Want to know a secret?
Today I turn 24.
Yep. That means it’s my birthday.
That also means it’s been three years since I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria, two years since I was in my spring semester of senior year, and seven months since I started my work as the editorial / social media assistant with AfterCollege.
And it means that today is the perfect day for some serious reflecting.
So here I go. Here’s my list of 24 important things to know before you’re 24:
1. Sleep is underrated.
The whole “you can sleep when you’re dead” mentality is going to lose a lot of its appeal. Seriously, sleeping has become one of my favorite hobbies. I think as we get older, our ability to be productive without sleep diminishes greatly. Don’t feel lame. It’s okay. Sleep is cool. Naps are actually better for you.
2. Coffee (or whatever it is that motivates you in the morning) is everything.
Maybe coffee won’t be as important to you as it is to me (I’m already on my second cup and it’s 8am) but it’s good to have something to wake you up in the morning. Whether that’s a few sun salutations or an upbeat song to listen to while getting ready, having something that will get you out of bed and ready to face the day is important.
3. Free / unlimited access to your school’s gym was beautiful.
Here’s a big bummer: The days of heading to the high school cafeteria on Friday to make brownie sundaes are over. I remember nuking that brownie in the micro and covering it with the little cup of vanilla bean ice cream. Those were the days.
Now? My body is like, “Haha SURPRISE! Those calories are gonna stick! You want a beer? Muahahahaha better buy a pant size larger.”
So though it can be hard to get to the gym (especially on those rainy days when all you want to do is curl up in a big blanket and watch Twilight… I mean a good movie… awkward?) I encourage you to take advantage of your school’s gym. Trust me. Unless you find some high-paying job right out of college, you probably won’t be shopping at Whole Foods. That means a lot of frozen pizza and Chinese takeout. And gym memberships in the real world are ridiculously expensive.
4. There are scholarships out there for you.
Loans really hurt the team. Especially when you’re trying to pay rent in the city…
So here’s a secret that can help:
Don’t think that there are only scholarships out there for “A” students who also play the xylophone and spend their weekends knitting mittens for orphan kittens (not that those students don’t deserve scholarships). They totally do! But there are also a lot of great organizations that want to help many different kinds of students.
Just on the AfterCollege site alone we have about 13 different types of scholarships to apply for. Save all the money you can. APPLY for those scholarships. It will totally help in the long run.
BUT be careful. Please avoid scams like these.
5. Internships are for everyone.
I don’t care whether you’re at Harvard studying Business or at Hogwarts studying Potions, you can and should find an internship. As a Creative Writing major, I thought working on my craft was enough. Wrong. Employers want students who have the critical thinking college nurtures as well as “real” experience. Trust me, you do not want to fall into that awful but all too common Catch-22: you need experience to get a job but can’t get a job without experience.
6. Roommates are not your parents.
You may live with these people, but that does not make them your parents. They are not biologically locked into the unconditional love contract. They will not forgive you if you “borrow” their toothbrush (Sorry Joey). They are not there to pick up after you. They may not want to hear every detail of the dream you had last night in which you married Carrot Top.
It’s important to remember that not everyone has had the same upbringing. Living habits are a complicated matter. I’ve seen friendships torn apart when two people try to live together. So be careful. Think before choosing to live with a friend. If you’re Craigslisting it or dorming with a new person, try to be as considerate as possible. It still might not work out but at least you won’t be the one to blame.
7. You’re gonna want lots of skills.
Nanchaku skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills… Okay so maybe not those exact skills (though it’s pretty sick if you do have them). What I’m saying is that you should try to be as well-rounded as possible. If you’re an English major, learn some basic HTML. If you’re a computer science major, take a couple philosophy courses. It’ll help you in the long run. Not only will you be able to relate and converse with a variety of different people, but it will also look good to employers.
For example: Jon Stemmle doesn’t just look for computer skills when he’s hiring a front-end developer.
8. EVERYTHING costs money…
This is one of the most painful things to learn. EVERYTHING costs money. Rent. Groceries. Toilet paper! Heat. Toothpaste. Going out costs money too. A night on the town with friends is fun and sometimes a necessity after a hard day of work, but those drinks and mozzarella sticks start to add up, so be careful!
Somewhere between your first year of college and your 24th birthday you should start creating a budget for yourself. Otherwise your rent will be due, your fridge will be empty, and all you’ll have to show for yourself are a couple of photos on your phone of you planking on the bar of the local pub…
9. Facebook is forever.
Okay so maybe not Facebook, but I’m talking about social media in general. Once you put it out there you can’t take it back. The problem with that is as you get older more and more grown-ups are going to want to friend you or follow you; grown-ups that will not be pleased to see that you stayed up three nights in a row and skipped class on Monday because of it.
