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 in exchange for salad, but be totally wary of any dressing other than olive oil and vinegar! I've eliminated 99 percent 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 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.
Find the rest of my 32 Mantras to Live by Post College at PolicyMic.com.