This month marks ten years since I've graduated college.
I've come a long way from being the wide-eyed, impressionable young college grad who was eager to prove his worth to the world. But the last decade has turned my definition of success on its head. It's been a wild, winding road getting to where I am today, but boy am I glad I'm here.
If you've just graduated, you're probably wondering what life has in store for you. I hope this article helps you realize you don't have to settle for a mundane career or lifestyle.
Here are 7 tips to help you live the life you dream of.
1) Your major isn't your life.
Let's get this out of the way: What you chose to major in isn't nearly as important as you might think. Yes, if you want to pursue fields like law or medicine, your career path is a little more defined. But for everything else, there isn't an exact formula to get where you want to go.
When I was working as an academic advisor, so many of my students admitted to me how terrified they were of pigeon-holing themselves in their major forever.
“What if I don’t like it?" they would lament to me. "I don’t want to be stuck in a job I hate!”
Guess what? Your major is what you were interested in studying. And interests change. If you no longer want to pursue your particular field, I promise it's not the end of the world.
Remember: Skill sets can be applied across different fields. Leverage the skills you do have and focus less on the ones you don't.
2) Make the time to do what you love.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman
I can't stress this point enough: No matter what, make time to do what you love. If you don't know what that is yet, keep dabbling in different things until you find it.
If you would have told 21 year-old me that I would eventually become a full-time photographer, I wouldn't have believed you. At the age of 29, I randomly decided to buy a camera one day because I wanted to take pictures that had "cool background blur."
As it turns out, not only did I love taking photos, I was apparently halfway-decent at it too. Decent enough that people were willing to pay me for pictures! After my first paid gig, I was hooked -- this is what I wanted to do.
Find something that interests you, relentlessly pursue it, and watch the world hand you opportunities.
3) Stop trying to impress employers.
When I was working as a career counselor (yes, I've had many jobs), one of the most common questions I got from students was this: “Does this look good to employers?”
Look, I get it. We value stability. We want to know that what we’re doing is going to yield us guaranteed returns. Go to college, major in something “practical”, graduate, and land a job in your field. Just play by the rules and everything will be okay, right?
Except that strategy is becoming less and less effective every day. And it often leads people to working jobs that don’t challenge or fulfill them.
And yet, year after year, students are graduating with degrees in subjects they don’t care about, hoping that somehow their piece of paper is supposed to impress an employer enough to shove a handsome salary in their face.
You want the secret to being attractive to employers? Stop trying to impress them and start creating value.
Which leads me to my next tip.
4) Create value.
If I had to some up my entire creative and business philosophy in two words, it would be this: create value.
It's such a simple yet ambiguous concept. Allow me to clarify: Creating value is simply giving people what they want or need.
Value comes in many forms, we come across it every single day.
That Starbucks latte you had this morning?
That podcast you listened to on the way to work?
That video game you play to unwind?
All of us consume value, but not everyone creates it. Imagine then, what would happen if you made creating value a priority in your life?
What if you took headshots for local business owners to use on their websites?
What if you started a podcast teaching college students how to invest?
What if you started a Youtube Channel where you cooked delicious vegan meals?
Everybody needs help with something. The world has plenty of problems and not enough solutions. What can you do to help?
Create value, and value will find its way back to you.
5) Please stop making excuses.
I have a friend who, for years now, has talked about her dream of running her own health and fitness blog. Every time I ask her if she’s started on it yet, she gives me the same excuses.
Things are really busy at work.
I’m so tired when I get home.
I’m not tech savvy at all.
And honestly, I get it. I spent most of my twenties fantasizing about pursuing my dreams.
Just a few years ago, I was totally stuck in a rut. I was working a full-time job I didn’t like and I wasn’t doing anything creative in my free time. How could I expect to progress towards my dreams if each day was no different than the last? How many more times would I lie to myself about ending the vicious cycle I was in so I could live the lifestyle I’ve always dreamed of?
I finally reached my breaking point one day and realized I needed to take action or I would go insane. So I created a blog. I started off by writing about social skills, but soon transitioned to writing about finding and pursuing your passion when I saw just how many people faced the same challenges I did. For months, I would stay up late into the night and wake up super early in the morning so I could pour the thoughts from my head into my computer.
The universe has a way of acknowledging us when we get lost in our work. Before too long, my work started to get noticed. My writing was soon posted on a few notable blogs, including The Huffington Post. I still remember getting the excited phone call from my wife (then fiance), who was out at dinner with friends at the time, when she discovered one of my articles had been featured on the front page of the Huff Post's blog.
And to think, all of this started with a decision to take action. To reject the option of remaining stagnant and instead to be kinetic.
The bottom line is this: Life is always going to hand us a bunch of “mandatory” crap we have to do -- it’s up to us to make room for what we want in life.
6) Take risks.
All of our lives, we’re taught to walk the line, to go down a certain path, to make decisions based on what’s safe or certain. If everyone is doing something, you probably should too, right?
Having a herd mentality means being influenced by the world to adopt certain behaviors. There’s nothing wrong with this, and in many cases it’s unavoidable. Artists draw inspiration from the work of other artists. Businesses adopt best practices from other businesses. We’re all building on the discoveries of those who came before us.
But there should come a point where you seek to find your own voice — where you allow your curiosity to lead the way in your work, despite the possibility that your idea might fail.
Remember, it will always be easier to take the well-trodden path. Forging into the darkness requires having the audacity to take risks. But audacity breeds innovation. And innovation is what sets you free.
7) Choose yourself.
Here's the truth: No one is going to save you.
It’s a wonderful realization to have, really. Because waiting on someone to hand you a golden ticket means waiting forever. But choosing yourself and creating your own opportunities — that means you can make things happen today.
The problem with shows like The Voice or Shark Tank is they fool us into thinking we have to gain the approval of middlemen, people who supposedly have the ability to determine our worth. We’re led to believe that our ideas have to impress a panel of judges or else they aren’t worth pursuing. That if we work hard and go through the motions, maybe our resume will catch the attention of that hiring manager; maybe our song will be picked up by that record label; maybe someone will read our screenplay and give our dreams a fighting chance.
Is that any way to live? To have our fate controlled by a chosen few — people who in most cases don’t even know us?
I certainly don’t think so.
But as it turns out, we have a choice. We can choose to create something meaningful, to use our voice, to move forward with our ideas. The gatekeepers are slowly fading out. Today, there's nothing stopping us from doing what we want to do.
It's time to make your impact on the world. We live in an incredible time, where opportunities are abundant and literally right at our fingertips. Take advantage of this.
Create a blog. Launch your business. Start a movement. Make your art. Disrupt the system. The world needs your contribution. Not tomorrow -- today.
Kevin Kleitches is an entrepreneur and blogger. You can find his work at www.kevintitusphoto.com.