One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comic strips actually doesn’t feature either of the two title characters. It pictures Calvin’s mom and dad, in bed and unable to fall asleep. “When I was a kid, I thought grown-ups never worried about anything,” the dad says.
“I figured that once you grew up, you automatically knew what to do in any given scenario. I don’t think I’d have been in such a hurry to reach adulthood if I’d known the whole thing was going to be ad-libbed.”
Calvin’s dad may have been a little late to the realization that many of us have, multiple times and to varying degrees, during our college years and after graduation. It’s been just two years since I put on my cap and gown, stepped onto a plane to the east coast and never looked back. I’ve learned a couple things about this ad-libbed life thing that Calvin’s dad called “adulthood.”
Here are 22 things I wish I knew when I was 22 years old:
1. If you hang out with people who _______ more than you, you will also start to ________ more. Go ahead and fill in the blank. The people you hang out with will shape who you are. This swings both ways: Think about whom you want to become more like and spend as much time with them as possible.
2. There is a little arrow next to the fuel gauge on every car’s dashboard that points to the side of the car the gas tank is on. This would have prevented many embarrassing moments for me.
3. Everyone is a little insecure. Most people do lots of things from a place of insecurity and a desire to feel valued. Become aware of your own actions that are fueled by insecurity; don’t get hurt by the ones that come from others and help others feel valued so they can be themselves with you.
4. Behind every “no” there’s almost always a path to get to “yes.” For every policy, there is an actual human being who can override it. You won’t get it if you never ask.
5. Fail more. If you aren’t making any mistakes, you aren’t learning anything. This takes an incredible amount of courage and an identity rooted in value. This isn’t the way most people operate, which means you’ll often be failing alone. But when you succeed, it’s worth it.
6. Most of the time, wearing a rally cap doesn’t work. But sometimes it actually does. So turn your baseball cap inside-out in the bottom of the ninth, dang it. Put it on and cheer as loud as you can, because there’s no better feeling than waving it high when your team completes their comeback.
7. Network like crazy. I got a big internship with some help from a producer who went to journalism school with another producer’s fiancé. An hour spent nitpicking a resume might be better spent getting coffee with your cousin’s friend who is in your field.
8. Zig when others zag. Kindergarteners playing soccer don’t get this idea. They all run after the ball in a big clump. If you’re not going to be of much help where the ball is, go somewhere that the ball isn’t and watch for a pass. While everyone is watching the ball, you have positioned yourself for a goal.
9. Making new friends gets a lot harder. In college, you’re constantly surrounded by people your age with similar interests and values. Once your graduate, you aren’t. So it makes it more important to latch onto the lifelong friends you’ve got and pursue other potential good people.
10. If you find your identity in a job, you’re going to have an identity crisis when you lose it. Identity needs to be rooted much deeper than that. It’s something immutable – who you belong to. If you belong to your work or another person, you’re captive to its ups and downs.
11. No one cares what your GPA was in college, and fewer than you’d think care about your major. What do people care about? Experience. Internships. Connections. I’m doing television journalism with a major in mathematics and it’s going just fine.
12. Lifelong mentorships will be some of the most powerful growing experiences. If you find an amazing person who is willing to give you the time of day, latch onto them and don’t let them go until you know what makes them tick.
13. God will turn your life upside down if you let him. And you always should. In the last three years, God has put me in places I never would have dreamed. I’m still getting comments at least once a month thanking me for coming out in my school newspaper almost three years ago – a move that wasn’t on the table just six months before that. And after moving to DC, God took me to Idaho – where even eighteen months later I’m still watching how God is shaping several relationships.
14. If you absolutely need to run a 5k race without any training, you can probably do it. It will be painful and you should probably cancel other activities for the day. But you won’t die.
15. Social media is not and will never be real life. Make a brand for yourself and embrace it. But remember that it doesn’t define who you are or your self-worth.
16. Most people want to help up-and-coming people in their field. Very few people will refuse to grab coffee with you if you’re trying to find your way into your career path. Make the connections, soak up everything you can and keep the connections. More often than not, you’ll be surprised.
17. It’s a small world. You will meet the same people over and over. So if you’re bad at remembering names, start practicing now. I’m terrible at it and it’s created some awkward moments.
18. Take big risks. Here were a few I took: I turned down a full time job to take a temporary internship in New York. I spontaneously got a job in Idaho and road tripped across the country to take it.
19. Here is a definitive list of flavored gummy things from best to worst: yellow, green, pink, orange, red, purple. If you have another opinion, you are wrong. I’m sorry.
20. Some friendships are going to fall apart. And that’s OK. Sometimes relationships have ugly endings. I wish they didn’t, but people are changing and you are changing. Be gracious and wish them well.
21. Admit when you don’t know something. Believe it or not, this actually bolsters your credibility. If I’m in an interview and I get confused, sometimes I literally say: “Sorry, you lost me.” And the person is usually eager to go back until I’ve got it. Then, when it’s my turn to explain something, people know I wouldn’t be saying it until I understood it.
22. If everyone is standing on one side of a subway car, there’s a good reason. Don’t go think that one side is conveniently spacious for you. Don’t go exploring. You’ll quickly join the rest of the passengers on the other side when you see the football-sized rat under the seat in the corner.
Ryan Struyk (’14) graduated from Calvin with majors in political science and mathematics. He currently covers the 2016 elections for abc News in Washington. He’s also done political polling in New York City and reported on the Idaho state legislature for the Associated Press in Boise. In his free time, Ryan enjoys talking about inferential statistics, music theory, and his beloved Detroit Tigers.