5 lessons nobody tells you when you leave college

I wish someone had told me these things.

1. Not everyone gets a tax refund. Sometimes you actually have to pay the government! How messed up is that?!

2. You should buy a house. But it’s hard, and you have to have a buttload of money first.

3. Nobody is going to make doctor’s appointments for you. And there’s a good chance the doctor’s office isn’t going to be in walking distance of your door.

4. The world favors the lark, not the owl. As such, it takes substantial work to maintain a night lifestyle and still fulfill a lot of adult responsibilities.

5. Just assume you’re not going to get the hang of it all during your twenties. And then one day things will start slowly settling into place…for a while, anyway. It’s best to just keep truckin,’ and don’t over analyze things.

Everybody’s Free (To Freak Out in Their Twenties)

One of my favorite things to listen to when I was high school was “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen).” Not only did I find the voice of Lee Perry extremely soothing, and not only did it sample music from Romeo + Juliet, which I thought was the pinnacle of artistic cinema, BUT even at that young age I found myself nodding and going, “Yeah, man, you get it.”

I listened to it before I sat down to write this post. I realized that even though I liked to think at that age that I was an “old soul” who had life, love, and the world figured out…I understood the lines of that song about as much as I understood things like feminism and Ethiopian food. In an extremely distant, contextual way. Which is to say…not at all.

Why is it that right around that age – and for the next ten years – there is a chronic, infectious case of control freakatitis? Even if you were a perfectly chill teenager (haha, yeah, okay, I know) it’s like as soon as you get out on your own, you immediately hit this second, major puberty. Only this time, instead of facial hair and boobs, you get persistent anxiety and crippling inferiority!

So, in the style of Baz Luhrmann’s EF(TWS), I am going to give you my advice in 5 minutes. Everything I can write, the timer is on, I shall dispense that advice…now.

Bad jobs build character. When you get out of college, there is a good chance you may have to take a job that is not your dream (but never stop trying), that is not what you envisioned in yesteryear, and you will deal with it for a while. Maybe it will get better. Maybe not. But you’ll have the story. The experience.

Know your rights. Never let anybody tell you that you have to give more than your best. Don’t allow people – employers, friends, lovers – decide your schedule. You are your own time wizard.

Take care of your body. Floss. Take advantage of your health insurance, vision, whatever you have. Spend every penny of it. Make it count.

Never stop. Even in the face of failure and defeat and even when it feels like you are talking into an empty room, eventually people will find you. It takes years to build a fanbase/platform/forum/voice – your own personal voice – and if you just stop talking because you think nobody is listening, you’re just going to flatline.

Somewhere between sleepless nights and restful days is nirvana.

Reclaim every second of your free time. At the end of the day, when you leave that office, leave all the mess of the last 9 hours there. Envision it as a torch, and when you clock out, that torch goes in a bucket of water. It’s gone. Don’t let any of those bastards eat into your life when you’re not getting paid for it.

Get hobbies. Try everything at least once. Twice if it’s fun.

Make friends. In the office, on the street, on the way to work. Get used to talking to people. Leave your phone at home, and if you have it, call someone. Make that connection, even if it’s really really hard and not fun.

There you go. In closing, your twenties are going to be really confusing. They won’t always be as fun as they should be, and only half as much as they deserve, because it’s going to feel like you don’t have things figured out the way you thought you would. That is okay. You are okay. Relax. Meditate. Give yourself 60 seconds to get really worked up and then go read a book. Take a walk. Pet a puppy.

But trust me on the hobbies.

If you enjoyed this post and want to find out more ways to live life while getting a pay check, you should sign up for my newsletter, How to Have a Day Job.

It’s Monday! What Am I Doing?

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Watching: Bob’s Burgers — This is one of my favorite animated shows, and the season premier aired last night. It’s refreshing because it’s funny and quirky without being mean. Like, sure, the family is odd and dysfunctional, but they are still a family that loves each other. I know that feeling!

Loving: Viniq Vodka — Delicious. And fun. Check out my video on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve wanted to try it for a long time, lured in by it’s milky-way beauty. It’s tasty: mild, fruity, sweet.

Reading: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham — Let me assure you, I did not break my financial fast for this, but rather got it from a small hoard of points I had accrued on prior purchases on my credit card. So far, I love it. Girls is one of my favorite cable shows, and Lena Dunham possesses an energy I can’t help being drawn to.

Hearing: All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor — No treble.

Doing: 30 — This month, on the 19th, I turn 30. And although I know it’s not a big deal and all, it’s definitely been on my mind recently. I’ve had a lot of practice being a 20-something. To suddenly be 30 and an adult…it’s odd. Are any of you all 30? Did you find yourself trying to just go “It’s not a big deal” but then dealing with your inner child going, “Uh, it’s totally a big deal”?

It’s Monday. What are you doing?

10 Years: Pre-Chrysalis

A few days ago, when I was going about my normal day-to-day, I had a sudden realization. May is a big month for me: it’s the anniversary of when I moved up here. It’s the anniversary of when I graduated from college. But this May particularly, May 2013, is a bigger deal than usual because it is the TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF MY GRADUATION FROM HIGH SCHOOL.

I just looked through a photo album my mother gave me not long ago. June 1 is the specific day I went up with all my friends and co-graduates, got my diploma and got finished doing all that. All that stuff, all that work, all that drama, all that changing and screwing up and getting worse and getting better — all that is the quintessential high school experience.

