Category: life advice

How To Become A Grown Up: Part 2

become a grown up

This is part 2 (here’s part 1) of my incredibly long-winded answer to this series of questions:

Dear Sarah Von,
I’m currently in my third year of undergrad and I feel completely unnerved. I’m studying Communication Studies and am second guessing myself. My passions and interests are so varied (education, public advocacy, public health) that I’m feeling pulled in so many directions. Will my degree be enough to land me a job after graduation? Can I survive working at a non-profit that pays approx. $2? How do I find the resources to network and find jobs? Do I have the courage to move? How long should I wait for grad school? What do I want to study in grad school? How do I get the good paying job that fulfills my pay-it-forward needs? Will I ever have the time/money/opportunity/courage to travel/move abroad? How do I get where I really want to go? What do I really want?

Don’t go to graduate school unless you’re really, really sure you want to
Many of us (myself very much included here) go to graduate school when it takes us more than a few years to find a job that we really like. Or maybe the professional world isn’t quite shaping up how we imagined and we were always good at school, so why not go back? Or everybody we know is doing it and, dammit, I’m totally as smart as they are! I want a Master’s!Dude. Here is my incredibly mercenary advice. Do not go to graduate school unless:
a) the school is paying you to go
b) you are really, really, really passionate about the topic you’ll be studying
c) a Master’s is required for the field you work in and you are 100% sure that you want to work in this field for a long, long time

I decided that I wanted to go to graduate school because I love doing ‘programs’ that have a beginning and an end and give me a piece of paper when I’m finished. Also, I thought I’d spend all that time engaging in witty banter in coffee shops with people who wore wool sweaters and scarves. Really? Grad school is really, really hard work, it can be quite expensive and it will completely consume those years of your life.

Now, I’m glad I got my Master’s; it’s made me a better teacher, opened doors for me and I had a great time in New Zealand. That being said, I know approximately a million people with MAs in English Literature who are working at Barnes and Noble and substitute teaching. Or people who could have gotten to the same place in their career simply by spending those two years climbing the ladder and gaining experience rather than spending all that money on an MBA.

I would never discourage someone from expanding their education, just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons.

You don’t need super human amounts of courage. You only need enough courage to take one step
Traveling the world alone, moving to a new city where you don’t know anyone, starting graduate school – these are all scary, scary things. And, sure, they require courage! But luckily for all of us, you don’t need super human amounts of courage. You only need enough courage to take one little step at a time.

If you would have told me in 1998 that I would find the courage to move to New Zealand on my own, where I knew no one, and complete a Master’s degree there, I would have turned around to check if you were talking to the superhero behind me. Because that business sounds terrifying, y’all!

But here’s the thing: you don’t need all of that courage at once.

You need enough courage to check out a copy of The Lonely Planet at your library. Maybe a week later, you can work up the bravery to google “tourist visas + Thailand.” Then you need to find the wherewithal to email your cousin who spent a year teaching in China. See? Totally doable! Don’t think in terms of “I am going to travel the world, alone, for one year.” Think in terms of “I might go look at backpacks at REI.”

You should also know that you are so, so much braver than you think you are.
I have been in ridiculous situations that I now look back on and wonder why I didn’t have a nervous breakdown (what’s up, getting from Santori, Greece to San Remo, Italy on my own, using six different types of transportation!) But you know what? While you’re in the midst of doing said scary thing, you will simply put one foot in front of the other and make it happen because you have no other choice. Weeping on the steps of the San Remo train station at 1 a.m. because there was no one there to meet me wouldn’t have accomplished anything, so I found a cab, found a hotel and then found my group the next morning.

You’ll figure out what you want slowly, one step at a time, after taking several detours
I have worked at a million different jobs – resort social director, receptionist, home health care, PR girl, event planner, newspaper writer. I have had multiple long-term relationships – with a golden boy, a charming punk rocker, a hipster nerd, an outdoorsy adventurer. I’ve lived heaps of places – rural Minnesota, urban Minnesota, uber-urban Asia, out of a backpack, semi-urban New Zealand.

Now, I could easily look at all these jobs and relationships and places as failures – jobs that didn’t fit, men who weren’t right for me, cities that didn’t work. But instead, I try to leave each of these situations thinking that now? I’m one step closer to knowing exactly what I want. Now I know that I need to live somewhere that has a Target. I need a job that doesn’t require sitting in front of the computer for eight hours a day. I need a gentleman friend who can entertain himself and take initiative.

Life is a game of trial and error, right? You probably won’t luck into your dream job/relationship/life on your first try. Try heaps of things! You’d be surprised how far the process of elimination can get you!