THEN you have to deal with what comes after college. We’re all pretty good at stalking and now companies are, too. They will be checking up on you when you apply. If they see that status you posted sophomore year: “Ugh… haven’t slept in 72 hours. Looks like class ain’t happening >_<”, they might think you’d pull the same stunt with work. That’s not good. Make sure you’re taking the appropriate precautions on these networks and using them to your advantage.
10. Start the job search before you graduate.
Trust me, after graduation, reality is going to hit like a ton of bricks. You’ve spent your whole life being a student. All of a sudden everyone’s like, “Studying? You may have been doing that for the past 20 years but you AREN’T anymore. It’s time to work! GET A JOB!” I can tell you that learning how to be a job-seeker is complicated and it’s not something you can “cram” for. There are no Sparknotes for the post-graduation experience.
Starting your career exploration in college is so helpful. You can research and try out different branches of your field, do internships (most internships are FOR college students), find out what size company is for you, and practice job searching techniques. That way when you’re done with school, you’re prepared for the next phase of your life.
11. There’s a career services office.
Yep. Your school actually has a place where you can learn about internship opportunities, practice interviewing, and get information about the job search in general. The current model of career services may not be the greatest (read: Do We Have to Murder to Get a Job After College?) but it’s improving every day.
You’re going to be job hunting after you graduate. It’s the smart decision to take advantage of as many available resources as possible.
12. Your parents are actually kind of cool.
It feels like I spent the majority of my life thinking my parents were “such dorks” and being embarrassed by them. It took four years away in college and one and a half outside of it to really start to appreciate them.
The thing about your parents is that they actually care about your day. When they ask about your life it’s not like when other people greet you with, “How are you?” They genuinely care that you ate those beets in your salad yesterday and that you saw a mark on the sidewalk that looked like your old dog. You’re not going to find many people who care about you like that.
13. A night playing Cards Against Humanity is way more fun than getting really drunk at a bar.
Yes, painting the town red can be fun BUT it gets exhausting after a while and you don’t usually make any real connections with people at a bar. When you move to a new place and don’t know very many people, it can be way better to just sit and play a game like Cards Against Humanity. You’ll get to know people a lot better, spend a lot less money, and get to bed at a reasonable hour (ahem point #1).
14. Pizza is the only food that truly matters.
Pizza brings everyone together. Who doesn’t like pizza? You can go out for pizza, get it delivered, buy it frozen, or make it from scratch. However you choose to eat it, it’s fairly inexpensive, delicious, and basically a universally good call.
15. Questions help you.
I actually have a lot of trouble with this one. Asking questions can be scary and make you feel vulnerable. I for one hate looking like I don’t know what I’m doing, but over the years I have learned that it’s far better to ask than guess.
You’ll be much more successful asking how to use the unfamiliar presentation program rather than showing up on the day it’s being presented to the clients with hand-drawn pictures because you broke the program trying to figure it out yourself.
Asking never makes you look bad—just be sure to pay attention when you’re being given instructions. Write them down. It does not look good to ask the same questions over and over again.
16. There are jobs in places other than where you grew up or went to college.
After graduating from college it can seem like you have to either return to your hometown or continue living where your university is. This is false. This is a brand-new point in your life! You don’t have to do anything.
I moved home for a year but then transported myself to a city that was completely new and different. I knew I wanted an editorial job and that I wanted to live in a city, but which city and which job I wasn’t sure of. Not many college kids are.
Explore your options.
17. Start a blog.
Not only is blogging a great way for you to keep track of things you find interesting, but it’s also a fantastic way to create a personal brand. I started a blog while abroad and re-reading my posts allows me to be transported back to those moments. I only wish that I had written more posts. If I’d been thorough and kept up with my travel blog, not only would I be able to have better memories of those times, but I would have also had more to show potential employers.
Employers love seeing that you know what you’re talking about. Blogging about your industry shows you are truly invested in that field. But be forewarned—writing blog posts is not something to be done in a flurry. Your blog (as with everything online) will become a reflection of you. You’re going to need to proofread and edit to make sure it shows you in the best possible light.
18. The chores don’t stop when you move out of your parents’ house.
You’re headed to college and moving out of your parents’ house. That means no more nagging. No more being told to pick up after yourself. This is going to rock! Wrong.
The annoying thing is that your parents had a reason behind asking you to clean up after yourself. Ends up, if you don’t pick up your dirty clothes from the floor, they stay on the floor. If you don’t take out the trash, it starts to smell really, really bad. So if you don’t want to wade through piles of dirty clothes to get to your bed or have the aroma of rotting food wafting through your apartment (Febreze does not really make it disappear) then you’ll do those chores sans the nagging.
