5 things I wish I’d known 5 years ago

Well, my alma mater started classes this week, so I guess it’s time for that obligatory back-to-school post. I’m not sure if this year’s incoming college class is still even considered Generation Y. Already, I’m beginning to understand that “generation gap” term. Sometimes I swear I’m a 24-year-old curmudgeon and you guys are all nuts, and I’d holler to “get offa my lawn!” If I had a lawn. Apartments generally don’t come with those.

Anyway, university class of 2014, the future starts with you, your success is the world’s success, yadda yadda. (I’m not actually that disillusioned, I’ve just still got that stock-graduation-speech in my head because I heard it myself so recently. You know what I mean — the college grad speech isn’t all that different from the high school one, truth be told.)

So here’s some bits of wisdom I probably heard from my parents when I was 18, but didn’t listen to because they were too old. I’m only a little bit older than you, not even old enough to have babysat you when you were kids. So maybe it’ll make a little more sense coming from me.

- Networking isn’t just a buzzword used by stuffy people in suits. I started out at the University of Evansville, which is a pretty darn affluent school. When your background is blue-collar, it can feel pretty odd. I took on plenty of extracurriculars, but didn’t take advantage of job fairs or networking events. Student meetings in jeans and T-shirts were more fun. Besides, in those days I had blue streaks in my hair and black polish on my nails. Networking equaled corporate BS for conformists. Or so, I thought. That is the case if you go to the wrong places. But the truth is, having moved to Indianapolis, I’ve gone to plenty of networking events. There may not be much blue hair, but the people are genuinely interesting. And the best way to find your niche (or blaze your own, a la Susan Baroncini) is to get out there and see what’s what and who’s who!

- Get some sleep. When I was going-on 19, my average bedtime was 3 a.m. and I had 9 a.m. classes. At the risk of sounding vain, I was really smart (academically), so I could sleep through my Latin class and still pound out the homework and get A’s. But (GOD, I sound OLD!) it can catch up to you. Young’uns, hopefully by the time you graduate from college, the job market will have gone back uphill and you’ll have no trouble finding a job with good healthcare benefits. Or maybe a public option will exist by then and it will be less of an issue. But maybe not. And all that partying and sleep-deprivation will catch up with you, and you will feel like crap. Nothing’s quite so fun as being 23, fresh out of school, worried about money (Darlings, you likely have NO concept of the word “broke” yet!), and feeling like your body is going to fall apart because you didn’t care for it.

- Relationships and bootycalls are NOT THAT DARN IMPORTANT! Lord, if I could do it all over I’d have jumped ship on the crap relationships I maintained because I was scared to be alone. And I see so many other young folks squandering their emotional and mental energy on significant others rather than nurturing and growing their own self-identities. You need that. Some people (and I fear that this occurs lopsidedly so toward females) go years, DECADES, defining themselves in terms of who their parent, sibling, spouse, or child is, rather than what unique and wonderful qualities they themselves offer. It’s so simple that it’s revolutionary… you can avoid that midlife crisis entirely, just by HAVING a life!

Plus, you’ll do better in academics and in your club/sport of choice if you’re not worrying so hard about looking dumb in front of that girl/boy/whatever. I cringe at my graduation status, even though it was “Cum Laude,” because even though that looks decent on a resume’, I believe I could have done better. Please don’t let that be you.

- Don’t be so darned afraid to try, fail, or ask for help. I’m TERRIFIED of failure, and I’ve talked myself out of a lot of opportunities that way. And annoyed the crap out of people in my social circle because I don’t know how to ski/carry out a WOW raid/play euchre.

Same applies in the business world. In five years, we may end up working together. Wonder of wonders, I may even end up supervising you. I”m going to give you the STINKEYE if you don’t ask me questions. (Yes, the dreaded stinkeye!) I’m going to wonder if you’re cheating, or just not taking enough risks, if you never screw up. It’s part of life!

- If your professor doesn’t challenge you, challenge him or her. Your university will probably have a class or two on critical thinking and argument. It’s not going to be enough. Our educational system is generally crap in this department, and it’s doing many of us a disservice. Don’t go into the game ready to learn WHAT to think or say in order to get a decent grade. That’s not our educators’ job, or at least it shouldn’t be. Learn HOW to think. This will make the difference between our generation being a generation of leaders, or a generation of followers.