GRADUATION IS A BIG DEAL. The four years of exam cramming, wild frat parties and schmoozing professors to oblivion are over. Senior year is the time for decisions, but unfortunately, there’s no “real life” manual to tell you what to do. As someone who’s been around the world and through corporate life, this is my advice to you:
Lesson 1: Don’t follow the crowd.
When I graduated in 2015, the fifty percent of my classmates who got job offers were considered “lucky,” and most of those bright minds were siphoned directly into Wall Street. When the career counselor advises you on the big decision of what you want to do, travel is not even on the table. But if that’s what you want, don’t succumb to the pressure of the labor market. Go see the world.
Lesson 2: You’re allowed to change your mind, even at the last moment.
Are you having second thoughts about the office job you committed to? Do you feel like the groom from a cheesy romcom, flipping out in the hour before getting married and wanting to run for dear life? I get it: two weeks before graduation that was me. Having finished my senior thesis and all of my finals early, I had delved head-first into travel blogs and was especially taken by this girl Kate who quit her corporate job in NYC and, armed with a backpack, went to teach English in Thailand.
The premise was very simple: instead of the money you’d put down on an apartment in an expensive city, you get a one-way ticket to Asia and go explore. Anyone who speaks fluent English is more than qualified to teach abroad, and like Kate, I desperately longed to bask in the thrill of new, exotic landscapes, food and people, proudly supporting myself on my own. When it comes to the desk vs. backpack decision, know this: corporate jobs are like cockroaches — they withstand the test of time. They will always be waiting for you. Your youth, on the other hand, is a prime time for adventure. Embark on a long train ride through scenic Sri Lanka and eat chapulines in Oaxaca before you commit to a mortgage and a few kids. Sleeping on rough cots and climbing volcanoes in Java is much easier in your twenties than your fifties.
Lesson 3: Don’t waste your time doing a job you don’t care about.
Because you’ll suck at it. I used to think that not being good at something was a sign of incompetence. I ended up dismissing the idea of moving to Thailand out of fear and sticking with the sales job I had accepted. A month into the field, my confidence had been replaced with feelings of emptiness and despair. I was a complete failure and couldn’t figure out why. I paid attention to everything the managers taught me, taking notes and packing my schedule with one-on-one’s with more experienced colleagues, but in the end it was obvious that I was just forcing it.
What I did have an interest in though, was sampling local food and taking photos of the different areas of Massachusetts we were sent to. I ultimately got fired for underperforming and felt absolutely heartbroken. As Jim Carrey famously said to the graduating class of Maharashi University of Management: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”
Lesson 4: If you focus on what you love, opportunities will come.
It may seem scary to choose the hustle of a startup or freelance art, but if that’s what you’re passionate about, you’ll undoubtedly get recognition. After being fired from the sales company, I landed a “solid” banking job. In just about four months of spending nine hours a day behind a bullet-proof glass, my spirit had been crushed and I finally made the decision to quit and stay out of the corporate world for a long while. It was scary because I had nothing lined up and rent to pay.
Lo and behold, opportunities started coming my way. I was invited on a West Coast trip I had always wanted to take but had never gone on, I scored my first major (read: paid) photography campaign, and I even got a role in a big screen indie movie. Still wanting to try Southeast Asia, I booked a TEFL certification course and a one-way ticket to Bali for the upcoming summer. When you start seriously pursuing your interests, your hard work will pay off. Focus all your energy in what you really want, even if it seems risky.
Lesson 5: If travel is your passion, there are a ton of ways to see the world.
Traveling with a purpose is more obtainable than ever — two friends of mine went off with the Peace Corps to South America, another one is teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, my best friend is hitchhiking through Europe. Those are just a few off the top of my head. If you need money to support yourself, I get it: I do too.
There are many WWOOF and work-holiday opportunities all over the globe, there are Fulbright scholarships, and there are au pair gigs. There’s WorldPackers (which helps you trade skills for accommodations), there’s staying at convents in Italy with free room and board, and there’s travel blogging.
The truth is that travel fosters the fundamental understanding between the person you are and the actions you take. Without that foundation, nothing you build would last. Happy graduation and bon voyage, my friend!