Congrats, New Grads! By the Way, You Don’t Know Anything

By Lindy West

It’s the time of year when the internet is deluged with condescending lists of “advice for graduates”—stuff like “experience Paris” and “learn to wear purple until you laugh until you cry until you laugh”—and since all of that shit is just literal barf smeared on a laptop screen, I decided I might as well take a stab at it myself. Let’s help some kids.

1. Experience Paris. Just kidding.
You know what? International travel is great and all, but it doesn’t magically turn you into a genius or a good person. If you make it to 30 without ever having had the financial flexibility to purchase a $1000 plane ticket, then you’re pretty much just normal—not some barefoot hill-goblin. And you know what? Everything in Paris is fucking covered in gruyere. You’re only 22-years-old (or something). Do you really want to get sick of gruyere already? Seriously. You want gruyere in your life for as long as possible.

2. This is the most important thing of all the things: you think you know stuff, but you don’t.
People act like college is this gateway to adulthood, but it’s really just more playtime. Adulthood is the gateway to adulthood. It’s not that you’re not smart, but I’m like a decade older than you and I’m STILL half baby. I only know like two things at this point, and I am literally the Albert Einstein of being in my twenties. You’re going to keep learning stuff constantly for the next 50 years or so, so just calm down and let the learning happen.

3. No one wants to hear about your semester abroad in Thailand.

4. Take all the help. Take it!
Okay, so there are no jobs, you have tons of debt, and everything is fucked. I’m sorry. If moving in with your parents for a while is a viable option, if you have the ability to ease into independence, you should take it. Otherwise, when you actually become independent, you’ll have thousands of dollars in credit card debt and a shitty rental record, and then when your car gets towed because of unpaid parking tickets you won’t be able to afford to get it out of the impound lot, which means you essentially just went into debt so that you could give away your car. These things affect your credit for years and can come back to screw you even after you’ve learned your lessons [Ed: After ten years, I’m still dealing with the effects of my just-out-of-school credit fuckery. Take this advice VERY seriously. Don’t be me.]. So if you have help available to you, take it. If you can, move in with your parents and get an unpaid internship. Then get another unpaid internship. Write a blog or whatever. Get to know people in your chosen field, don’t be a presumptuous dick (nobody owes you shit), and remember that it’s your privilege (i.e. parents) that got you here. Your responsibility as a privileged person is to not be a Republican.

5. To the non-privileged people, yes, you will have to work harder than the people in item #4, and that completely sucks.
The world isn’t fair. I’m sorry. It just isn’t. But take the job you have to take, and try and do the work you love in your free time. Chances are, you’re smart and tough and not a dick. That will help.

6. You look really pretty today.

7. Say yes to everything. Take the meeting.
Any job in the field that you eventually want to get into is better than any job that’s not in that field. Pay your dues. Nothing is beneath you right now. And be shrewd. Like, if you graduate from culinary school and what you want is to be a fancy chef, it’s better to get a job as a dishwasher at a nice restaurant than as a line cook at Denny’s. I thought I wanted to be a writer, so my first unpaid internship was at a shitty fake magazine that was owned by these super sleazy Young Businessmen in the Valley. It was basically just a coupon book that kept the dudes afloat while they focused on their real project—inspirational corporate fire-walking. So mostly my “editorial internship” consisted of picking up firewood at a seedy lumber yard and driving it across town to this weird, empty porn-condo that, I guess, was Creepy Firewalking, Inc.’s HQ. Then the dudes would touch my arm and try to get me to walk on hot coals because “it’s spiritual,” and then they would give me $20 and it felt dirty. It was fucking awful, but I’m still glad I did it, because I totally got real magazine jobs later. Resumes are all smoke and mirrors anyway.

8. Be nice to your parents, because they are going to die and you will be sad.
Unless your parents were horrible, in which case fuck your parents! (Not literally.) One of the best things about being a grown-up is that you get to burn bridges with people who are complete dicks to you. You make your own family now.

9. That said, you should also never ever burn any bridges.
My dad was literally nice to everyone he ever met for his entire life, and every time shit got complicated some old rando would pop out of the dumbwaiter and be like, “Hey, do you want this job? I love you!” He called it luck, but I call it being fucking nice to people. (Just kidding, we didn’t have a dumbwaiter. But maybe you can, once you get one million jobs from being so nice all the time!)

