Dear 2005 Chris,
You’ve come a long way since high school, and your graduation marks a big milestone along the road to adulthood, but you haven’t reached the summit of Man Mountain just yet. I’m writing to you from ten years in the future. I’m coming to you a little older and wiser, maybe a little more cynical, but certainly more experienced. I want to drop a little knowledge on you with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I’m not going to pull any punches. Expect real talk from me, because I’m going to have to live with the decisions you make from here out.
First off, start saving money. Now. As in, right now. And I’m not talking about the $10 you put in the shoebox under your bed every now and then and raid every time a new video game comes out, I’m talking in a bank, with four walls and a roof and a big safe with a big door. If you put aside just $20 a week starting today in an account that yields two percent interest annually, that will grow to $11,615.46 by the time you’re me. That’s a big chunk of a down payment on a house, a solid used vehicle, or a pretty swanky honeymoon, paid in full. If you start saving now at 23, you’ll have over a million dollars more at retirement than if you wait until you’re my age. A million dollars!
Here’s a harsh lesson that I’m going to give to you straight and that every person your age should learn early and often: You are not “all that.” At least not yet. You haven’t been there, you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know it and you haven’t lived it, so don’t expect anyone to take you seriously without proving yourself, and definitely don’t expect anything to be simply handed to you. Nobody, especially in the working world, owes you a damn thing. Really let that sink in. You may be brimming with post-graduation vim and vigor, ready to take on the world with your pen as your mighty sword with which you will sniff out and strike down injustice wherever it exists, but slow your roll. You gotta get there first. And you will, but don’t lose sight of the very important fact that as of right now, you know practically nothing. The diploma in your hand does not guarantee you a job at all, much less one you enjoy. Temper your expectations that prospective employers will instantly recognize your potential upon interviewing you, telling their assistant to hold their calls so he or she can bask in the glow of your awesomeness for a while longer. You will achieve success, but you’ll have to earn it.
Fortunately, you’re about to learn one of the most humbling life lessons of the post-collegiate experience: abject brokeness. Times are going to be a little lean for the next couple of years until you land on your feet, but don’t lose hope.
Eat your ramen noodles, save whatever meager amount of money you can and you’ll get through it. But promise me you won’t abuse your credit cards. In fact, cut them up, because you aren’t ready for the responsibility yet. I hate to sound harsh, but I’m still suffering from mistakes you’re going to make handling our credit. That time you decide to basically bury your head in the sand rather than pay Chase and it went to collections? That ding on our credit is still lingering today. And I know you’re not very confident in the kitchen yet, but racking up hundreds of dollars in credit card charges at the local pizza joint is not exactly sustainable, nor is it a very sound financial footing on which to start us off. Stop relying on take-out so much and get your own kitchen up to the task of preparing meals. It’ll take some effort but will pay huge dividends.
And speaking of your kitchen, learn to cook something other than spaghetti and PB&J, would you? It’ll be healthier, cheaper, and women love it when a guy knows his way around the kitchen, so keep that in mind as well. You should have a go-to repertoire of at least a chicken dish, a meat dish, a pasta dish, a salad and a dessert.
We also need to talk about your car. Yes, that long-suffering beige Honda Accord with 136,000 miles on it and the Ralph Nader bumper stickers. Your trusty steed that endured cross-country drives, commutes to New York City and even a year of delivering pizza. It’s been there every time you need it and look how you treat it. I bet there’s a 7-Eleven bag with a half-drunk Snapple in it on the passenger side floor being cradled by at least 2 Wendy’s wrappers right now. I also bet you’re about 1,500 miles overdue for an oil change. And when was the last time you had those tires rotated? You do realize a car doesn’t maintain itself, right? Your philosophy of “if it starts, it must be working” isn’t cutting it, and you’re going to have a few brutal repair bills down the road until you can finally afford something better.
Another thing, and please don’t take offense; get in shape. I know you barely have two nickels to rub together, but your alma mater gives alumni unlimited free gym access, and you own a bicycle and a pair of running shoes. There’s really no excuse for you not to buckle down and do it. You’ve been living off a steady diet of pizza and Yuengling for the past four years, and the pounds disappear a lot easier at your age than mine, trust me on that. Your knees and ankles also don’t give you nearly as much trouble, so do us both a favor and start hitting the gym on a regular basis. Consider it penance for the long nights of drinking that you bounce back from immediately the next day, a superpower I assure you is a distant memory now.
As for the task of landing a job that lies ahead of you, make it your business to become as good as you can at applying for jobs and landing interviews. Get yourself a respectable haircut, beef up your resume, master the art of the cover letter (no, really), keep in touch with as many connections from college and your internships as possible and get your foot in doors.
If it sounds like a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, that’s because it is. In a lot of ways you’re about to embark on a second childhood, only this time you’re on your own, where your success or failure is now totally on you. The skills you develop, the relationships you preserve and cultivate and the career moves you make over the next decade are going to form the person you become for the rest of your life. Be interesting, never stop learning, eat better and exercise more, for both our sakes.
Over the next decade you’re going to have ups and downs. I won’t give you winning lottery numbers or tell you what stocks to buy, because it’s the hardships as well as the successes that will make you who you are now. I will however tell you to work hard, earn the respect of the people around you, and always give it in return.
Your friend in time,