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10 of Hannah Sternberg's Greatest Hits

7. May 29, 2013: Advice for Grads: Stop Working So Darn Hard

Get over yourself, get a job, and stop caring so much about everything.


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.

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.

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.