10. You are a no-strings-attached person right now. Congrats!
This is your big chance to be responsibly poor, before your poverty starts fucking up anyone else’s life. You (probably) don’t have kids, a spouse, a mortgage, or responsibilities of any kind. What you do have is the stamina and the drive to cope with a staggering amount of discomfort (i.e. an air mattress in a windowless closet in a garbage shack under the freeway with 13 vegan roommates growing white-people dreads) in the name of freedom (i.e. an unpaid internship supplemented only by your busking salary and plasma sales). Do it now. Because believe me, by the time you’re 30, you won’t even have the patience to sleep on a fucking couch, let alone share a microwave that smells like the ghost of Braden’s ravioli.

11. Don’t get confused, though: Unless you are actually poor, you are not actually poor.
I know I said “poor” in item #10, but I was being lazy. I’m sorry. What I really meant was “broke.” Don’t get some chip on your shoulder about how disenfranchised you are because all you have is a liberal arts degree and 100 Top Ramens. It will make you sound silly and careless. Some people have been systemically disadvantaged their entire lives and now they live in their cars and don’t even have Bottom Ramen. Here’s an easy way to tell the difference: If you got arrested, do you have someone that could bail you out of jail? If the answer is yes, then you are broke and not poor. “Poor” is not a game. You are “broke.”

12. You should care about politics.
Unless you care about politics too much, in which case please stop caring about politics so much because you’re making everyone tired.

13. Invest in potatoes.
Potatoes are delicious and they cost almost negative money. Any idiot can cook a potato, and if you’re following this guide, there’s a good chance you’re going to be very hungry for a very long time. Potatoes!

14. If you must make art about your own life, go for it.
But don’t expect anyone to take you seriously until your life actually has stuff in it.

15. Don’t believe anything that someone sitting at a folding table on the street tells you.
They are either a weird monk who wants to give you a “free book” for $15, or they think 9/11 was an inside job, or they want you to sign up for a garbage credit card, or they are Lyndon LaRouche.

16. It’s time to figure out your weird sex stuff.
I know that when you were younger you hated yourself for liking anything besides tender vanilla caresses, but hush. If you can only self-lubricate by imagining that your mattress is stuffed with Michael Landon’s hair, embrace it! And remember that there is someone on the internet who has an actual mattress stuffed with Michael Landon’s actual hair, so you are not even close to being the creepiest Cheerio in the box. Also, if you really just like tender vanilla caresses, that’s adorable! Do that! Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your parts.

17. None of the stuff that you think is a big deal is a big deal.
Like, nobody on the entire earth cares if you got your period and stained your pants. Fuck, nobody even cares if you just SHIT your pants. Just go home and change your stupid pants! People have bills to pay! People are busy! No one is looking at you!

18. Don’t structure your life based on lists on the internet.
That’s crazy. You do you, special snowflake.

Originally published on Jezebel. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.

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  1. “I know I said “poor” in item #10, but I was being lazy. I’m sorry. What I really meant was “broke.” Don’t get some chip on your shoulder about how disenfranchised you are because all you have is a liberal arts degree and 100 Top Ramens. It will make you sound silly and careless.”

  2. Lindy West is a brilliant, hilarious genius and I want her to be my friend. Thanks for the advice, new friend.

  3. If I go to jail I’m pretty sure I’d just have to sit in that bitch. Bail is no joke guys.

    • Of course if you are really poor then by this age you’re either under the care of the state or learned how to NOT GET CAUGHT!

      And as I wrote that a cop walked right by me. A quick wave and smile and he just keeps walking without looking at what I’m typing. Another day with no suspicion. Bwa-ha-ha-ha.

  4. This was a great list. I think number eleven should be mandatory reading at all graduations.

    My first though when I originally read this on Jezebel though was “who is Lindy West and why is she stealing Autostraddle’s lines??”

    • Yea I’m pretty sure Riese owns the following “You do you” “special snowflake” and “You look really pretty today.” I had the same thoughts. Altho aside from that, this is very funny.

      • On one hand, that’s pretty awesome that Riese’s awesomeness is spreading through the internet faster than rabies (or your preferred contagion, whatever), but unless it’s credited as Riese’s awesomeness then that is less awesome.

  5. This is awesome. I love it when people give me actual useful advice for life. It’s like when you go to college and people keep giving you pseudo-inspirational advice about “the best years of your life” when really the best advice I got was to take plenty of socks and underwear.

    • It’s always the little practical things. One of my labmates asked me what she thought would be a good present to give to her boyfriend’s little sister going off to college and I was like TOWELS. MAYBE DISH TOWELS. TOWELS ARE IMPORTANT.

