Last year, one of my roommates excitedly approached me and shared that she was applying for a new fellowship. This was mid-cereal consumption and long before my first cup of coffee, so my immediate reaction was, “That’s great!” It sounded 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.
Here’s my roommate’s situation (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 one-year 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 as a career anyway. 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 application.
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 make me really feel for her: “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, 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 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 self-choreographed performances to the Baby One More Time album and harassing strangers on public transportation. Case and point.
But because of my lack of fear (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. Otherwise, I would have never been given the chance to do anything.
Fake it ‘till you make it
This mentality has 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 do it.
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 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. Please know that I had almost no social media experience when I first applied for this job. 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.
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 to 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 to 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 in Maui. That’s what I want. And with (almost) everything that I do, I try to 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 2016 and no one really 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 a close friend often says, anyone can write bullshit on a piece of paper. What people can’t always do is show real, tangible results.
Seek out advice from the people you trust
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 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.
For the most part, people like helping others — it gives them a sense of value and importance, especially if they’re helping a younger person who looks up to them. And ultimately, that’s what relationships are about: establishing relevance in someone’s life, building mutual trust, and doing kind things for one another. These relationships matter.
With everything that I love about social media, something that kills me is its encouragement of non-stop talking.
On the contrary, however, sometimes you need to stop talking and you need to start listening. These close and 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 lucky to be born with a keen self-awareness and deep social intuitiveness (I’m also extremely humble). I can confidently say that I’m one of the most emotionally intelligent people I know. I also know that I’m funny, I suck at organisation, I’m overly 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 to improve.
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 up. Please. Just do it.
I love my generation, but I also have to say that I am shocked by the self-doubt that I see amongst people my age. 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 really love, if that’s what you choose to do.
But what you don’t get to do is be a 28-year-old living on your parent’s dime avoiding life behind a plastic shield called More School.
Okay, let’s all calm down
Woah, everyone take a breather. I know I got a little intense just now. But I’m just really, really worried about the people who I love who are stuck in this.
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 displaying your beaming self-confidence), set yourself up with a plan to have the most valuable experience possible.
Seriously, just do it. Please. For me.