It's May, which means it's time once again for actors and writers and politicians and whatever Thomas Friedman is to hit the graduation circuit and hold senior classes hostage for hours and hours in 85-degree heat. These grad speeches are little more than TED talks in funny hats. Trust me: One day, you will see speakers ditch the podium and go straight for the telemarketer ear piece and microphone, the way TED speakers do it. Here's the format for most of these speeches...
1. CLASS OF '13!!! YEAH!!! EVERYONE SAY WOOOOOOO!!!
2. Thank you for having me, (lists people you don't care about).
3. I remember when I was your age ... (recites life story from the age of 18 onwards)
4. You're gonna face challenges in the world today! (Executes two-hour stump speech devoted to pet cause: environmentalism, water for Africa, gay marriage, vaccines give you autism, etc.)
5. But you can do it because ... (three minutes of empty platitudes)
6. I AM PROOF THAT YOU CAN MAKE SOMETHING OF YOURSELF, GANG.
7. Reprise of step #1.
Well, screw all that. It's my job, as a pasty blogger with minimal influence and virtually no community-outreach work to his name, to CUNT PUNT some reality into you, and the reality is that you are fucked. You're so fucked, you probably started drinking at 9 this morning just to get away from your future. The total student-loan debt in America has now exceeded one trillion dollars. Your college just bent your parents over and finished on their back. If you took out a student loan, your life will now consist of trying frantically to pay that money back, and then dying. That's pretty much all there's time for.
American colleges have planned your rut for you. You go to school, you spend four years trying to avoid being sexually assaulted by a Phi Delt (that goes for women and pledges alike), you graduate $250,000 in the red, and then you DESPERATELY try to find a job—one that offers you upward mobility so that you might quickly work your way up to a salary that helps you pay off all the loan installments you'll be accumulating throughout your adult life: college, a house, a car, college for your kid, etc. It's just one giant hole you'll never dig out of. And that debt you amassed has not only deprived you of thousands upon thousands of dollars, but it's taken something even more precious: your sense of FREEDOM, dammit.
No 22-year-old should be all that concerned about upward mobility, but that's how much American colleges have warped our cultural sensibilities. Thanks to both student loans and useless guidance counselors, most seniors feel compelled to get a job right away, or to go to grad school (more debt!) and then find a job right away. And not just any job, but a GOOD job—a job in an office, in a building, with lots of other dipshit college graduates around them. A job that pushes you quickly into premature middle age even though your career is in its relative infancy. Any other kind of job just won't do. You're meant to feel like a failure if you take a job slinging hash after college. There's a false sense of urgency for you to ascend the corporate ladder, to be as successful as possible as quickly as possible. And that, oddly enough, prevents a lot of people from being successful.
Because what happens when you take that first desk job? I'll tell you what happens: You go in and you try to impress the boss by showing up early and doing everything asked of you. You keep asking your boss if there's anything else you can do for him, so that he knows you're an eager beaver. Then you grow to HATE your boss and all the tedious shit he gives you. And your boss doesn't respect you because you don't take any initiative and come up with your own ideas, even though he already shot down that model-airplane-picnic idea you thought was so cool. You stop caring. You start leaving work BEFORE your boss, because fuck him. Then, even though your job sucks, you begin to worry that you'll lose it, so you do jusssssst the bare minimum every week, enough to make it a complete pain in the ass for them to fire you. You're trapped. You need your job, but you fucking hate it. Then your entire department gets laid off right as you're trying to buy a house and you kill yourself.
That's what's waiting for you out there in the workforce. So do everything you can to avoid that rut. Even if you have a mountain of debt to pay, I can assure you that you are freer than you think you are. You are remarkably free. There's no spouse to please. There are no kids to feed (unless you were dumb enough to have kids in college, which would make you really dumb). There's nothing tying you down (except your parents demanding you to find proper employment, but fuck them). Don't hang around your hometown just because your girlfriend and your dealer happen to be there. LEAVE. GO. Get the fuck out of there. The quickest path to dying is doing the same shit and hanging around with the same motherfuckers—family aside—day in and day out. Your debt will hang over you for the next two decades. Best that those two decades include bartending in Sao Paulo, living under an L.A. highway overpass for a month, and having your Datsun break down on the way to Alaska.