  6. But I really like gruyère. Ever since I went to Paris, Thursdays have been croque monsieur night.
    This has been completely irrelevant.

  7. I could have ALL the jobs, if only I had some experience at Creepy Firewalking, Inc. on my resume.

  8. glad to have graduated in europe. doesn’t free you of the debt and getting no appropriate job stuff etc., but getting some international distraction is definitely more affordable. and nothing against gruyère.

  9. Oh, this made me SO happy. I just got back from the requisite trip to Europe, had to write “unemployed” on a customs form, am moving to a new city next week, and I’m kinda freaking out.

  10. Potatoes!

    but actually this is really great even though I’m not graduating any time soon.

  11. “What you do have is the stamina and the drive to cope with a staggering amount of discomfort (i.e. an air mattress in a windowless closet in a garbage shack under the freeway with 13 vegan roommates growing white-people dreads)”

    This is the best image ever.

    • yes, it’s true! I feel like I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately and even brought it up with my gf last weekend that i wanted to make a list of all the things that i’d run out of energy to do but once upon a time did have energy to do, like take 2 hour subway rides to lame parties, go to “networking” events where the chances of quality networking are slim to none, crash on somebody else’s couch and um, eat caramel (srsly, that shit sticks to your teeth and is dangerous for ppl without dental insurance!).

  12. I read in an interview one time that Billy Bob Thornton was hospitalised for malnutrition after surviving only on potatoes as a struggling young actor. So like, yes eat potatoes (hell, I’m Irish, who am I to tell you not to?) but be smart and don’t ONLY eat potatoes.

    Also I’m really glad third level education is “free” here and I’m not saddled with debt, that sucks :( Also glad I’m a primary school teacher and guaranteed some kind of work come September.

  13. I want to hug this article. I am well aware of the fact that college prepared me for very little, and there’s a big scary world outside of my little kind-of-sort-of-adult-who-am-I-kidding-I-still-eat-pancakes-while-watching-cartoons world.

    Also, gruyere for life.

  14. I don’t know. I can’t really agree to #1. Maybe it’s because I’m still a naive undergrad, but yeah. no. Other than that great advice.

    • Travel is fucking great, I say as an expat who has the means to travel all over the world. HOWEVER. I also know people who have never left their home state who are perfectly well-rounded, intelligent, fulfilled human beings. So! Travel if you can, because it’s amazing. But if you can’t, that’s fine too.

      • also travel is not enough to become a perfectly well-rounded, intelligent, fulfilled human being–if you travel without really engaging with where you are and being humble, it can be an easy way to smokescreen and act like you understand like a lot more than you do. It’s all about developing humility and really listening to the people in the community around you–you’ll learn more from doing that in your home city than going on a study abroad vacation in Paris with a closed mind and a tourist site checklist! (not that tourist site checklists aren’t fun, they’re just an expensive way to have fun :).) SO it’s all about how you treat your opportunities, international or local (duh).

    • After undergrad? Definitely. I nearly took on one because in my field, you can’t even look at entry level positions without a masters. I decided against the unpaid internship because I’m moving to a new city in a couple of months and I need to actually be earning and saving money, not watch my checking account slowly slide into the negatives.

      So, I’m back in retail. Yay, me.

    • Yes. I did one at a local museum for a year bc I thought it would be interesting and good for me, and when I applied to grad school I discovered that it was actually mandatory for museum studies, so GO ME. And I’m going to grad school in the fall. So. Sometimes it seriously pays off.


  16. One time I heard someone (was it someone here?) describe their twenties as being pushed out of a plane and having to assemble your own parachute on the way down. I thought that was apropos.

    I’ve worked some shady-ass jobs, including a three year stint at a company that makes poker machines. Not exactly what my idealistic college self expected! But now I’ve jumped that ship to work at a medical device company, which means I get to HELP SAVE LIVES and whatnot. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without swallowing my pride a bit!

