Got grand plans? Don't be shy about making them happen. That's the advice of Colleen Kinder, who wrote a book that encourages graduates to dare to live their dreams — and offers advice for doing so. In this feature, she shares her tips turning a fantasy into a future.
Adapted from Delaying the Real World (Running Press, 2005) by Colleen Kinder. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
This is a crucial truth to get through your antsy little mind. Repeat after me: There is no rush. Many of the young adventurers who contributed to my book mentioned how they were initially nervous about "taking a year off" while peers dove into the real world. They later saw that they hadn't missed a beat and could pick right back up in Normalville (if they wanted to, that is).
In the meantime, while everyone else had mastered PowerPoint, they'd gained invaluable experience out in the wide world that helped them sort out their goals. Considering you will likely retire in your late sixties, isn't rushing into a monotonous grind a bit silly?
In order to make a good decision today you don't have to know what you want to do 20 years from now. Throw the question "What should I do with the rest of my life?" to the dogs and just handle your next step as a twentysomething. Take a minute to imagine a situation in which you might thrive, rise to challenges and feel satisfied every day that you work. Sound easier than charting your entire professional career? Just a bit.
Trust me, it's not worth envying. Most people who get high-paying jobs right out of college end up giving up their lives in exchange for money that they don't have time to spend.
Don't emulate your peers unless you admire them. My first year out of college, it was plainly clear that the big money makers were exhausted and miserable while those scraping by to do something satisfying were much happier. Be willing to live on less and you'll buy yourself priceless freedom.
Don't think everything you do has to be neatly related to your background and future goals. Having a diverse array of experiences can be even more impressive than a perfectly coordinated resume. The earlier you diversify and dabble in a number of areas and jobs, the quicker you will find your way to what you really love. Once there, your previous stints will come in handy. You might bring to the table expertise that no one else in your venue can provide. Never hesitate to vary.
Don't underestimate the power of momentum. One pattern I've noticed among peers is that people who start off their twenties doing interesting things usually keep right on doing them, and likewise, the straight and narrow typically (and tragically) remain straight and narrow. The odds get worse with every passing year, poor folks.
My theory was confirmed when I e-mailed young adventurers to gather tips and anecdotes. My token Alaskan wilderness tour guide was now finishing a novel and planning a volunteer vacation in Belarus (and by the way, did she mention she was in the Peace Corps and hitchhiked across Ireland?). My poster child for around-the-world travel was currently job hunting in Boston, but P.S.-ed that he would be in Havana (where I was, delaying the real world myself) for an educational trip next week and might I want to meet up for a mojito?
Let these serial adventurers illuminate the power of momentum for you. Do yourself a favor this year and it may just last for life. Most people who have interesting jobs got them by doing interesting things first.
said one insightful individual I spoke with, and she couldn't be more right. You can access millions of opportunities and acquaint yourself with just about any organization or potential employer through the Internet. In fact, your real challenge will not be finding enough information, but sifting through the excess of it.
The best approach is to copy and paste all of the information that appeals to you onto one Word document. Once you are through Web browsing, you can format the document to your liking and compare all of the options you have amassed. For example, a global volunteer program that was the first link on your Web search might have a $6,000 program fee. A similar organization listed a few pages later in your search results might actually pay you a monthly stipend. Laying all of the information out on one printable document will also gather all phone numbers and contact details in one place.
Once you start eliminating some possibilities and focusing in on others, you can easily highlight and written notes in the margins of your printed record (i.e. "Called and spoke to director. Said to call back Tuesday.") Make things easy for yourself from the beginning.
One of the most remarkable things about the success stories I found is that many of them came about through a move that seemed impossibly ambitious at first, then all too easy when it actually worked. Take Arianne, for example. She was web browsing late on night and came across and English-language newspaper in Cambodia that piqued her interest. While others might have assumed the publication was large (since the web site was fancy) and that the editors would think she was a little American punk if she contacted them without reason (like a job posting), Arianne decided she had nothing to lose. The publication might have been a three-man operation for all she knew.
She shot the editor a carefully crafted e-mail and he got back to her in minutes with an eager reply: We'd love to have you! Remember, people don't always publicize their needs. If you cold-call or e-mail someone and display your passion for their line of work, they are likely to impressed by you. Pay attention to how many of the contributors to this book made their plans a reality by taking a step that most other people wouldn't even consider. Always reach farther than you think you can.
You will notice that many of the young dreamers featured in the pages ahead faced serious financial difficulties. If you are like most young'ns and don't have a penny to your name, you'll just have to search a bit harder, send out a dozen more applications or résumés, and log in more hours of grunt work before making your grand plans a reality.
There is no adventure listed in my book, perhaps with the exception of the pricey trek up Mount Everest, that could not be financed through some hard-core minimum wage work or temping. There are also plenty of cool jobs, internship and volunteer programs that offer loan deferment and financial aid. Don't let money be your excuse to be lame; take it as a challenge.
Could that sound any simpler? Yet it's by far the hardest step: actually carrying out those plans that seem too good to be true. This book can inspire your pants off, but in the end it's up to you to score the mind-blowing job. Things have a tendency to fall in place once you take the first leap of faith.
Moving abroad, for example, seems like such a drastic life decision that we want to have everything perfectly in place before buying the ticket. However, many young adventurers say it didn't so much matter what they sent up, but that they went ahead and make the move. Once in a foreign country, you can navigate through the opportunities much more easily and countless doors open.
Of course it's a good idea to do your homework, but don't let the logistics keep you from committing to what you really want to do. Make a promise to yourself first — write it down if you think it will help — then dive into the practical questions of how you are going to make it happen. Be ready to act before you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.
In one way or another, every contributor to my book expressed that their adventures exposed them to a world more real than any fluorescent-lighted cubicle could have. They all swear by the value of what they pursued and insist they are fuller, more knowledgeable, worldlier people for doing something "a little different" than their peers. And lastly — the best test of a good decision — none of them have a regret to speak of. Neither will you.