Those are the kinds of experiences that end up helping you in the long run. You learn odd new skills. You see cool shit. You meet new people, and you meet them naturally, under normal circumstances. Do you have a LinkedIn profile already? Kill yourself. That's not meeting anyone. That's not networking. That's organized harassment. Some fucker on LinkedIn won't help you find a cool job when you turn 30. You know who will? Seamus, the Irish drunk you wrestled with at 3 a.m. outside a bar in Queens. I love the Internet, but emailing people and using social media is the absolute easiest way to get people to ignore you.
Everything you experience from here forward is useful. Every failure, every shitty night spent in a weird airport, every person you meet, every sleazy table-running job you work, every book you read ... all of it is useful. All of it is fuel. Even when you're experiencing something miserable, you're probably experiencing something that someone else will be able to relate to. That's useful. You see the world through the eyes of more and more people as you go. You know where Steve Jobs's first job was? At a stupid hippie apple orchard. Then he named his company Apple and BOOM! Billions. It's all useful later on. Every stupid thing you've ever done brings you that much closer to becoming a fully formed person, one with his own distinctive outlook, his own voice, his own stories to tell ... a person that can be of service to the universe.
This is the time for you to be a selfish prick. This is the time for you to go out and have terrible relationships and drink too much and learn all the things an idiot ought to learn. It's not the time for you to become a drone at a horrible law firm or something like that. Nothing you do for someone else will mean as much to you as something you do for yourself, so start doing shit for yourself now. Your debt will always be there. Your parents will still be around to annoy you. And even though this is a terrible economy, there is always some stupid job you can probably get down the line if you really have to. Trust me, your competition isn't as intimidating as you think it is. You wouldn't believe how shitty the rest of your peers are compared with you. All you have to do is not text during your job interview and you'll probably make the final round of nominees. People are fucking morons.
Everyone wants you to have a plan right now, but it's far better to have no plan. It's far better, for now, to be the annoying little shit who drifts around ... the guy about whom people say, "Christ, when is that asshole ever gonna get his act together?" Little do they know you are the little acorn that becomes the oak!
I have a friend named Adam whose life, up until a few years ago, was rudderless. He tried acting in L.A. for a while. He waited tables. He bought a motorcycle on credit and crashed it. He moved to New York and tended bar at a notorious cokehead joint for a bit. He moved in with a costume designer and renovated an apartment that they were only renting (it should go without saying that you should never do this). Eventually, the relationship ended and he was beside himself. At one point, he decided to join the Army, but then he broke his ankle right before he was supposed to enlist. He was broke as shit. He had nowhere to turn, so he risked his credit to buy a plane ticket to Europe and enroll in a cooking school. There, he met a Colombian woman who would eventually become his wife, and together they opened up a taqueria. A taqueria in Paris. It turned out to be a massive success. A few years later, the guy is opening his third restaurant and prospering. I have no fucking idea how that happened. After years and years of bouncing around, the light just went on. The man's still paying off his student loans (and probably 500 other loans), but at least he's doing it his way.
There's no guarantee that the light will go on for you. There's no guarantee you'll be a wild success. The averages say it can't be so. But that's a success defined strictly by having lots of money and having a big Fuck You house with a kitchen that has an island countertop (seriously, the island is clutch). That's how colleges and banks and the media think of success. That's the con. That's a bastardized, watered-down, PF Chang's American Dream that costs millions of dollars that they're selling you. Fuck that. That's a one-way ticket to being completely and utterly screwed.
And the funny thing is how easy it is to just sit there and buy into it. It's hard to motivate. It's hard to go and, like, do stuff. I can barely be bothered to pick up takeout on a Saturday night, I'm so lazy. But I've got three kids. I've got an excuse. You, Mr. and Ms. Peppy Senior, have no such excuse. You're freer than you think you are. Free to fail. Free to get high. Free to be dumb. Use the shit out of that freedom, because maybe there's a taqueria in Paris waiting for you once you're finished.
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Drew Magary writes for Deadspin and Gawker. He's also a correspondent for GQ. Follow him on Twitter @drewmagary and email him at email@example.com. You can also order Drew's new book, Someone Could Get Hurt, through his homepage. Image by Jim Cooke.