The Katie of 10 years ago is a strange animal. College hit me like a running-tackle-hug, and I tried everything. Everything I could think of. Everything I could get my hands on. Katie of 10 year ago went from being in a sensory deprivation chamber to a fucking technicolor Oz in smell-o-vision. She threw herself into everything, and it has been a wild ride.

It’s weird now, looking back, because I was certain I had gone from a hungry caterpillar in a cocoon to a butterfly. But now…I think I was just an eager grub, working its way to a voracious worm and fighting the urge to get into that pupa stage. I still feel like life is only just beginning, as if my wings are still a sticky, webby mess.

With that in mind, I’ve made a list of 10 things I wish I could tell that droopy-eyed Katie of yesteryear.

1. Get out of your room. Those people on the other side of your computer are great, but there is a world of everything that you’re missing out on. Sit with your parents and have dinner. You’ll miss it when you only get to do it a few times out of the year.

2. You don’t want a car. Not really. It’s a huge, expensive pain. Enjoy those walks to the grocery store. Relish the feel of the sidewalk under your feet, the rain on your face. Smile because you have places you can get to right around the corner that have good food and interesting sights.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Go see someone. You have a problem, and it isn’t just you. Just like you have bad guts and shitty teeth, your brain chemicals aren’t awesome. It gets better.

4. Boyfriends are overrated. I know you’re whining about how much you want to be loved and touched by another human being and that’s great, yeah…but after but so much loving, you’ll want him to go away so you can breathe. You will feel better alone than you ever will with someone.

5. Stop taking shit from people. God, how could you just let them say that crap to you every day? Tell them to shut up and leave you alone! You don’t owe anyone anything. Ever. You still don’t.

6. Stay passionate about writing. Write all the time, if you can. There will come a time when it won’t seem as fun, but drive away that feeling with more writing. Do it now, while you have blessed free time.

7. Learn to cook. And clean. And talk to people. And handle your money. These are all things that will serve you well and will be a lot more beneficial if you start early.

8. Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last. Just kicking down the cobble stones… looking for fun and feelin’ groovy (This may seem like a departure into Simon-and-Garfunkle Land but actually it would be very relevant to 18-year-old me –because everybody went through that stage where song lyrics were the way to describe one’s life at a given time)

9. Take care of yourself throughout college. Take a look at the resources you have in these precious few years where you have benefits of health care, gyms, libraries, career centers…there is none of that in the real world unless you pay for it!

10. You’re doing good. You’re doing really, really good. You are great. You are awesome. It’s not that bad. It can be so much worse. But even in the depths of the bad badness, you will rise above it. That’s how strong you are.

Edit: Things I thought of after the fact that didn’t make the list include 11. Putting vanilla in sodas stops being a fad around 2006, so enjoy it while it lasts, 12. Sushi will never be as cheap and affordable as it is in college, so you should eat as much of it as possible, 13. It will never be acceptable for you to wander around in public wearing pajama pants after you graduate, so you might as well get as much wear in them as possible, 14. Seek out at least a few real adult role models who aren’t roleplayers — this will save you much grief in the future, 15. Enjoy Southern hospitality as long as you can because you will miss it (and booze in grocery stores) when you get older.

Birdwatching at the Hardware Store

I’m always surprised when a childhood hang-up suddenly grabs my attention.

For instance, I hate going to the hardware store. Comedian Donald Glover said it best when he said that Home Depot is the place where your childhood goes to die. Sitting in my room, listening to my husband talk about the gardening supplies he wanted to get from the hardware store…it all came back to me in a flash of gasoline-and-wood-scented hate. “BEING AN ADULT MEANS I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO THE HARDWARE STORE,” I found myself screaming at him.

He stared at me for a few seconds. His voice got quiet, and his tone took on this interesting mix of both caution and incredulity. As if I was standing a foot away from him, threatening him with a knife if he didn’t agree that the moon was a styrofoam ball. “No…being an adult means you have to go to the hardware store.”

I knew he was right. Being an adult means that no one else is going to fix the toilet for you. Being an adult means that if a door’s not closing or a lamp is shocking you every time you touch it, no one else is going to say, “I’ll take care of it this weekend” and let you get back to Kirby.

I thought to myself that evening how I could make going to the hardware store bearable. I didn’t want a new mailbox. I didn’t need any caulk. What do people get at the hardware store? And I happened upon…this:

I had a mission.

Now, author’s note here: I’ve never done any plumbing. I’ve never owned a hose. I have no experience making DIY (or whatever the kids are calling it) party appliances. But I felt like I owed myself this. I owed myself this small project to take on so I could justify the fact that I was going somewhere I vowed I would never go again when I was 12 or so.

So last weekend, we went to Lowes. Lowest of the Lowes. And as we were making our way through the aisles picking up weatherstripping, a few pots and a bag of soil, I found myself staring up at the rafters. Twenty years after the fact, birds were still getting in, hanging out and generally being threatening.* They weren’t being mopey, though. Hell, no. They were flying around, picking up stuff from boxes so high up nobody will ever buy them, and retreating to some corner.

It somehow made me feel better about the whole experience. Here I was, with a bunch of random faucet parts that I thought I was going to shove into a watermelon to make it into a drink dispenser (don’t ask, I haven’t tried it yet), and there they were, flying around like life couldn’t be better. Even if we were both stuck in a hardware store on a Saturday night.

*The poop is threatening. Not the pigeons, obviously.