It’s graduation season, and for many of you that means another big step in the ever-so gradual transition from dependence to independence. Take a moment to contemplate your achievements. No I’m not being sarcastic, graduating is a big deal. It’s one of those single-serving holidays where you get showered with presents from you family (and booze from your friends) in the name of maturity. It’s like some kind of scholastic Ba(r/t) Mitzvah.
Enjoy it while you can, because your accomplishments have your loved ones contemplating their existence and they are eager to dump some on you. In no time at all, the authority figures in your life will be trying to help you avoid the mistakes they made in their youth. Teachers, distant relatives, friends who graduated last year — they’ve all mastered the art of regret and are determined to find what’s best for you. Probably.
Not that there’s anything wrong with their good intentions. Passing on information in the name of progress isn’t just a noble cause, it’s human nature. But experience is the best teacher and biased opinions can be toxic to that learning process. So in truly ironic fashion, I’ve waded through the tropes and clichés and to help you figure out what’s useful and what’s not.
Without further ado, here’s all the great advice you’re going to be hearing and why it’s complete garbage.
“F*ck the haters.”
Three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and haters inevitably hating. That last one in particular has become increasingly apparent in my lifetime. The anonymity of the Internet set free the flying comment section monkeys, flinging their word poo to and fro without fear of repercussions. Some have evolved and shed their masks, building digital empires on their vitriol and smearing themselves in their own self-loathing like fecal war paint. Kids these days — raised on this behavior — are leaking the unmitigated hate into real life at an alarming rate.
It didn’t take long to figure out that acknowledging the hypercriticism in any way only makes the problem worse. No matter how well-worded or well-researched the response, it’s a reaction and that only feeds the machine. Better to ignore them completely. To turn a phrase, if they aren’t saying anything nice, pretend they didn’t say anything at all. It’s an elegant solution, at least until it too worms its way into real life.
Constructive criticism is one of those concepts they teach you in school that’s nice in theory is absolutely useless in real life, like the Pythagorean Theorem or getting good grades. In a perfect world, everyone you meet would wrap their comments in courtesy and send you scuttling into self-improvement with a pat on the back. But this isn’t a perfect world and if you want manners, you’re gonna have to pay for them.
You know who gets hate dumped on them daily? The highly successful. Think they got to where they are by dismissing their detractors? Hells to the no. They’re the ones who figured out how to separate ‘brutal’ from ‘honesty’ and personal from business. They found value in the insults. They rose above the hate by standing on top of it, and so can you.
Real Advice: Every criticism is constructive if you build on it.
I must confess, I’ve been pretty damn good at every job I’ve ever had. Above average at least. And I’ve also been chewed out least once by every boss I’ve ever had, usually because I made a bad call. I could’ve turned around and bitched about it. I could’ve just ignored it. If I tried hard enough, I could probably lawyer the situation into being their fault. But I didn’t.
When someone criticizes you, there are two positive ways to handle it: you can accept what they’re saying is true and resolve to change it, or you can reject it and remember that one day when you’re in their shoes you’re going to handle things differently.
“Do what makes you happy.”
Happiness is a drug. No literally, being happy sends a surge of chemicals coursing through your brainbox and it feels so good, that’s why everyone wants to be it. Even people with a severe case of permanent bitchface like being happy, though you’ll never be able to tell. “Do what makes you happy” is a pretty stupid thing to say because given the option, of course I’m going to do what makes me happy. Problem is, you can’t always do what feels good because that doesn’t always pay the bills.
In that sense, this message is usually reserved for people who are undecided on what they want to do with their lives. Occasionally it’s thrown toward miserable 9-to-5er’s stuck at a dead end job simply because it pays the aforementioned bills. That actually makes it an even dumber thing to say since those people have no idea what will make them happy. Figuring that out takes time and money, a luxury not everyone has. Most college students change majors a hundred times because they can, because someone else is footing the bill for their drunken journey of self-discovery.
But here’s the thing: a majority of those kids don’t end up figuring out what makes them happy either. You think anyone really has a passion for English or Kinesiology? False. They’re just the easiest way to cash in on all those random courses for a diploma — they’re collage degrees. Wondering why everyone seems to rush into marriage these days? Because companionship and sex makes them happy. It’s the one thing they have figured out. Unfortunately like most drugs, the happiness found in that relationship will inevitably fade. The number one reason for divorce? “I’m not happy.” That’s your bad for thinking marriage is about feeling good.
Truth is, it’s impossible to be happy all the time. You can find the perfect job and the perfect spouse and have the perfect life and you’re still going to grow disillusioned with them sooner or later. Life is full of ups and downs, and trying to be constantly up will only bring you down in the long run.
Real Advice: Keep your eye on the prize.
Even if you don’t know what you want to do with your life, odds are there’s at least one thing you definitely know you want to do, whether that’s traveling somewhere exotic or accomplishing something unique. If not, take a few minutes and really think about it. Once you figure it out, work for it. Really work your ass off for it.
