Coffee with my 20-something year old self

Here I am in all my 20something year old glory. I think this might have been taking on a film camera. Film!

I got a LinkedIn message from an undergrad at my alma mater the other day. The message’s subject line said, “Interview”. A student in the communications program was reaching out to alums — would I answer a few questions? I didn’t jump at responding for a few reasons.

I love helping students, but in all truth I didn’t feel ready. Have I really done anything worth sharing? I guess it got me thinking more about where I’ve been and what I have learned.

I started wishing I could take my younger self out to coffee (not for drinks, we drink too much;) But a nice cup of coffee talking about life and work and love would be a good thing. And if I did what would I tell her? Not exactly things that were asked by that student. I’d keep it little more real. Something like:

Go study abroad

You will regret that you didn’t do it. It will be one of your few regrets but it’s a big one. So take that trip to Spain you heard about from your roommate. Don’t worry about the money or the student loans (more on that later). For those of us who decide to marry and have kids, traveling becomes more complicated so do it now and just enjoy it for what it is. Be safe, but enjoy it.

Keep writing. A lot.

I love to write, but somewhere I lost it in my corporate communications roles. Maybe I just dove into social media and web projects too deep. Hard to tell, but writing is a passion for some of us so nurture it. Treat it with respect. Remember it is a valuable skill in the world, but more importantly is valuable to YOU. That makes it a precious creative outlet. Good for the soul.

Date less, _________ more.

Fill in the blank with whatever brings you joy. And do it. Do a lot of it. Just put more energy into those things that bring you joy more than dating. I dated some doozies and it wasn’t wasted time but I certainly could have had more fun focusing less on relationships and more on things I love. Dancing salsa; learning more poetry; challenging myself to sing at an open mic; protesting for something I believed in; being in nature; learning how to play roller derby, finally learning Spanish. Do more of ANYTHING that brings you joy and love. Ultimately when you are doing those things you will attract love romantically and platonically from other people anyway.

In Hawaii somewhere. Definitely still dating assholes at this point.

PS When you have to choose between those two guys → The answer is neither. The real deal is waiting for you about 5 years out. See below.

Here he is. The real deal.

Keep working hard

It’s one of your strongest traits. You know how to hustle. You know how to find a job. You will never be without a job for long because of this skill. So don’t worry about it. You actually find a pretty descent job right out of college despite all the nay-sayers. While you’re at it, keep working on your resume. It seems sort of lame at first because you haven’t done much. But that gig at The Poly Post student newspaper is actually worth all the hassle. So get as many clips as you can and look for some other writing outlets too. Print journalism is going through a resurgence. And believe it or not one or two of those people on the editorial staff are actually life long friends.

Interview your next boss

Speaking of first jobs! When you go into your interviews take a very hard look at your boss. Think of interviews more as conversations and try to get to know this person as much as you can within the few hours you typically have during the interview process. Is your boss very top down thinking? Old school or very open minded? How do they like to communicate? How do they take feedback? How do they get new ideas for team projects? What do they do outside of work? Do they even have a life outside of work? How do they approach collaboration on your team and across the organization? What are their thoughts on conflict, how do THEY deal with tough situations? These are all hard questions that you have to find a tactful way of asking but the point is to ask and or probe enough to feel them out. It’s not easy being a boss (you will find this out later) but it’s really hard to find a good boss. So do your best to find the good ones.

Always negotiate for a higher salary

Seriously. Whatever they offer you, ask for at least 10% more. There’s always a range people are looking to hire within. They most likely will start you at the low or middle end of that range. If they are at the high end of the salary range they will tell you that. Still, you can and should ask for more. Don’t feel guilty about it. Their salary range is NOT your problem and you are NOT twisting anyone’s arm to hire you. If the offer is ridiculously low, walk away.

What you accept in your current job salary offer will most likely determine what you get in the next job. It’s hard to make those jumps between pay scales so work hard to negotiate what you are worth and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You will get it most of the time.

There’s always an office asshole

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to escape or stand up to the office assholes I encountered in my jobs. Sometimes they were colleagues, other times they were my boss. While I will always be committed to doing what is just and fair in the world, I’m slowly recognizing that it’s more important to stop trying to correct other people’s bad behavior at work. Most organizations are well aware of their problem people and won’t do anything about it anyway due to legal implications or just wanting to avoid conflict. I wish I had more comforting words for those dealing with a bully or asshole in a professional capacity, even at the collegiate level. I will say this though…

if you can focus on not becoming the office asshole and just being an awesome colleague that will alleviate a lot of stress and confusion on “what to do” when you encounter an asshole

There will always be another job

I know, I know. Everyone around you will say stay in a job AT LEAST 2–3 years. They say it will look TERRIBLE if you don’t. It’s a commonly held belief that I think we can all agree is becoming outdated. Quickly. Very quickly. I’ve changed jobs on average about every 2 years. I can’t say I regret it or that it kept me from getting another job. Yes, people ask me why I left a job “so soon”. There are a lot of different reasons to leave a job but more often than not it’s because there aren’t as many opportunities for internal advancement in pay. If you are real go-getter, your boss will always be HAPPY to give you more and more work. The problem is you are not always compensated for taking on more responsibility. There is a fine line between paying your dues and working above your pay grade. Be open and honest with yourself about things. Be willing to work hard. Be patient. Be willing to move on when you are not getting what you want out of life.

