Archive for May, 2013

The starving twenty-something mystique

Here’s one thing I didn’t expect to feel like as a twenty-something: a starving college student.

I guess I’m a late bloomer, but I feel much more like the kid who’s buying cheap food and watching every penny now than I did during those marvelous four years called college.

I could blame plenty of factors, but I choose the economy. It’s a popular scapegoat, and I do really think it’s at fault for cutting the collective budgets of thousands of twenty-somethings who are lucky enough to have jobs, but unlucky enough to have low salaries, high rents and sometimes staggering college loans.

This unexpected feeling of starving student-ness leads some to be trendy and shop at vintage thrift stores. It leads others to sell their dressers and old TVs and Xboxes on Craigslist. And it has led me to become a careful budgeter, whether I want to be or not.

My budget gives me plenty of money for rent (although I wish it was less), food (I’m a fruit-aholic and eating my veggies makes me feel healthy), gas (cue up the $5 a gallon threats), cable/Internet (All together now “Comcast sucks!!!!), utilities (hey, at least water’s required to be included in Chicago rent), sometimes beer (Necessary. Totally necessary), and the occasional pro sports game or concert with friends (It’s called stress relief – also necessary).

My starving twenty-something budget has all the necessities, but not much to spare. Things that aren’t really frivolous – a new pair of heels for a friend’s wedding, better sports bras, a dishwasher-safe coffee thermos – begin to seem that way … unless I’m spending birthday money from the grandparents, that is.

As if the careful budgeting wasn’t enough, I really began feeling like a starving college student when I realized this: I’m more likely to drive the 30 miles from my place to my parents’ house for any occasion that has food. And I sometimes find myself dreaming of simple yet costly things like a grocery store shopping spree. (Hello, buying everything that looks good! Goodbye, caring about the price.)

When most people talk about “starving college students,” they’re referring to lucky young people at a time in our lives when money is tight, but good times flow freely. When we don’t yet have it made in the shade, but we’re having fun working toward the things we want.

I’d say that accurately describes the “starving twenty-something” mystique as well.

It’s a phase when we’re just starting out. An era that will pass with either a raise or two, a side job or a new job altogether. And in the meantime, we can enjoy living on our own, paying our own bills and striving to improve ourselves.

With all that going for us, maybe there’s no need for a bigger budget!

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Busy busy and the college time crunch

We all know the “adults” who think people automatically become busier when they enter the career world after college.

These adults are often the complaining type who may or may not admittedly hate their jobs and act like all the errands they’ve got to do and places they’ve got to be are the most important things in the world. Yeah, they’re real fun to be around.

I’ve got to say I reject their entire premise that being a working adult instantly makes you busier than anyone else at any other stage of life. It’s a major oversimplification of all the differences between the real world of college and the real world of work, and it undervalues all the challenges college students face. I call no fair. Here’s why:

Those of us who worked one or two jobs while a full-time college student know we were up to a million things a day – homework, a shift at one job and maybe even the other, meeting friends for lunch or co-workers for drinks after work, no matter the day of the week, not to mention actually walking to and attending a few of our classes.

In no way am I busier now as a 25-year old professional journalist than I was as a 22-year-old student journalist.

Sure I complete dozens of tasks during my working hours as I juggle interviews, research, photo requests and writing up to eight stories at once. And sure, I have more adult responsibilities now, things related to my apartment, transportation, health care and finances.

But before and after work, I’ve got less to cram into each day. I often get to go for a run or go to the gym. Food preparation takes some time. And I like to watch the Bulls when they’ve got games, or see my boyfriend and friends on the weekends. But to say I’m busier now than I was in college just isn’t true.

The reason is college – at least my version, the four-year state-school experience – comes with an expiration date. You come in as a freshman knowing you’ve got four years and only four years – not only to experience all the friendships, drama, parties, school spirit and broadening of horizons you’d always imagined, but also to learn as much as you can about your chosen field and prepare for the job market.

Talk about pressure. Four years just isn’t enough to accomplish all those tasks while sleeping, eating and exercising like a normal human being. Something’s got to give. And for college students like me, the first thing to go was free time. Sleeping and exercising weren’t far behind. Every moment was filled with some kind of activity – be it productive or frivolous, work or play, studying or partying. With every moment somehow occupied, plenty of college students like me always will be busy, busy, busy.

That college time crunch changes drastically when you graduate. The career world has no real expiration date. In fact, it’s got the opposite effect for twenty-somethings – a stretch of time so infinite it’s daunting. Growing up, we’ve all changed schools, environments and habits, about every four years at the most. So facing the prospect of possibly doing one thing – one job for one employer in one field – for 30 years or more? Now that’s scary.

And that’s the career world. While it’s scary, it also relieves the pressure of having such a limited time to accomplish everything you see as important. Twenty-somethings can make bucket lists as well as anyone, but we’ve got our whole lives to accomplish them. And after adjusting to the terror what seems like an eternity of working every day, our lives open up. Our schedules open up, too. We realize we don’t need to do everything in a day, a week, even a month. If we don’t go out with our friends for two weeks, they’ll still be our friends, and chances are we won’t have missed anything vitally important. If we don’t clean our bathroom or pay our credit card bill today, chances are we can take care of it tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day.

