Advice for the recent graduate

(Or anyone broke, in between things, or living at home)

The chances are good that if you’ve recently graduated, you’re broke and living with your parents. (Cheer up: you’re in the majority.)

Here are 5 things you can do right now that will make your life better and won’t cost you much:

1. Treat your day like a 9–5 job.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
 — Annie Dillard,
The Writing Life

This is especially important if you’re unemployed. A structureless life is a depressing life. Our days work better when they have a reliable shape.

Grab a copy of Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals (if you can’t afford it, see #2 on this list) and read about the daily routines of famous artists, scientists, and creative people. Take inspiration from them. Cobble together your own daily routine and stick to it.

As tempting as it is to sleep in, train yourself to get up early and do the thing that’s most important to you. (When you do something small every day, the days add up.)

And at the end of the day, take Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to his own daughter:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

2. Hang out at your local library.

“I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library… I discovered that the library is the real school.”
 — Ray Bradbury

School can burn you out on reading because you’ve been stuck reading a ton of books you didn’t choose for yourself. Now’s the time to jump in and fall in love again, by reading the stuff you actually want to read. (“Read at whim!”)

A lot of young people complain they don’t have money for books — get your butt to the library! If they don’t have the books you want, ask the librarian how you can request them.(You can start by looking for my books.)

When you get to the library, you might find that they also have free, fast wi-fi, access to online eBooks and databases, and a rad DVD collection. Unlike Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, you can hang out there all day without buying anything and not feel bad about it. They also have a lot of resources for people looking for work.

Go up to a librarian and ask them to show you around. You’ll make their day.

3. Take long walks.

“I set out to dispel daily depression. Every afternoon I get low-spirited, and one day I discovered the walk…. I set myself a destination, and then things happen in the street.”
 — Vivian Gormick

Walking is tremendous exercise for the body, the mind, and the spirit. Many of the great thinkers have built walking into their daily routines, for example, Dickens used to take epic, twelve-mile strolls around London and work out his writing. Hit the bricks. Find somebody with a dog who needs walked. Again, it doesn’t cost anything, and you never know what you’re going to see. (Maybe a “We’re Hiring” sign?)

4. Teach yourself to cook.

“Please, America, cook your own food. Heating is not cooking. Heating heats. Cooking transforms. It matters. And it’s not hard.”
 — Michael Ruhlman

If you can cook for yourself, you can eat better and save a ton of money. Pick up some simple cookbooks when you’re at the library (try Bittman’s How To Cook Everything) and look up some YouTube videos. If you’re lucky enough to have a relative who’s decent in the kitchen, cooking is a nice way to spend time together, and cooking for them is a good way to pitch in for your free rent. For tools, start with a sharp knife and a cast iron skillet and go from there. (Tip: The easiest dinner in the world is roast chicken and potatoes.)

5. Keep a journal.

“The point… is not to record what you already know about what happened to you in the last 24 hours. Instead, it’s an invitation to the back of your mind to come forward and reveal to you the perishable images about the day you didn’t notice you noticed at all.”
 — Lynda Barry

Especially when you’re down-on-your-luck or just in between phases of your life, writing in a notebook can be the easiest way to feel like you’re accomplishing something.

Set a timer for 15 minutes and fill as many pages as you can, or, if you have plenty of time, do Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” exercise, and fill 3 pages every morning before you start your day. (And yes,you have to do it by hand.)

You might think you know what you’re thinking, but seeing your thoughts down on the page tells you what’s really going on inside your head.

A journal is also a great place to write down all the bad ideas, bad thoughts, and bad feelings you shouldn’t tweet.

Carry your journal around with you and write in it all the time: make notes in between job interviews, doodle while you’re watching Netflix, daydream about what you want out of life, etc. Any old notebook and pen will do, but if you have $10 or a generous parent, you can grab the journal I made.

Never throw out your journals — keep them, pull them out in ten years, and you won’t believe how far you’ve come.


If you liked this post, send it to someone who could use it. (My books also make cheap graduation gifts.)