Sexism and racism are REAL

We don’t live in the ’60s when these two social ills were blatant. We’re living in the era of micro-aggressions, insensitive/thoughtless comments and just plain old bias. In most of your jobs you will be the ONLY person of color on the team or in the whole department. During your career you will actually hear the phrases “You’re English is so good!” “That poncho makes you look very Mexican,” and other ridiculous things that insult your Latina-ness. You WILL get paid less than your male counter parts for the same work. You will have a boss that makes a pass at you. All of these things will happen and you have to let your instincts kick-in. Sometimes you will be gracious and let it slide. Other times you will stop them dead in their tracks with a witty, icy come-back. They will back off. There’s never a “right way” to face these situations, there is only preparation for the inevitable and doing what you think is right at that moment.

My tribe! I met all these wonderful ladies at work and they are now my forever, “let’s grow old and bitch about it”, “you make me laugh so hard after months of not seeing you”, “God you are good for the soul” friends.

You will also meet incredible co-workers

OK after that last bit you probably got a little scared. Fear not! There are WAY more nice people at work than there are assholes. It’s TRUE! The people you schlep to work with every day and sit in the trenches with are actually pretty, fucking amazing. Work will expose you to people of all ages, races, cultures and backgrounds. Most of the people you work with are NOT their jobs. Their jobs are only a sliver of who they really are. Keep asking people how they are doing. Take a real interest in what they are saying and remember the little things that make them who they are. It will help you to see the human, the true person during difficult times at work. Keep asking people to lunch even when they shoot you down. Keep getting people to go to happy hour. Keep looking for those one or two people who are really hella cool. They are your people. They become your tribe.

But remember work is not your life

When you are younger and trying to build your career it’s easy to give a lot of yourself to your job. You stay late and come in early. You work on nights and weekends. You do a lot to try to get ahead.

These are good things but keep them in check.

Take the sick day when you need it. Seriously. Take the vacation even when you don’t think you need it. Turn off your damn phone/work email and social media accounts at night — and especially when you are with your loved ones (friends, family, significant others and more). These are still good pieces of advice I tell myself almost weekly.

My reasoning is based purely on personal values. To me a job is just a job. Mom always said that work is like sand. It will fill up every inch of your life and get into every crevice if you let it. Your job will always want MORE, and for a time it will make you feel good to be needed. But the truth is you are replaceable. There will come a time when you wake up and don’t have that job.

When that moment comes it’s important to know that your work is not who you are, it’s what you do.

This will come in super handy when…

You will lose your job one day

It will be crushing. You will be shocked and totally in disbelief. Except that you sort of saw it coming. And will be kinda relieved it happened. Because in the end did you REALLY want to be in that job? And when that job is gone you are left feeling like there is a huge hole in your life and in your heart. Because DAMN you worked hard to get that job. AND double DAMN what will this look like to my next employer? AND FUCK! Can I even get a new job? And what do I tell my fucking family? And how do I pay my fucking bills? And what will my fucking friends think????

Ok now that the freak out is done, return to the earlier part of this post when I said there will ALWAYS BE ANOTHER JOB. And YOUR JOB IS NOT WHO YOU ARE. Take this time to write. Go walk on the beach. Have lunch with friends. Go volunteer. Pray. Go research other jobs and other things. Go to networking happy hours. When people ask you what you do tell them you are a freelancer. Sign up for unemployment or disability or whatever you can get for money to tide you over and get busy really living life.

The answer will come to you. All you have to do is be ready.

Keep your creative projects

Finding a good job is awesome. But don’t let it stop you for having your creative projects. This includes writing, consulting, building websites, whatever. Having creative projects allows you to build your breadth of skills, gives you a great sense of value when your day job is ho-hum/ non-existent and can also help you to expand your circle of friends and professional colleagues. Besides, those passion projects can turn into a side hustle one day.

Get a volunteer gig

There are so many, many nonprofits in the world doing great work that impact every single one of us, every day. In college you have time to volunteer, but after you graduate it might seem tough to give more of your time to something outside of work. It’s not. I’m a serial volunteer now. Meaning I find different causes I love and volunteer for them for a short time. I support them over many years but only volunteer my time in spurts. Those spurts can be an hour, a weekend, a quarter, or an entire year. It doesn’t matter! Just choose a time and be amazed by the sheer power and generosity of other human beings.

You will also meet more people in line with what you value in the world.

Exercise is non-negotiable

You started running in college and never really give it up despite some knee problems. It’s a good thing too because as it turns out exercise will help keep you sane. This has nothing to do with vanity and everything to do with how you feel internally. Getting 20 minutes of exercise in helps to create a real flow in your body energetically and that spills over into your home and work life.