The realization we have our whole lives ahead of us doesn’t really relieve the daily hustle and bustle, and it won’t make us not busy. But as a 25-year-old, I can sincerely say I’m less busy now than I was as a college student.

And you know what else I have to say about that?

Thank God!

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The serious approach to a non-boring life

Option A) Don’t take yourself, or your life, too seriously. There’s plenty of motivational quotes out there explaining the dangers of seriousness and how it can lead you to nothing other than a boring life of, well, being serious.

Option B) Take life seriously, because it’s the only chance you’ve got. I guess this also could be phrased as “live life to the fullest” or “carpe diem,” but those, and the last one especially, are pretty cliché.

For better or worse, I lean toward option B.

When I make a mistake at work, I take it seriously. When a friend confides her not yet public future plans in me, I take that seriously, too.

In both cases, I’m serious about the situation because I care.

This is not a grave, stone-faced, never laughing style of seriousness. And it’s not a permanent, never-changing, everlasting love kind of seriousness, either. It’s a twenty-something style of seriousness that recognizes things like work, friendships and relationships are important – and handles them accordingly.

It’s a seriousness of purpose, not of personality, and it can be applied to our pastimes of choice, our goals and even our dating lives.

In our twenties, we’ve got a pretty solid idea of what’s important to us. The exact people and places may change a bit, but if advancing in our career and maintaining our friendships are the most important things in our lives, we know that. If finding love and starting a family are most important, we certainly know that. Or if traveling the world and giving back to charity are our highest priorities, we know that, too.

When we prioritize something, that means we’re taking it seriously. It means we value that person or activity enough to give it our time over the thousands of other possible pastimes, distractions and duties that compete for our attention.

That’s saying something. And that’s serious.

When we set a goal (move out of my childhood bedroom by June 1; or find a better-paying job by age 28) we’re also showing we want to take that initiative seriously.

We may be laughing half the time we’re apartment searching, or the search may get postponed by a lack of Craigslist postings or a cash flow problem. But if we care enough about moving out to put it on our literal or mental to-do list, it means we’re serious about it. And if we want a higher-paying job enough to choose an age by which we want to obtain it, guess what? We’re serious about that, too.

We can handle a relationship in this style of twenty-something seriousness – even if it’s not a “serious relationship,” Facebook-official, or the kind that might lead to living together, engagement and/or marriage.

There’s no trick to it really. By saying the boyfriend/girlfriend/partner we’re dating or in a relationship with is worth our time, we’re indicating we take that person seriously. In the best possible way.

That’s saying something.

So for those of you still thinking serious = boring, try it this way:

Remember what you care about. Take that seriously, and laugh off all the rest. Because you can be just as serious about not ending up boring as you can be about anything else.

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B is for Bucket Lists

Age 25 is as good a time as any to make a bucket list, don’t ya think?

I’d say so. It’s a quarter of our lives, if we’re all aiming to hit 100, and it offers a nice vantage point to look back on our childhood, those teenage years and college to gain perspective on what we really want to accomplish in life.

At 25, this list is not really an old people’s bucket list, a la the movie – it’s got a much broader timeframe in which to accomplish all the listed goals, vacations and gravity-defying feats of bravery.

So a 25-year-old bucket list not only can be, but should be pretty wide-ranging and ambitious:

Hike the Grand Canyon. Survive a “Death Race.” Go to Israel. Learn to fly an airplane.  Own a house on a lake. Argue a case before the Supreme Court. Work in the Sears Tower, or whatever they currently call Chicago’s tallest building. Appear on live TV. Sit courtside at a Chicago Bulls game. Volunteer to help girls build self-esteem through running. Take a month-long road trip to follow your favorite band on tour. Live like a homeless person for a day. Write a love song. Row across the English Channel. Live life to the fullest.

This list isn’t mine, or any one person’s really. But that’s not what matters. It’s a list of awesome experiences like the personalized goals we all can achieve with hard work, connections, money (or at least the ability to save money), time and maybe a little luck. At 25, we’ve certainly got the time, and we can combine all those other elements and use them to cross off exciting experience after exciting experience from our bucket lists gradually as we age.

What matters most is not the specifics, but the last item on this sample bucket list – it’s the underlying idea at the heart of all bucket lists, anyway.

Live.

Live. Life. To. The. Fullest.

That’s what we’re all here to do, every day. Whether it’s a day of taking your first flying lesson, walking into the Supreme Court to make closing arguments, eagerly awaiting tip-off from your courtside seats, or commuting to work at the same ugly, gray office building, you’ve gotta live it up.

That why it’s such a great idea to make a bucket list at age 25. We’ve got plenty of time in our lives, and the list can serve as a constant reminder not to waste a moment of it, but to live it to the fullest and collect plenty of memorable and rewarding moments along the way.

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