  17. Things I wish someone had told me when I graduated:
    1. All of the above
    2. Life is a pretty long time if you make it to the average life span of a 21st century human. You’re going to do a lot of stupid things. These won’t matter for the most part, so don’t stress about them.
    3. You don’t have to feel guilty for your middle class white privilege if you also work your ass off and do the best you can do. The more effort you make, the more that contributes to your success – and proportionally the smaller fraction that the privilege contributes. Also, a little paying-it-forward doesn’t hurt – go back in to schools and teach those young girls they can excel.
    4. No one particularly cares about your opinion. Especially if you have basically no life experience
    5. Noodles, chocolate, caffeine. If you go to grad school, prepare to spend about 4 years living on these things.
    6. 20 dollars/pounds/euro/your currency. Put it in your bag somewhere and don’t touch it until: you’ve lost your phone AND your wallet, and you suddenly realise you have no way to ring anyone/get home.
    7. Eat some fruit and vegetables. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re 21, but there will be a time when you don’t have as much energy – and treating your body with some tenderness will help a bunch

  18. I read that, but all i have to say really is ‘Om nom Gruyere’. I’ve even been to the gruyere factory in switzerland… there was free cheese, and it was tasty…

  19. While I’m glad you guys edited out the shitty bi-shaming original 16, the libertarian/buddhist part make me laugh my ass off. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY 16 YR OLD WHITE GIRLS FROM MY SCHOOL HAVE CONVERTED TO BUDDHISM THIS YEAR.

    • The libertarian part made me laugh, because like every other 17 year old, I read Atlas Shrugged and was like “I DON’T WANT THE GOVERNMENT TAKING MY MONEY!”

      And then I realized I was being stupid.

  20. “Pay your dues. Nothing is beneath you right now.”

    This is so true. There is a fine line of perception between ambition and entitlement. Know how and when to market yourself and how and when to sit back and learn to fish.

  21. That is one thing i really don’t get about the united states. Why education is so expensive and how they don’t realise it is taking away future opportunities for young people.
    Because they might shy away from taking chances in going to grad school etc out of fear of these enormous debts.

    I am from a small country (Belgium) and there are certain aspects in our society i don’t like or complain about,but the fact that university is so incredibly cheap is something which makes me proud.

    Tuition is about 400 euros for a year,and you can also apply for scholarships to pay for the other expenses,and when you graduate,you have no debt whatsoever. It makes young people much more willing to go after their dreams and choose a field they want to study,and if they fail the first time,you get a right to repeat,without major financial repercussions.

  22. My grandfather swore by potatoes and he lived to 108.
    So does my father (90), and my aunt (92).
    Pretty sure potatoes are the secret to longevity.
    So yeah, number 13.

  23. Dear Europeans commenting on this post,

    Whining about the American college debt you’ll never have to pay doesn’t make you seem cool, it just makes you seem annoying. We know that’s it SO MUCH BETTER over there ZOMG. Now go enjoy your privilege. Quietly.


    studied abroad for a semester, understands how not to be a dick when commenting on another country’s policies / lifestyles / culture.

  24. Did no one else find this article really patronising? I’m not still that smart arse teenager who thought she knew everything. Not all graduates struggle to get jobs, I took summer placements paid and unpaid, and along with most of my year had my graduate job months ago. I am going to do a postgrad part-time alongside that.

    I feel like advice about eating cheaply, living cheaply while you are young, travelling, being careful with your credit rating etc. is a bit late after 5 years of being broke, working and studying, renting an assortment of flats in various states of disrepair.

  25. This is just the best.

    I am writing for an online magazine for free right now… Good times!

    “Get to know people in your chosen field, don’t be a presumptuous dick (nobody owes you shit), and remember that it’s your privilege (i.e. parents) that got you here. Your responsibility as a privileged person is to not be a Republican.” – YES

    I love tender vanilla caresses, also.

  26. So…I graduated two weekends ago with a B.A in Music. I’m trying to figure out paying my shit off ASAP. And I knew for a while that I dont really know shit at all.

    Thanks. This article really made me feel better. Just gonna…take this shit as it comes. Swag it out :P

  27. “If you make it to 30 without ever having had the financial flexibility to purchase a $1000 plane ticket, then you’re pretty much just normal—not some barefoot hill-goblin.” Ahahaha. This is a nice viewpoint to see expressed — of course, like everyone, I *do* want to travel, but . . . I just am not built to see it as a priority. I grew up working-class. My mom didn’t get on a plane until she was in her 40s. Now I have a good job and am potentially getting to the point where it might be possible to think of traveling somewhere outside of North America within the next couple of years, but there’s still something in me that views spending that kind of time and money to be Deeply Irresponsible given my student loans, etc. I’ll get over it, but in the meantime I’m not freaking out about not having been very far afield — I read, I pay attention, I live in a city big enough and have cultivated experiences diverse enough to have spent time with a dazzling spectrum of people whose lives and histories are nothing like my own.

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