Advice for Grads: Stop Working So Darn Hard


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This week, I’d like to offer some Bad Advice to recent college graduates. Here are some pointers, practical and spiritual, on how to cope with adult life. Share them with a grad you know and it might actually get him or her to stop bugging you with questions about how to be a grown-up.

Personal Life: This may sound like bad advice, but pay your friends for rides, and go to a bar by yourself every once in a while.

1) Whenever a friend drives you somewhere (especially if you asked them as a favor), offer them gas money. Okay, this is less of an “adult life” thing, and more something you should have learned since you were old enough for you and your friends to drive, but it becomes more important as your friends move off their parents’ bankrolls and start getting those fun student-loan notifications in the mail.

2) Friendship is a lot harder when class schedules and a multitude of school-run clubs don’t bring you together on a regular basis, and you no longer live in a building full of people your age who freely socialize between rooms or suites. So, put the work in on the friendships you want to keep: schedule lunch meet-ups or happy hours, ask your friends about their days (because you are no longer spending most of it playing Rock Band or going to class together — he might have done something you weren’t there to witness!), and then honor your commitments.

3) If you feel all alone in a new city and there aren’t many people your age at your office to befriend, join a Meetup group, take up a hobby, go to a networking event, and, in the meantime, while you build up your group of friends, don’t be afraid to do stuff alone. Don’t sit in your apartment by yourself every night because you’re still getting to know folks. Some people are so scared of being seen in public without a companion that they’d rather stay inside all the time and get to know no one at all. Don’t be one of those sad people.

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Work Life: This may sound like bad advice, but don’t work too hard.

1) Work hard, but don’t overwork yourself. I know many people approach work like it’s homework: as if it were possible to actually tie it all up neatly at the end of the day, “hand it in,” and leave the office with all your tasks fully completed. In the work world, the “semester” never ends, you never take the final, and you never “finish” all your work. You finish projects, sure, but new ones roll in continually, and then you find yourself drowning in the stack of simply undoable things — low-priority assignments that you will never find the time to complete. If you approach work like school, and think you’re only done when everything is finished and “handed in,” you will drive yourself insane. So work hard — but cut yourself off at a reasonable hour, go home at the end of the work day, and finish the rest tomorrow.

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2) On that note, take vacations. School used to set your vacation schedule for you. Most offices have a certain number of days they’re closed for national or cultural holidays, but you also get a stack of vacation days to use at your own discretion. So use them. There will be no perfect time to use them — no time when your office grinds to a halt so you feel comfortable leaving without missing any work that needs to be done. Just pick a time that doesn’t overlap with, say, a major project or conference, then give your boss plenty of notice (about a month, if you’re taking more than one or two days off), and go. It will make you a better employee, too — you’ll come back refreshed and more focused. Don’t burn yourself out. Your vacation days are part of your compensation, so don’t throw them away by not using them.

3) The receptionists, personal assistants, and office administrators are often some of the savviest badasses in your company. Don’t be a stuck-up prick like so many people my age I’ve seen, who think that just because they’re a junior associate flabbergaster to the executive vice flabbergaster that they’re above someone with decades more experience than they have at solving the everyday problems of life in an office. Be nice to the receptionists, befriend them, offer to help them out from time to time, and learn from them. Don’t hassle them. If they drop the ball on something, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they just have an awful lot on their plate (because as companies downsize, these already overworked people probably just got a whole lot more duties). Instead of getting mad, offer to help finish the task yourself. And listen to them — even if some of them don’t have a four-year degree like you do, they are most likely smarter than you are.

Love life: This may sound like bad advice, but get better at breaking up with people. It will make you a more honest person, who is ready for the right relationship when it comes along.

1) Women: believe what men say to you about what they want. There is rarely ever a hidden meaning. If he says, “I’m not ready for a relationship,” that is not material for hours of discussion between you and your girlfriends about what he really means. What he really means is he doesn’t want a relationship (or at least, not one with you) and you’d better move on. You’re a grown-up now; that means facing reality even when you don’t like it.

2) Men: don’t chicken out. I know plenty of girls who cry about guys who “led them on,” but I also know enough of the guys who’ve done that to know they’re not always cold-hearted liars… a lot of them are just too pansy to let a girl know they really don’t want to be in a serious relationship, so they passively let it drag on and on hoping she’ll get the message. The sooner you’re honest with her, the sooner you’ll both be able to move on to someone who makes each of you happier. You’re a grown-up now: that means saying things even when they’re hard.

Love's not a fairy tale, but that's not a bad thing.

Love’s not a fairy tale, but that’s not a bad thing.

3) Don’t date a person hoping to change him or her. Change comes from inside. It can be encouraged by people who love and support you, but only you have the power to change yourself; so don’t try to change other people.

4) A good relationship is hard work. Love will not fall out of the sky while violins play softly beneath the shade of a tree by a rippling pond. You might meet the person you love in a serendipitous, beautiful way — but no matter how innately compatible you are or how adorable your cute-meet story is, if you want to have a serious, long-term relationship, you have to work at it. Don’t forget #3 though; work doesn’t mean you’re constantly trying to change each other. Instead, you’re growing together. Don’t take each other for granted. Don’t assume your partner’s love, respect, and devotion is automatically granted to you because you’ve been together for x months or years already so you’ve moved into that “comfortable” phase where you can stop trying to earn it all the time. If you want comfortable, date your imaginary friend.

In a relationship with a real person, every day you wake up thinking, “I should send him something nice today, I know he has a lot of work to do,” or “I didn’t thank him enough for that one thing — I should remember to say something today,” or “I was kind of a downer yesterday, but he’s so positive — I’m going to try to be less whiny today, to show him I appreciate him listening to me.” And when you do that, you start making yourself better as a person — not just in your behavior to him, but in your behavior to others. Then you’re not just thinking, “He’s so positive, I should try to complain less when I’m around him,” you also start to think, “I wish I were more like him — I’m going to work hard at being less grouchy in general.” A good relationship has the power to change your life, make you better, and teach you more than many other life experiences — but it’s not free. Like the most rewarding things in life, you have to earn it.

Submit your questions about friendship, relationships, careers, family, or life decisions to [email protected] or leave a question in the comments section, and I’ll answer it in Bad Advice, PJ Lifestyle’s new advice column!

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