19. It’s cool to know about “grown-up” stuff (like the news).
Sure. You’ll (sadly) probably still be up-to-date on what’s happening with the Kardashians, but you’re also going to start to develop an interest in what you once thought of as “grown-up” stuff. I’m talking about the news. Whether you’re following the New York Times on Twitter or reading a real newspaper with your first cup of coffee, you’re going to find that people actually want to talk about what’s going on in the world just as much as Miley Cyrus’s twerking.
It doesn’t hurt your job search, either. Once you’ve targeted an industry it’s important to know what’s going on in that field. Being knowledgeable of the newest trends and happenings in that field is going to make you a much stronger candidate. Here’s how to use that knowledge to your advantage in the job search.
20. There’s such a thing as an informational interview and you should make it part of your job-search strategy.
I am perhaps the most indecisive person in the world. If I can’t even choose what dressing to put on my salad for lunch, how am I supposed to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life?
Informational interviews are a fantastic way to get a look into an industry without actually having to commit to it. You can hear about real experiences from different people, get a better understanding of what it’s like in that industry, and network all at the same time.
21. You’re not going to wake up one day and feel like you’re a grown-up.
Guess what? There’s never going to be an ‘aha!’ moment when you suddenly feel like an adult. You’re getting older and I suppose you’re doing more “grown-up” things like living on your own, paying for your bills, etc. but trust me, you’re still going to feel like a kid.
It’s strange remembering what I thought of people in their twenties as a child. I thought they had it all together, knew what they wanted, and had no fears of what was to come. This is not the case. I don’t know anyone who has it all together. There may be a few friends who know what they want, but most are still exploring their options. There is definitely no one who is completely secure in their future. We all just keep living and seeing where we end up.
22. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Seriously though… don’t take yourself too seriously. No one is perfect (I mean Angelina Jolie once carried a vial of blood around her neck…) If you try to be perfect all the time you’re just going to drive yourself crazy and miss out on a lot of great moments.
I’ve done a lot of embarrassing things… Snapchatted the wrong person, accidentally walked into the boys’ bathroom, played guitar HORRIBLY in front of my entire middle school… the list goes on and on. If I wasn’t able to laugh at myself I’d be paralyzed with fear of doing anything.
There are going to be moments in your life when you aren’t at your best. Whether that’s walking around with a piece of lettuce stuck to your teeth or interrupting your interviewer (I’ve done both) you’re going to have to move on. Yes, it sucks and you should learn from your mistakes aka bring a compact mirror and remember NOT to talk over your interviewer the next time, but you also can’t let it stop you from ever eating salad again or going to another interview.
23. Say thank you.
Always voice your thank yous. I learned this the hard way. As a child I assumed that grandparents knew that their grandchildren were thankful for everything they did. Of course many are aware, but my grandfather happened to be pretty high-maintenance. He took my brother and I out for dinner one night and afterwards we just climbed back into the car sleepy-eyed and full. OH BOY did we get the scolding of our lives! He couldn’t believe we didn’t thank him for taking us and paying for the meal.
Though I think it was a little melodramatic to accuse two small children of not being grateful just because we didn’t voice it, I have never forgotten this lesson. Never assume people know you appreciate them. ALWAYS tell them. Whether that’s saying it to the professor who helped you understand material for class or writing a thank you to your interviewer, always express your gratitude in a tangible way.
24. Have fun.
It can be so easy to get bogged down in things that are going wrong. Just the other day I could feel myself getting more and more annoyed as the morning went on. There was a miscommunication so I couldn’t get my prescription, my mom started vacuuming when I was trying to work from home, there was no transportation for the event I was going to later; I was aggravated. But then I took a deep breath. I knew that I had two options. I could let these things ruin my day or I could decide that I wasn’t going to let them stop me from enjoying myself. I chose to be happy. I let go of my anxiety over my prescription, I moved to a room where I couldn’t hear the vacuum, and I decided to figure out a back-up plan for the event later.
Time goes by way too fast to be upset (not to mention the worry wrinkles that start to show up). Try to have fun as much as possible. Enjoy your life.
Those are just 24 things that I think are important. There are so many other lessons I’ve learned over the years. I think maybe the most important lesson to learn is that you should always keep learning. Keep an open mind. There’s never a point in time when you should stop and think, “I know it all!” Other than that, just keep going.
Homework time! Lucky you! You don’t have to wait until you’re 24 to gain these little nuggets of wisdom. Put them to use! Then start collecting some of your own.
P.S. Already have something to add? Leave your comment in the section below.