What To Do At 22: Life Lessons For College Grads

Jumping off a cliffAt the time of year where many 22-year-olds will graduate college, I fittingly stumbled upon a post called “8 Things I Wish I Knew When I was 22” on almostfearless.com.  It’s written by Christine Gilbert who, at age 31, quit her Fortune 500 job to travel full-time and start a new career. Her story is fascinating and probably a bit of a fantasy for most of us.  But she did it, which leads me to question: How did she do it, and can I (still) do it, too?

At age 25 1/2, I’m about halfway from 22 to 31 now.  I’m not about to cry over getting old, but I have important career/life decisions to make this year.  I was interested in exploring Christine’s advice.  At first glance, she is definitely a lot more fearless than I am!  Here are some of the highlights from her post.

Don’t give in to the pressure to be practical

My favorite “thing” on the list: “Pick a career you love; you don’t have to give into the pressure to be practical.” I’ve always felt the pressure to follow a practical path, both at age 22 and today.  While I’m always hearing advice like “do what you love” and “follow your dreams,”I don’t think those people who say it really mean it or live by it. If I told them “Okay, my dreams are to travel the world and work remotely from wherever I’d like,” most of my advice-givers would be severely skeptical of that plan.

Others have told me that I should at least try to get a “real, 9 to 5 job” and see what it’s like before I dismiss it.  But if I’m already adverse to having a job that I’m nearly certain I won’t like, should I even bother going down that path? Will I just be wasting my time taking that job in the first place? I’m guessing Christine would say “yes.”

I would definitely encourage any graduate to at least try something you love that’s not necessarily practical and do it for a year.  Age 22 is the best time to try things out.  I’m not saying be ridiculous and rack up credit card debt.  Take a chance on something that pays little but has a huge upside for your life if you end up loving it. You have almost nothing to lose, and later in life may be too late.

Loans, debts, and safety nets

From a personal finance perspective, Christine’s points that “your student loans can be deferred practically indefinitely” and “you don’t need a safety net” are enough to make my stomach churn as I’m sitting here.  But maybe she does have a point.  Sure, your student loan debt interest will accrue, and it’s a bit scary to think about what would happen if you ran out of money and didn’t have a backup plan.  But what’s the worst that can really happen? The worst, realistic scenario I can imagine now (or at age 22) is moving back with my parents and maybe working a crappy job until I can straighten things out.

The big question in my mind: Is the worst thing that could happen worse than any regrets later in life? In my eyes, no, it’s not.  Yes, you could “fail,” which is something a lot of us are afraid of (or, as Seth Godin points out, we’re not really afraid of failure as much as we are afraid of criticism).  But one of my biggest fears is potentially regretting what I could’ve done with my life.  Playing it safe is overrated.

Adding to the list

I’m not too far removed from age 22 yet, but I’ll contribute a few things to the list:

1. Consider what you’ll do with a post-graduate education before earning an advanced degree. I may have chosen a different path given the job options in my field.

2. Do what you think is best for you. Don’t be afraid of what others will think of you for doing it. If you mess up, dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes, and continue on with life.

Do you have anything on your list for what you wish you knew when you were 22?  What advice would you give to someone about to graduate college? Post it below!

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photo by: Micah & Erin