By Lena Elkins
Early this morning, one of my roommates excitedly approached me and shared that she was applying for a year-long fellowship. This was mid-cereal consumption and long before my first cup of coffee, so my immediate reaction was, "that's great!" It sounds harmless, right? The fellowship seemed cool. But then I started thinking more about my roommate and the greater context surrounding her decision. Instead of being happy for her, I became sad.
(I then proceeded to talk to Social Media Josh about it for the next six hours. Thanks for putting up with me, J.)
Here's the context of my roommate (and at least a dozen other 20-somethings I can think of): She's a year-and-a-half out of undergrad, almost done with her graduate school program, and has repeatedly expressed her dislike for her program and the lack of career opportunities it presents. Admittedly, however, she doesn't know what she wants to pursue for a career in the first place. And now, after spending the last 18 years of her life in school on her parents' dime, she's moving onto her next let's-see-what-happens program of choice, hence the fellowship proposal.
So, my first question to her was this: "Why are you trying to stay in school forever? School sucks. You're a grown-up now! Go do things that actually interest you."
Her answer was something that slightly bothered me, but as the day went on, began to eat away at me: "I have no real skills and my resume sucks. No one would hire me. I think I want to work in the non-profit world, but all of the positions that I've seen are volunteer-based."
I immediately felt empathy, anger, and concern for my roommate. There were so many things I wanted to say to her in that moment, and all millennials who are seriously struggling with these toxic diseases of insecurity, entitlement, confusion and identity crises. Here are the things I would have said to her this morning, if I wasn't knees deep in a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios:
1. Be f**king fearless
I feel very lucky to have been born someone who isn't afraid of embarrassment. My entire childhood was spent forcing my family to watch me sing the Britney Spears' Baby One More Time album and stuffing sugar packets into my tights in restaurants to save them for later. Yeah, it was bad.
But because of my fearlessness (at least when it came to trying to new things), I had to quickly adopt the mentality of "fake it till you make it" in order to keep up. I'm not lying when I say this mentality literally helped me get every internship and job I've ever had. If I didn't know how to do something but still wanted the chance to try it, I emulated a certain level of confidence that allowed me to have relationships and opportunities that helped me grow in that subject.
Like my roommate, a shit ton of millennials are struggling with this idea of "experience." You need "experience" to get a job and "experience" to make your resume look good. But here's a little known secret: no one has f**king experience. Everyone is just faking it until they figure it out. What you do have control over is the amount of perceived and actual self-confidence that you have. You need to find it in you, and if you can't, fake it until it becomes real on its own.
That's what I did when I graduated from college. I applied for and got a job as a Social Media Manager, and now one year later, I'm an independent social media consultant. Again, I had almost no social media experience. But I jumped in with two feet, applied for a job I wasn't qualified for, and committed myself to learning everything I could about the industry to put myself in the best position possible to succeed.
Basically, be brave. Take the risk, don't be scared of failing, and find the confidence necessary to push you out of your comfort zone and toward what you really want.
2. Think about what success really means for you
With everything you do, you have to keep your end goal in mind. So take some time to sit down and write out what you really want. What's your ultimate objective in this game? Is it to be a millionaire? To be healthier? To pay your rent each month without stressing, or own the San Francisco Giants? For me, it's to have a loving and supportive family, maintain a comfortable and flexible lifestyle, and own a property at the 4 Seasons Maui. That's what I want. And with (almost) everything that I do, I keep those end goals in mind.
In the word of Gary Vaynerchuck, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll get lost." You have to have a goal, or at least an idea of a goal, in order to design a path for yourself that's both practical and motivating.
3. Get rid of your resume and start paying attention to the people around you
Surprise, everyone: IT'S ALMOST 2016 and NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOUR RESUME.
Seriously, it blows my mind when I hear people hung up about the status of their resumes. Just the word makes me cringe. As my good friend Josh always says, anyone can write bullshit on a piece of paper. What people can't always do is show real, tangible results.
The next part of this equation that everyone seems to be forgetting is the PEOPLE aspect. Don't think about who you can send your stupid resume to, but instead who you can call or get a coffee with to discuss your job interests. Or better yet, just talk to them about them. Learn about their work, what they like and dislike about their industries, and what they can share with you in terms of advice. People like helping others - it gives them a sense of value and importance in your life. And ultimately, that's what relationships are about: establishing relevance in someone's life, building mutual trust, and doing kind things for one another. With everything that happens to you, professionally and otherwise, these relationships matter.
With everything that I love about social media, something that kills me is its encouragement of non-stop talking. But sometimes you need to stop talking, and you need to start listening. The important people in your life have experience, connections, and most importantly, an investment in you. So, approach them for help before you approach strangers with a piece of paper.
4. Be real with yourself
I was born with a keen awareness of who I am, and just as importantly, who other people are. I can confidently say that I'm one of the most socially intuitive people I know. I also know that I'm funny, I suck at organization, I'm extremely dramatic, and I'm really good at Zumba. You just gotta know these things.
There's also a handful of things that I'm okay at, or think I could be good at if I chose to put in the time and work.
If you don't know who you are, or don't take the time to figure it out, it will be very difficult for you to navigate your way through this whole life situation. So I really want you to sit down, and list 3-5 items under the following categories:
What I'm Good At
What I Suck At
What I Think I Could Be Good At If I Knew More About It
What I Could Do All Day And Not Get Bored From
Wow, good job. Now we can move on.
5. Grow the f**k up
I love my generation, but I also have to say that I am shocked by the entitlement factor. We are VERY lucky to be living in the age of the internet, where literally any career or life opportunity is possible. You have SO MANY CHOICES. But, there's one thing that pretty much none of us have a choice in, and that's working.
This doesn't mean that you have to clock in to an office eight hours a day for the rest of your life. Like I said, the work environments, fields, people and positions are endless. And I'm confident that you can find something that you love, if that's what you choose to do. But what you don't get to do is be a 28-year-old receiving financial support from your parents, avoiding life behind a plastic shield called More School.
I know it might seem scary, but you will never get the experience you're looking for if you're too scared to go out and get it. So figure out what you want, which jobs you're going to apply for, and what people you can connect with along the way. Once you're in a new job (which you will be after you display your beaming self-confidence), set yourself up with a plan to have the most valuable experience possible. Seriously, just f**king do it. You have nothing to lose.