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Why I’m glad I didn’t graduate until my late 20s.

As noted in previous articles, I finally graduated from college this past spring. What I didn’t mention before, because I was embarrassed by it, was that I’m 27. Lately, I’ve been thinking about it, and I realized that there are a lot of benefits to graduating later.

For a while, I had friends tell me that age was a negative factor. Even worse, for a while, I believed them. Unfortunately, a quick Google search didn’t reveal a lot of articles about the benefits of graduating later. Sure, tons about graduating early (for the child prodigies out there), but nothing about taking your time. I took a year off after high school, went part-time for a while (as much as I could afford financially), and changed my major. Here are a few benefits of graduating late that I realized:

1. YOU HAVE WORK EXPERIENCE

I’ve been working almost full-time since 16, which means I’ve had a decade of hard work ethic drilled into me. I’ve worked retail, been a personal banker/loan officer, been a business-to-business sales rep, worked at a gas station, and even fell into my first store manager role at 19. I can point to each and every job I’ve ever held and find a career lesson that I still use almost daily, and no matter how bad some of those jobs were (man, some were bad), I really feel fortunate for those experiences. Since then I’ve been able to land the role of a Marketing Manager, and later a Public Relations Director, for small businesses (while balancing an internship) – gaining great experience before I set foot across the graduation stage. It’s the kind of real-world experience that a classroom can’t teach and makes you look at the world differently.

2. YOU HAVE LIFE EXPERIENCE

With very few exceptions, we’re all a little crazy when we’re younger. Whether it’s the energy to party all night, the arrogance to not always listen, or the inability to see the big picture, most people spend their early 20s in a state of arrested development. And for the younger readers, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – that’s what that age is for. Having said that, I’m glad to have put that behind me – I can focus on a career without the constant distracting struggle of finding the right girl (I found her), staying out way too late on work nights, or being generally angsty. I’ve befriended, dated, and worked for people of all walks of life, and I’ve been put into incredibly uncomfortable situations or had to think quickly on my feet professionally. There’s something comforting in not letting an abrasive personality or unforeseen event throw you for a loop, and having past experiences to draw on.

3. YOU HAVE CONFIDENCE

In the past year or two, I’ve fallen into this great sense of comfort in my own skin. I still care how I look when I go out, and I still exercise regularly to stay fit, but I don’t care if I look 100% everywhere I go – something that would never have happened in high school. I’m much more confident in reaching out to strangers for connections and help (something that’s come in handy in post-grad life), and I’m much more confident in my abilities. Do I have a lot left to learn? Of course. That won’t ever change. But for once, I know all of my strengths and am working to improve upon my weaknesses. I’m no longer as naive as I once was, and I know how to defuse potentially destructive situations. Confidence is an incredible feeling that I wouldn’t have ever had at 22.

4. YOU’RE NOT AFRAID OF FAILING

When I was younger I wanted to be an actor. Then a stand-up comedian. Then a firefighter. Finally, I settled on marketing. Throughout all of that and the random jobs I outlined above, I got really good at some things. I failed a lot of other things as well. Maybe I’ve always been dangerously optimistic, looking for a silver lining in every situation, but I subscribe to the old adage that failing is important for success. I think that’s something that a lot of people gain from their twenty-somethings… sure, failing isn’t fun, but after doing it a few times you learn to dust yourself off, got back up, and realize it’s not the end of the world.


5. YOU KNOW YOUR VALUE

When I was 19, I went on a job interview for a “marketing” company. Tucked away in a small office, I started to suspect something was amiss when I noticed the barren walls and nothing but a fake plant in the corner as an office decoration. The waiting room was cramped, the manager’s office was nothing short of a broom closet (complete with a lingering smell of chemical cleaners), and there wasn’t a window.  The interview went well but culminated in the manager telling me that the second half of the interview would consist of me attempting to sell St. Louis Cardinals ticket packages in a grocery store parking lot across the street – they were asking for free work as part of the interview. There was no pay, no guarantee of a job, and I already realized that this wasn’t a better alternative to the job I had at the time. I politely declined and left. A few years later, I had another interview with a similar company, this time situated in an alley behind a laundry mat. Against my better judgment, I went on the interview and had a similar experience. I’m sure these stories could fall under #1, or #2, but I think there is something to be said for being a little more cautious with age and understanding what you can bring to the table. When I apply for jobs now, I can easily weed out the fake offers and scams just by looking at the online posting- something that my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 20-year-old version of me lacked.

6. YOU’RE STILL YOUNG

There’s a weird trend in society, and especially my generation, where we idolize youthfulness so much that we feel old at 22. We spend so much time feeling nostalgic for years gone by that we completely miss the present…until we’re reminiscing about those days, too. I’ve worried about being old at every year from 21 ( “This is the last birthday that will ever matter!”) through 25 ( “I’m having a quarter-life crisis!”). Every time I worry that I’m too old, I end up being told by someone far older than me that I’m remarkably young and to live it up. And while this rule doesn’t apply to everyone, I think I’ve hit the sweet spot: old enough to not be immature but young enough to still be energetic and open to new experiences. And for those reading this at an older age, remember that youth really is a mentality (for instance, my parents are far more youthful than many of their contemporaries). Unless you’ve just graduated at age 80, and then congratulations for accomplishing such a big life goal!


7. YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED A LOT

Just think: you might feel down that you’re graduating older than expected, but you’ve accomplished so much. I can say that I was successfully hired for many jobs, met some great people, live completely alone, got to travel, made it through the minefield of dating unscathed (so far), and most importantly: I graduated. Heck, even surviving to hit your mid-twenties (or later) is a success. If you’re feeling a little down about things, remember just how far you’ve come. I know I always beat myself up over how much further I have to go, but it helps to take stock occasionally. While I think it’s important to want to push yourself further, I can easily say I’ve lived a fuller life than if I had at graduated at 22. Now it’s time to stop looking backward, and start looking forward. I can’t wait to see what my late twenties and thirties hold.

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5 comments on “Why I’m glad I didn’t graduate until my late 20s.

  1. Steve, you beat me to a blog post! I’m sure there are many people out there who could relate to this entry, but it’s extremely relevant for a guy like me. In my early-twenties I thought, “What could they possibly teach me at college.” Luckily I was provided a second chance at an education by my right girl. I was about 2 years into my second attempt when I realized the learning opportunity I had as an older student. I couldn’t have related to the material I was leaning in a real way without my 10 years of work experience. Now, I really think being an older, work-and-learn student is an asset and an advantage in the workplace; it provides real value to me as an individual and subsequently, my employers.

    • Brett, thanks for the kind words! Have you started your own blog yet? If not, let me know when you do! I agree 100% that coming into the game with experience under your belt can be greatly beneficial, and that being a little more mature can give you great perspective in college. I’m also glad to hear that you’ve got a great, supportive girl who helped give you the opportunity to go back to school! Thanks for reading, and you always have great insight!

  2. Thanks for that, Steve! Sometimes I forget that going to school while working full-time is an accomplishment that most people do not have the drive, motivation or patience to achieve. Congrats again to you, for so many reasons!

  3. In Israel, people enter the professional workforce late in their 20’s. You have mandatory army service for ~3 years after graduating high school, then you do a Psychometric exam (like SAT), go for you after army trip somewhere in the world (average is more than 6 months)… when you finish your first degree you’re about 26. University here is considered serious- no one goes somewhere because it’s considered a “party school” – they want to start their lives already.
    You can see a huge difference in those students who came to university straight out of high school and those who have more life experience.
    The interesting point is that those in their late 20’s get better grades- even though they usually balance a full time job and maybe even a family in the making. I guess drive is a big part of success.

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