You know that cliché “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”? It’s actually pretty true. No matter what it is you want, the harder you work for it, the better it is when you finally get it. That might mean years of toiling away in obscurity. It could take half a lifetime. But once you get there, it’s going to be the kind of high money can’t buy. So don’t waste your life chasing a fleeting feeling. Embrace the grind. It will pay off.
“Remember your roots.”
There’s something really noble about super famous people keeping their childhood friends around. It’s like they’ve successfully slain the ego-inflating celebrity dragon and returned to the ramshackle cabin of their youth. In spite of everyone looking up to them, they look down on no one. It’s such an inspiring story that we elect friggin’ Presidents over it.
So what’s the twist? Well not to burst your bubble, but I’m going to burst your bubble. The stuff your parents were preaching could be making you a terrible person. Take my grandparents for example: they were and still are adamant that the only professions worth a damn are doctors, lawyers, and accountants. Because of this their five sons are, well, doctors and accountants. I’m not complaining since my life has been pretty cushy as a result, but if my dad had taken that to heart, I might be wanting to blow my brains out in med school rather than pecking out this post.
But wait there’s more. My dear sweet grandparents also think their offspring should find nice spouses to marry… as long as they’re Chinese. Yeah, that’s hardcore racism. This line of thinking lead to only two of their sons getting married and having kids, presumably to spare any non-Chinese paramours from the ire of my grandpa. Again, it’s a good thing my dad and his bros didn’t stick to how they were raised on that front, because us grandkids have mostly courted white folks. We’re progressive like that.
All this to say you can’t automatically assume the way you were raised is what’s best for you. I respect the hell out of my dad for overcoming his parents’ prejudice, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything they taught me. Not all of my friends had picture perfect nuclear middle-class upbringings, yet I still took a fair share of life lessons from their parents. Reality is, no parent is perfect and taking their word as gospel is a one-way ticket to daddy issues.
Real Advice: Be grateful.
As inspiring as a good Cinderella rags-to-riches story may be, most of us don’t start in rags or end up in riches. I personally never had to settle for less, but I don’t think that makes me any less of a person than someone who did. We’re not defined by what we came from or where we’re going and there’s nothing wrong with living simply or indulging in excess. What matters is recognizing you didn’t get there on your own.
There isn’t a single human being on the planet who hasn’t relied on another for what they have. Some work harder than others, but nobody’s completely self-made. What really sets the aforementioned super famous people apart isn’t that they’re the same person they were raised to be; it’s how they recognize everyone that’s invested in them over the years. No matter where you end up, remember who helped get you there. Even if it was your racist old grandpappy.
I always groan when I hear this. It’s not because I don’t believe in being true to one’s self. It’s not because I have something against people embracing their flaws or knowing who they are. What gets me is the idea that deep down inside, we all have a “true” self just waiting to blossom, that there’s some state of inner-being we’re destined to discover, that there’s a final person we’re meant to be. It’s bullshit.
I’ve always despised the Nature vs. Nurture debate. I’m not so ignorant that I can’t recognize we as living beings with DNA are genetically pre-disposed to certain attributes. Being born Asian means I’m never going to be anything but, and any kids I end up procreating will probably have black hair, olive skin, and squinty eyes. But the person I am right now isn’t just a product of my genetics, it’s the result of a series of choices made by me and my parents. Stereotypes for oldest, middle, and youngest kids exist because their environment informs their personality. Life experiences good and bad shape all sorts of preferences.
There’s this really great monologue in the movie Fight Club: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” It’s only of those empowering speeches that encourages people to rethink the importance they place on material goods. But it’s also full of shit. Just because there’s more to you than your job and your salary and your clothes, those things are all very much a part of what makes you you. You’re a culmination of a million incredibly complex variables, but every second you exist is a moment you can completely change who that is.
When you accept the proposition that there is a final version of yourself, you’re setting yourself up for an identity crisis. The world is constantly in flux and those who try and lock themselves down are bound to be left behind. Closing yourself off to the infinite possibilities life has to offer only limits your experiences. Defining who you are cripples who you could be.
Real Advice: Never stop learning who you are.
I’ve always hated tomatoes. It doesn’t make any sense because I love ketchup and spaghetti sauce and pico de gallo and so many other tomato-based things. So one summer I decided to eat whole tomatoes every day to see if I could train myself to like them. It didn’t work. In the end I just reinforced my distaste for them. I now know I definitively don’t like whole tomatoes. It’s part of who I am and that’s okay. But I also figured out I’m the kind of person who won’t be put off by one bad experience and gives things a second and third and fourth chance.
There are probably a thousand things you think you know about yourself by now, but when your environment changes, all those things are going to be challenged. Whether it’s high school to college or college to the so-called real world, you’re going to have choices to make and they will help define who you are. Don’t let anyone else make those decisions for you. Find out for yourself. Keep growing. Because life is too damn short to be one person.