I‘ve made a lot of poor decisions since I graduated college, and the only thing positive I can say at this point is that I now know exactly why those decisions were bad ones. I endured a lot of heartbreaking crap because I simply didn’t understand how to make the right choices for my future.
And while you may be reading this thinking you have all your ducks in a row, all I can say is that I feel you – I honestly do. All I’m asking today is that you listen to my story, because I think I can help you to make more positive decisions about your future.
First, my story
The most life-changing things I learned in college had absolutely nothing to with school, books, theorems, or companies. By far, the “stickiest” things that I learned – the things that still affect me the most – were a direct result of experiences gained through personal exploration. Specifically, I’m talking about:
1. Living in a new city
Throughout college, I was fortunate enough to live in and explore Atlanta, and I immediately embraced it as my own. No one guided me on that venture, and all the experiences I had there were uniquely mine. I loved the cosmopolitan yet southern flair of the city, the amazing architecture, its national profile, and all of the creative energy that it encompassed. I miss it so much because it filled me with such an overwhelming sense of possibility and hope for a better future.
In 2001, I spent the summer in Houston, TX, as an intern. For most of my time there, I was completely isolated because I had no friends in Texas. Although I remember being homesick and hating the fact that I was lonely, I actually have extremely fond memories of my time in Houston. I ended up spending most of my time golfing, and I learned a lot about myself.
First, I realized just how much I love the finite reality that is geography. I’m fascinated by the sense of mental connectedness that you can achieve by traveling to different places and putting them all together in a relative spatial context. Being in Houston really opened my eyes to that, and it’s been a major part of my life ever since.
The second, and probably most important, thing that I learned was that I could enter a completely unknown space with virtually no resources and really thrive. The only problem with this knowledge is that I just recently realized how powerful and potentially life-changing it really is. I look at it as the roots of my own entrepreneurial spirit, if you will.
Theoretically, college is a transitional time where you go from being almost totally dependent to being almost totally independent. I said theoretically. I know tons of people who graduated from college and got hit with the immediate and harsh reality of “Now what?” Some of those people, myself included, ended up regressing into the land of parental dependence once more.
Now that I look back on my time in college, it’s very clear that when I exercised my independence, I received the ultimate twofold benefit. First, I made myself happy. If that’s not enough, I also learned by creating new experiences. Through these experiences, I gained not only tangible knowledge, but also intangible knowledge about myself and about what I could do with my life to really be happy.
Putting it all together
Despite all of my revelatory experiences, I still failed to understand how to use my knowledge to make the best possible decisions about my career and my life’s direction. College kids get hit with a lot of noise around graduation time, and I was no exception. Here’s some of the noise that made my internal signals all the more unclear:
- Soon-to-be graduates all feel pressured to “get a job,” and things like company profile and starting salary become artificial measures of success. If you’re reading this, please understand that nothing could be less relevant.
- The entire setup stinks. Companies will only interview people who are set to graduate with a particular major, and so the kids have to worry about getting the “right” interview with the “right” company, all in hopes that they’ll obtain the myth that is a perfect job with the perfect company. It’s so stupid I could puke.
I fell victim to all the garbage I just listed, and I’m certain that much of it influenced my decision making. I went to the big career fairs that are so popular, and I followed the other sheep with regard to what I call the corporate pursuit.
Looking back, I remember not wanting to set up any interviews, and I also remember only reluctantly going to those career fairs. I felt as though I was being irresponsible if I didn’t go, and I never wanted to feel like I was throwing away some of the opportunities that college supposedly afforded me.
Although interviews and corporate jobs were considered the natural pre and post graduation processes, all I can say for sure is that I did not proactively choose to walk the path that I ended up taking. It was by no means what I wanted to do, and unfortunately, my decisions throughout this process ended up costing me a lot more than I care to elaborate on here.
On any scale, at any level, the principles behind your decision making should be the same. Factors like money and peer expectations, while always present, are nothing more than distractions. Based on your life’s experiences, only you know what will ultimately make you happy.
I made my initial career decisions based on money and peer expectations, and I forfeited many of the things that mattered most to me. I got knocked off the fulfilling track of independent exploration, and this also cost me some of the best sources of inspiration in my life (my city, my travels, and my freedom).
The bottom line
I can’t tell you how many decisions in my life have been guided by pragmatism and finances, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been bitten in the ass as a result of these decisions. I didn’t have the balls to stay in Atlanta after college because I didn’t want to rent an apartment. I thought renting was stupid because you basically end up pissing away all that money, and that’s just not smart. Right?
Wait a minute…Is it smarter to compromise your happiness and not follow the direction that you want your life to take, all in the name of pragmatism? You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that all the people in my life who offer “practical advice” are not nearly as happy or as free as I hope to be someday.
Sometimes I want to slap myself for not being blissfully ignorant.
Anyway, I’m done making decisions based on the wrong criteria, and after reading all this, I hope you are, too.
The next time you’re faced with a big decision in life, look no further than yourself and your past for guidance. As long as you never let a decision cost you something that is uniquely you, you will always make the right decision. Screw money – it’s not you. If a decision costs you money (or possessions, or whatever), you’ll get over it. However, if it costs you something that you love, you’ll be like me and wake up one morning wishing that you hadn’t made such critical mistakes.
Don’t worry about me, though. I’m doing just fine now :)