Getting married and having kids is actually pretty awesome –but it’s not required

So you are scared of getting married. How the hell can anyone make it last these days anyway? You are even MORE scared of having kids. What? Working full-time and raising kids while doing none of it perfectly doesn’t sound good to you? It doesn’t to any woman.

Yet for some us we just can’t resist opening that door. We have to know what happens next if you do find that person you can’t live without (insert husband). And what would it be like if we created a little person we couldn’t live without either (insert child). I will say this… getting married and having kids is pretty much everything you imagined. But it looks nothing like what you thought it would. In my case, that has worked out in my favor way more often than not. I don’t want to get too deep into marriage or motherhood (I can save that for another post) but let’s just say you will be happy. Not every minute of every single day. I can also say you will be stressed! But you will experience true happiness and you will be glad you opened that door.

Just when you think it’s not humanly possible to love someone more, you do.

And for anyone who decides not to get married or have kids. You will experience true happiness too. It will be different but your life will be fulfilling and every bit as joyful. You might see your friends pairing off and settling down but don’t let that dissuade you from what your heart really wants. Whatever it is, is waiting for you. You have to go out and get it just like the rest of us. My friends who don’t have kids are my lifeline in many ways. Our friendships are not linked to anything else but who we are as people and they help me remember who I am when I feel lost or off-course.

Student loans shouldn’t stop you from living

I think I saved this for close to last because it has been the hardest thing to overcome coming out of college and grad school. As a first generation college student I didn’t have anyone to help me pay for college. If they could have I know they would have helped, but my family just isn’t set up that way. So I went to undergrad and accumulated debt, then went to grad school (GO USC ANNENBERG!) and accumulated even more debt. A grand total of 60K over the course of my education. Here’s the thing.

Debt scares me. Big time.

And there have been instances where this whole student loan debt has paralyzed me in making some pretty important life decisions around happiness. I’ve pretty much obsessed over paying off these loans since graduation. I’ve also almost put off having a wedding and even having children because of this financial responsibility I have to student loans. Don’t even ask me about buying a house!

In grad school taking out that 60K in loans.

Having to pay an additional $400 a month to student loans is a burden. Make no doubt about it. Face that fact, understand you chose education and slowly start to develop a strategy to pay things off AND save money for emergencies. These two things must be done in tandem. You cannot do one without doing the other. At first your student loan payment will be way bigger than your savings stash. That’s OK. Do a 1 to 4 ratio if you have to for now. That will change.

This is where the side hustle comes in

At some point you will find you can actually make more money than just your salary. It will require time and hard work but you can actually increase your earnings and start to use that money toward building a savings. You will finally stop living pay check to pay check. When you do this, it feels AMAZING. Now there are a lot of complicating factors to all of this including taxes, energy, time and choosing the right type of side hustle. The answers are not all clear but it’s important to try many things, learn and keep focusing on those things you are good at.

As of this moment, I still have $25K in student loans since graduating with a master’s in communication management in 2009.

The debate on whether it was worth it becomes more and more irrelevant as time goes by. The past is good to think about but not for too long. What matters more is what you learned and what comes next. Looking back paying down $35K in 7 years is pretty good. That was with a lousy interest rate most of the time! The next $25K is still ahead. Yes, I do lose some sleep at night when I think about it. But man has this whole experience taught me a TON about money. And gawd am I glad I didn’t let it stop me from having my family.

So when you are debating that student loan, look at it like a bank account. A NEGATIVE bank account. Pay close attention to the interest rates. And you could skip consolidation (saving that for another post). Yes, you need loans but you also need to pay interest while you are in school. It’s just the smartest thing to do.

Believe in yourself, if you don’t who will?

This is so, so, so super important. And it directly ties into the above notion of actually becoming debt free, along with other dreams you have for life. In your twenties you are still learning a lot about yourself and the world. You aren’t sure what to do and what will happen next.

An awesome little book that has taught me to believe in myself more.

This feeling starts to ease a little more as you enter your thirties. You still don’t know what the hell you are doing. And it looks like you are the only one — but you’re not.

Most people are still trying to figure out what they will be in life. They just don’t talk about it a lot.

I think a lot of people start to give up and just settle for what they have. That’s not a bad thing but that’s not MY thing either. You start to know more about who you are as the years pass and you start to experience more things that will help you figure out more of what you want. It’s so easy to get frustrated and want to give up because your job sucks, or your relationship is not going well or your friends are not around or _______. But really that is the easy way out and gives you an excuse to stop trying.

I’m really, really starting to believe it takes just as much energy and is sometimes easier to think positive than it is to think negative.

And when I start to doubt myself I stop. What have I got to lose from believing in myself and going after my dreams? Things can’t get any worse. They can, however, get infinitely better. You’ll never know if you give up. So buy all those self help books and leadership books. They don’t have all the answers but they are good at keeping you motivated and really good at giving you ideas. Life is more fun when you believe in yourself anyway;)