So you’ve just graduated college and you’re starting your new career. On the one hand, if you’re like 55% of Americans, you are graduating with student loans that now need to be paid off. On the other hand, you’re finally earning your own living and you suddenly have downtime that isn’t being taken up with working and studying at the same time. While this new income and increased free time may come with a feeling of freedom, for some graduates being suddenly untethered from a structured path can also lead quickly to a sense that you are drifting aimlessly. So how do you balance this desire to seize the moment while still keeping your eye on the future?
1. Set New Goals
If you don’t want to end up back in your childhood bedroom with your sports posters at age 40 wondering where your life went and how all your friends managed to buy houses and get married while you were out finding yourself, well, consider establishing some new goals – and we don’t just mean running a marathon or visiting all seven continents - although these are fun too.
Consider where you want to be in 5 years and even 20 years from now. What does middle age look like to you? Is it longevity in a trusted company or is it being your own boss? Are you renting or do you own? Are you living in the city, a house in the suburbs, or out in the country? Or in another country altogether?
The difference between a dream and a goal is an action plan. You’re not going to go from being a lifestyle writer to an international war correspondent or from a marketing assistant to the brand manager of your favorite sports team without a plan. Your dreams work when you do. What connections, skills, and education do you need for that position? How will you prepare yourself in the next few years to get to the next step that will take you to that goal?
2. Pay Attention to Where Your Money Goes
Are you discovering that despite making double the paycheck that you used to make, you’re still living month-to-month? Make sure to sit down and look at your finances. Instead of eating out or ordering take out for every dinner, consider how much you could be saving towards a future goal (like buying a condo or home) by cooking at home a few times a week. Take a look at how much you are spending on your nights out with friends. Are you discovering you are easily dropping hundreds of dollars every weekend between Ubers, dinner, drinking, and entertainment?
By examining where your money is currently going and comparing this to your long-term goals, you can better make decisions about which activities are essential to your current and your future lifestyle choices. Can living with roommates or even at home with your parents now give you more room to pay off your student loans more quickly and reduce the interest you will be paying long-term, so that when you want to live on your own down the line, you can buy instead of rent?
Consider your location as well. If you live in an expensive city like those in California and New York, you may find your paycheck quickly eaten up by the high cost of living. How might taking a job in another city while you are young and more flexible affect your long-term ability to save for your future and reach your goals?
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Everyone needs a mentor. Consider who you want to be 5, 10 and 20 years from now, then find people who match the qualities of the person you want to become. Are they heads of their companies, world travelers, happily married? Ask them how they got there and ask them for advice on how to get where you want to be. Your path will not ever be the same as their path, but by asking questions, you can have a better sense of direction and get a better idea of what roads you would like to take and how to travel them.
It’s possible to live in this moment and enjoy this life, while also making sure that you shape the life you want to have in the future.