there’s no way anyone can love me if I don’t know how to love myself. I have tried to change my body. I have tried to change my mind. I have tried to change every single thing about me in the past year, and I have mutilated myself. I am a kindergartner’s collage, the grotesque kind with giraffe heads on kids playing in the sandbox that sticks to your fingers because of too much glue. If you stripped away every single cigarette I considered smoking (but didn’t–smoking is bad, kids) and every single TIMARA concert I attended, you would find nothing at all. So, what I’m saying is that you need to love yourself, and forget about everyone else if you have to. If you change, and you will change, let it be because you tried something new. Let no one hurt you. Let no one take advantage of you. Let no one move you. Like it or not, they’ll be fine without you, but you’re the only you you’ve got. In the end, it’s only you, and if you can’t love that, you can’t truly love anything.
And remember: every single [douchey] thing anyone has ever said to you is just raw material for your future bestselling novel.
I’m not kidding. Think of every failure as fodder for a book and everything in life seems so much funnier. I have an entire list of quotes and situations from the last ten months alone. Watch out Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling. I can guarantee my love life is sadder than yours. The closest I’ve ever come to loud sex is when I was moving stacks of buckets of sour cream in the walk-in fridge. I had been grunting, giggling, and calling the buckets “bad boys” for five minutes before my manager opened the door and said “Oh, you’re alone.” I had an [adult] boy tell me he couldn’t love me because he had already fallen in love when he was fourteen, they’d broken up, and he was done with all that stuff. I had a different boy tell me he had “tons of practice navigating a twin-sized bed” as he was about to roll me over the edge. I’m telling you, everything has story potential. Even if you don’t make it on the NYT Bestseller’s list, if you leave out names and recite the quotes with enough haughty conviction, I guarantee you and your friends will release enough endorphins laughing hysterically at all these douchebags to make the pain and embarrassment worthwhile.
So, reading this probably took longer than all those speeches at your Commencement, but I hope somewhere along the road you’ll remember what I’ve told you. The most important thing I want you to remember is that life sucks, but it can still be fun if you remember to suck it from a crazy straw. Like Abigail Adams to her son in 1787, “I congratulate you upon your Success at Commencement” and hope you will remember that “it is natural to the humane Heart to swell with presumption when conscious of superiour power, yet all humane excellence is comparative, and he who thinks he knows much to day, will find much more still unatained, provided he is still eager in persuit of knowledge.”
Never stop seeking. Never stop growing. Never stop loving [yourself]. And never, ever give up.
Your Predecessor in Post-Adolescent Crisis,