Hi readers! I got an email a few weeks ago from a young man in Asia who had questions about his life and hoped I could help. I answered him as best I could but his questions were really interesting and made me ponder what I would tell myself if I could talk to a 20 year old Katherine Cerulean. I hope you find the conversation as interesting as I did. 🙂
Your email today really got me thinking. A lot of people I interact with are like myself, a thirty-somethings or older who is at that time and place where we’ve been one thing for a long time and we’re ready to grow into something else (some people call this a midlife crisis). But what about you, and the millions of other Young Extraordinaries out there? You’re still growing into your first skin, and learning who you are and how to navigate through life.
I feel wholly unqualified to offer advice to you because —
- Our lives are probably so different
- My upbringing and past are so unusual
- I’m still figuring out life myself
BUT there’s one unmistakable advantage I have over you — I’ve been doing this (life) 17 years longer than you have. And hopefully my advantage is a vantage point from which I can see a few of the pitfalls and help a little as you move forward.
I’m going to address each of your questions in turn —
I feel like I have nowhere to go right now. I am still 20, a fresh graduate. But I am very anxious as to how my life would be in the next coming years. Will I find a job?
Great question! Hard question. In my mind, there’s two things — jobs and careers.
JOBS: My mother and her mother were always beloved and valued by almost every boss they ever had, and when I was a teenager my mother said it would be the same for me — and she was right. Every place I’ve work at, every manager I’ve worked for, has at the least been glad I was there. Why? Because of work ethic. Hard work. I’ve seen it again and again — it’s not the brightest, or the most outgoing — it’s the person who —
- Shows up on time
- Has a good attitude (no complaining)
- Ask questions so they can improve
- WORKS HARD and steadily
- Wants to become better and seeks to exceed expectations
- Treats everyone with respect
- Is grateful
If you can do even half the things on that list, every manager will want to keep you; if you can hit them all most of the time, then your future is golden. You can start tomorrow at a local restaurant, and you can end up managing or owning it one day. Just tell people that’s your dream and WORK HARD — almost everyone will want to help you succeed. And if you find the rare person who’s a jerk to you, then leave right away and go work somewhere else — the world is full of good people.
So know that ‘a job’, something to put food on the table, is available if you work hard enough, keep looking, and even work for free for a day to show how useful you can be (of course some people have disabilities that can make it impossible to work — all the more reason for the rest of us to be grateful and put in our best effort).
CAREERS: This is harder; this is what I still struggle with. I presume that you want not to just have a job but to have a career, hopefully in the field of your degree. I know times are tough out there but tough doesn’t mean impossible. I think here you have to decide one thing (for now, you can always choose differently later on): Do I love my chosen field? No ‘maybe, ‘kinda’, ‘sorta’. Do you love something about it? Do you think it’s important? That it makes the world a better place in some way? Are you helping people, even just to understand their tax returns? Do you lose time — and hours fly by — when you’re doing or studying it?
I ask because you are going to do your best work, and be most successful, in a career that has at least some of these traits. And every job has these, but not every job has these traits for you. So if you have a different passion, believe me, start looking at making that your career NOW. It might take more schooling down the road, or interning, or learning a craft, but if you love something and don’t follow it, you might end up regretting it.
The second reason I ask if you love your chosen field is because I’m about to ask you to WORK REALLY HARD in it, so I want to make sure all your effort is worth it. Because I live in a college town, and I’ve seen a lot of friends and coworkers get degrees, ‘try’ to find a place in their field for a minute and then give up and stay as retail workers (nothing wrong with that, I’m a retail worker, but only while I hone my writing craft). But I also know people who wouldn’t take no for an answer and are now having great careers. Just be ready to —
- Move for your job, even if it’s only for a few years. If you are willing to do this then you will be ahead of 95% or more of your colleagues. If you really want this career, then be excited to go wherever you need to to make it happen. I know a professor who moved from one coast of the USA to another to get the job he’d been dreaming about. And I know a writer who moved from the east coast to Hollywood, even though the odds seemed long, and she ended up an Emmy-nominated TV writer with a successful career.
- Never, never, never, never give up. Persistence is the one thing that really seems to separate winners from the quitters. I’m going to be a professional writer because that’s my destiny. My motto is that it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’. I could be 80 years old but I’m going to do it. Don’t panic; I’m not suggesting a 60 year journey to get your career going. But if you really want it, keep at it. Ask people in the industry how they got their big break. Send out resumes (all over the country, remember). Look at going to other countries. Look at the one-step-down-job from your dream — can you start there? Should you start your own business?
