The Guardian recently posted an article called “Dear Me: Celebrity Letters to Their Younger Selves.” It was an adorable read with letters ranging from one of my childhood heroes (Stephen King) to amazing actors such as Gene Hackman. Given the professional accomplishments of these celebrities, it was a hoot to read what they had to say to their younger selves … what pitfalls to avoid and mostly, to remain kind to themselves.
This past weekend, my husband and I went down to our college alma mater for Homecoming weekend. Given that we had skipped our 10-year reunion (this would technically be our 11-year anniversary), I think both of us were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves wandering around our college campus, catching up with some old friends and spending time with people we considered our mentors. The main occasion we went to Luther for was an award ceremony for KWLC, which was the college radio station we both were involved in. Prior to the award ceremony, we found ourselves looking at pictures that had been taken our junior and senior year of college. I had bad glasses and longer hair. My husband had longer hair. And as my friend and fellow former DJ Tyler said, “my God, we’re babies in these pictures!”
With this weekend still fresh in my memory and triggered by this article, I found myself sketching down some thoughts today … what would I tell my college age self if I could magically send a letter into the past. How would I caution myself to avoid some of the financial pitfalls that plagued my 20s? Here’s what I came up with:
I am about to tell you something that’s not going to come as a big surprise to you: You’re really bad with money. Yeah, you have a decent work ethic when it comes to your jobs and such, but at this point – you haven’t figured it out yet. And you won’t figure it out until you’re in your late 20s/early 30s, but if you’re amenable to listening to advice (which you won’t be), here’s what I have to tell you:
1) Stuff and money do not equal happiness. No amount of “stuff” will defeat the loneliness that you’ll feel from time to time in your life. The only valuable tangible object that you will carry with you out of your 20s is your cat. Everything else that you buy will likely be donated in one of your several moves that you make during your career. And when you finally do buy a house, you will feel an urge to get rid of a bunch of stuff anyway. So … do yourself a favor: Do not go into debt by buying a bunch of crap.
2) Do not spend more than you earn. Yes, someday you will be a broke journalist, but if you need to use credit cards to buy things like gas and groceries – you are doing something wrong. Very wrong. Avoid credit cards altogether.
3) Do not despair when you feel that you are in a dead end job. While you likely are in said situation, you’ll learn valuable lessons from every situation that you find yourself in. And you will ultimately be judged by the grace that you use to deal with various situations.
4) Develop a good poker face. Remember to listen before you leap and if something seems to good to be true – it likely is.
5) Keep the beige linen suit that you will buy for your first job. You will donate it to Goodwill at some point and then kick yourself repeatedly in the future because you will never find anything like it again.
6) Just because you are bad at money management now, it doesn’t mean that you need to wait until your 30s to figure it out. Just a hint: Go to the library … you don’t need to buy so many damn books when they are available for free!
And finally …
7) You’re going to meet a fella at some point in your college career … you will ultimately remember him from Bob Schultz’s “Introduction to Post-Modern Literature” class. You’re going to marry him someday, so be yourself around him, but keep in mind that someday he will be the center of your universe and teach you a lot of good things about money. Don’t be an idiot: Appreciate every moment with him and don’t squabble over stupid crap.
At the end of the day – you’re a good person. You’re just prone to mistakes and you are way too good at procrastination. One of the biggest graces that you’re going to receive in your life is that you will hit your 30s and something will click: Money won’t be such an issue and you will just get who you are in the grand scheme of this planet. THINGS will not be important, people will be. Hang in there until then and remember that there is no problem that cannot be fixed.
With all of the love in the world that I can muster,
PS – Work smart, not hard.
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