THE BLOG
03/14/2013 05:13 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2013

Graduated and Engaged, Now What?

At 21, I'm learning the most important lessons by pretending I already have all the answers and hoping everyone plays along. From writing a business plan to planning a wedding, ready or not here comes the real world like a slap in my you-still-look-like-you're-15 face. Suddenly the world can't verify my identity because I have no credit history and my college roommate is dragging me to Saturday morning Zumba with a bunch of chatty baby boomers to "get in shape" (spoiler alert: my hips are here to stay). I'm picking out a china pattern that I need to like for the rest of my life and I'm applying to grad schools that I'll never be able to afford. I'm waiting for a message in the sky to tell me how much is too much to pay for rent and to wake up one day and enjoy grown up foods like vegetables. My attempt to prioritize my life through my love of lists has turned to madness.

I am in a limbo that I never knew existed until I was knee-deep in it. Certainly, it was never in my life plan to be, well... without a plan. The jump from student to CEO (or first female president as my younger brother used to say) didn't happen as seamlessly as I had imagined. Are we a generation of the lost and clueless? No. I think the new struggle for young people is having too many directions ahead of us. What trends should we know about? Which industry is up and coming? Should we be networking in our sleep? Great questions if you want to be an insomniac. Making decisions that feel like they will determine when you retire, whether you'll have that vacation house in Florida and if you'll be able to send your kids to college is daunting to say the least.

I've spent the first months of 2013 trying to figure out what the modern American dream looks like (or doesn't). If nothing else, I am confident that adopting someone else's definition of success will always leave you wanting. More importantly, the path to ultra-success may not be the same path to happiness. As I look ahead aiming for the near impossible and dissecting every worse-case scenario, here are the lessons I have learned and will let guide me in life, love and the unfortunate hours we spend at work in between.

1. You'll Never Have It All Figured Out
And that's ok. I expected an overwhelming sense of accomplishment or magical transformation when I walked out of my last college class. It didn't come. Three months later, I'm getting the feeling that it may never. I remember being a kid and thinking that my college-aged babysitter was everything I wanted to be. She had it all together and she had it all going for her. Having been the college-aged babysitter myself, I've realized what a hilarious perception that was. As bad as I am at it, I'm learning to take risks, move on to plan B without a breakdown and enjoy the surprises along the way.

2. Don't Get Stuck in the Friend Zone
Interning is a lot like dating. You find a company that aligns with your passions and goals, take a chance and hope that a shiny diamond ring, or job offer, makes all the work worth it. Internships are an amazing opportunity to explore your interests (and cross some off the list), make connections and gain experience, BUT they're no reason to sell your soul. Find a place where you can make a meaningful contribution, get constructive feedback and grow beyond your comfort zone. When the situation becomes more static than fluid, if you're being treated like a personal slave or when you're only staying because the job market is scary, it's time to leave. Have faith that you won't become a heinous failure (or maybe I only suffer from that fear).

3. Do What Scares You Most
Too often we tell our creativity to take a back seat to more "practical" things. We sweep those late night sparks of genius under the rug because dreams are for people who don't have better things to do. What I don't want to be left with in 20 years is a high-end collection of what-ifs. Make a list of the five things you're most afraid to do. Start with the one that has the most taunting voice. Pull out a calendar (a real calendar -- not your iPhone) and give yourself a deadline... three months, six months, a year. Be realistic about how much time it will take, but don't cut yourself too much slack or that extra time will be full of excuses. Turn that calendar into your business plan. Break down the dream into weekly goals and don't look back. It's the rare moments that I decide I am willing to fail that I am wildly successful.

4. Complacency is Not Commitment
While saying yes to the cute guy on one knee was the easiest decision I've had to make, the relationship itself has required a lot more than love and hopeful wishing. Being comfortable with your significant other is a must, but if you're feeling complacent it's time to shake things ups. If things are feeling stale or tense, take inventory of your actions. Stop listing all the things he or she has done wrong and consider the last time you want out of your way to make them feel special (without expecting anything in return!). Relationships are fierce beasts, often fed by fire instead of the patience, commitment and perseverance they require. As I begin my marriage, I like to think that I'm fighting for what I have every day.

5. Life Will Never Slow Down
Actually, it only moves faster. With my 22nd birthday in a few weeks, I can already feel this shift in speed. I can only imagine the ride gets more intense from here on out. Gone are the days where I can't wait to be older. Now it's all about capitalizing on the moment (before I'm changing diapers at 4:00 a.m. or needing a knee replacement). It's about letting go of the mindsets that keep us in miserable ruts. It's about always being able to defend what you're doing because you're heart is committed to it. Life only has boring parts if we write them in the script.

6. There Will Always Be Something Next
I should write this one on my forehead. Taking action would be a lot easier if we could just remember that one decision will never mean the end of the world. Whether its asking for the promotion that you've spent three years deserving, taking an online class or writing the short story still scattered on Post-It notes, just move forward. If it doesn't go the way you'd hoped, you will not fall into a black hole with no way out. You will dust yourself off, have a great story for the next dinner party and choose the next thing on the list. Warning: don't try to predict what that next thing is. It doesn't work that way and you might miss the signs if you're trying to cram your life into a formula. If you're stuck, think about the opportunities you've passed up and let that annoying GPS voice redirect you.

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