- Be flexible. There a wonderful story in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield (a great book) about a middle-aged man who wanted to become a movie producer. The only job he could get at the production company was in the mail room. It was hard and tiring work and coworker and after coworker quit because they wanted great jobs too and they hadn’t come Hollywood to sort mail. The man hadn’t either, but he saw what they didn’t — this was only a stepping stone. After a while he ran different errands, WORKED HARD and soon enough, got his chance to move up a level. Eventually he became a hugely successful producer. So always play the long game — will a job less than perfect now lead to the advancement you really want later?
- Make yourself better. Whatever your field is, you can improve. Take more classes, read more online, do experiments at home, ‘stalk the gaps’ and figure out how to do things better than the industry’s doing them. Practice every day. Ask for help from mentors and professors. Learn how to be a better person, a better coworker, a better everything.
- Go sideways. When you can’t find a straight path into the career of your dreams, go into it sideways. I wanted to be a novelist and in the process of doing that I’ve become a screenwriter, self improvement author, self-publishing guru, blogger, freelance writer, editor, founder of a writing association, teacher, public speaker, teleplay writer, poet, and more. I’ve been moving forward — more people know me, my work, and I’m respected in my little corner of the world. And when I get more well-known, then I’ll have all these skills and friends and connections to bring with me.
Will my current girlfriend still be with me in the near future?
Probably not. I remember my first love and how an older friend said, “The first one always breaks your heart”. He was right, and even if your current girlfriend isn’t your first deep love, the odds are you two still may grow apart and want different things as time goes by. But that’s alright. Enjoy each other now and if she’s not “the one”, then know that you have some great, perfect person living out in the world that’s just waiting, excited, for the day they get to meet you. The phrase “Unanswered Prayers” is very true — today I’m SO glad I didn’t marry my first love.
Whether or not you and your girlfriend stay together (and there are a lot of lifetime loves who DO get together young), here’s a few things that I’ve learned to help you become a great partner and person —
- Always respect them. Their ideas, opinions, and fears are important to them. Seek to understand rather then ridicule them. In the same way, I think “kidding” people about anything they like or hate or fear can be disrespectful to them. Try to kid about things, not people.
- Listen to them. I read once that a great conversationalist is a great listener. So really try to be silent and listen, and let people finish their thoughts before adding your own. And know that most of the time people aren’t asking for a solution, just sympathy.
- Never use words as weapons. Like breaking a mirror, you can never undo a cruel word. And while you may forget the fight and what you said, the other people may remember it until their dying day. And every time they see you, they may think ‘He’s thinks I’m stupid. He called me stupid. He helped me do this or that because he thinks, deep down, that I’m too stupid to do it myself. Because that’s what he said that one time he was too angry to lie.’ That’s right, the other person will think your angry words are real and your ever-after kind ones are false. Avoid losing their trust by not speaking in anger. Just go for a walk alone and cool off.
- Who cares most wins. Now, this only works if the other person isn’t a jerk, so don’t date jerks 😉 The rule for our family has always been, that the person who really needs something or cares about something, is the person the family supports. You talk, listen, and then give in — unless you really care. She really wants pizza and you’re ambivalent? She wins! You really want to move for your career and she happily works at home. You win. It’s also important NOT to keep score (“You won three times last week so…”).
- Do things for them — and thank them when they do things for you. If there’s a competition, it should be about helping the other most. My sister and I live together and the ‘thank yous’ flow free and fast. She’ll thank me for washing dishes. I’ll thank her for cooking dinner. Heck, I’ll thank her for carrying my coffee cup back inside — because I didn’t have to do it. I appreciate that I didn’t have to do the work she does and she’s glad of all the stuff I do. Always be on the lookout for ways to make her happy, surprise her with her favorite take-out meal, or flowers, or doing a chore she was loath to do.
- Work on being someone you’d want to be with. The truth is, people get with and stay with those who are “on their level”. So be a positive person, helpful, kind, fit, healthy, going somewhere with your career, and giving something back. Always be learning, growing, listening, interested and sympathetic toward others. If you worry about staying together with your girlfriend, ask her what her ideal night out would be, her ideal day in, her ideal husband. Ask what she loves about you and what opportunities she sees for you to grow and improve.
- Be happy. Find a job, home, and life that you enjoy. Take time to play your favorite music, go on adventures, and learn things. Because if you’re happy, you’ll attract people to you.
Next time we’ll continue this piece with a discussion about paying your bills, feeling lost, and how to be a superhero.