You’ll get where you want to go slowly, one step at a time, after taking several detours
Knowing what you want is a huge part of the battle. And now you’ve sussed out that you want to live in a large coastal city, date a successful, outgoing person and work in marketing for non-profit. Congrats! You are officially half way there.

But getting what you want, in any avenue in life, is a slow process. Maybe you’ll find work at a non-profit but it won’t be in marketing. Or maybe you’ll find a marketing job at a giant corporation. Or you’ll find the job you love in a tiny town that does little for you. No situation is perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it and keep working towards something that’s a better fit for you.

It’s difficult when we see people who seem to have it all. But it’s worth remembering that
a) they probably don’t, in fact, have it all
b) if, by some miracle, they do have it all – it’s probably taken them a lot of hard work and time to get it

Any other advice you have for our friend?

P.S. How to be a grown-ass woman about your health, your finances, your friendships, your romantic relationships, your professional life, and your home.

photo by Susen // cc

How To Become A Grown Up: Part 1

becoming adult

Dear Sarah Von,

I’m currently in my third year of undergrad and I feel completely unnerved. I’m studying Communication Studies and am second guessing myself. My passions and interests are so varied (education, public advocacy, public health) that I’m feeling pulled in so many directions. Will my degree be enough to land me a job after graduation? Can I survive working at a non-profit that pays approx. $2? How do I find the resources to network and find jobs? Do I have the courage to move? How long should I wait for grad school? What do I want to study in grad school? How do I get the good paying job that fulfills my pay-it-forward needs? Will I ever have the time/money/opportunity/courage to travel/move abroad? How do I get where I really want to go? What do I really want?Oh, friend. This? This is a million dollar question.

Short Answer: you won’t wake up one day with all of the answers. Nobody knows 100% what they’re doing. Even if it seems like they do, they don’t. And that’s okay.

Long Answer

Your degree does not determine your life or your job

Unless you go to a technical college for hair dressing or welding or radiology, your bachelor’s degree is mostly a piece of paper that proves you
a) can write papers and make supporting arguments
b) are responsible enough to start and finish four years of educationI know some very successful people who didn’t finish their bachelor’s degree. I know a million people who are not working in the fields they went to school for. Really, I know approximately 10 people whose jobs are vaguely related to their bachelor’s degrees. My cousin has a degree in philosophy and works at a bank. One of my best friends has a degree in political science and works in marketing. Another friend has an MA in theater and does real estate evaluations. Working in the field you went to school in is practically the exception rather than the rule!

More than your degree, your work experience, personality, connections and work ethic will help you find a job. If you’ve got a few good internships, knowledge of the appropriate software, a friendly demeanor and a buddy in the company, it probably won’t matter if your degree is in underwater basket weaving – you’ll be in.

You will find a job you like. Eventually.
It would be totally, totally awesome if you landed a job making $37,000 a year doing PR for the Red Cross right out of college.

This probably won’t happen.

But you can make it more significantly more likely! See if your school can hook you up with a pertinent internship. If they can’t, take a little initiative. I got my first job out of school by literally typing the word ‘creative’ into and calling every company listed and asking if they had internships. Find out what software people in your field use and learn it on your own. Find pertinent volunteer opportunities. Call people who have the type of job you want and see if you can job-shadow them or do an informational interview.
Even if you do all of these things you might end of taking an unpaid internship in your field and waiting tables. You might become a personal assistant for someone in your field. You might land your dream job and discover that it’s totally not your bag.

Finding a career that you really love and working your way up that ladder is a slow process. I interned and worked in PR/marketing/event planning/journalism for several (misguided) years before I succumbed to my genetic destiny of teaching. Now I have a job that I lovelovelove; it has taken me four different teaching jobs to get here.

I think it’s important to realize that no job is a total waste of your time, especially if it’s in the field that you know you want to work in. You can always learn new skills, network and volunteer to be on committees.

If you manage it wisely, you need a lot less money than you think you do
If you want to work at a non-profit or teach at a charter school or travel the world, you’ll need to be careful with your money. But here’s the thing about money: if you’re careful, you probably need less than you think you do.
I earn approximately $2 and have pretty significant school debt, but I still manage to live in a nice neighborhood, in a one bedroom + office apartment on my own. I own my car, I travel, I wear (what I shamelessly consider to be) cute clothes and I pay off my credit card every month. I can do all of these things because I make sacrifices elsewhere. Nearly everything I own is second hand; I rarely eat or drink out; my apartment is super cute but also the size of a breadbox and I earn extra money by tutoring and writing on the side.I find it’s a lot easier to make these sacrifices when I’m doing it for a really tangible reason. I can’t buy $200 boots because I’m saving up for a world ticket. $200 is probably two weeks of travel in India. When I think about it in those terms, it’s a lot easier to stomach. I’m sure you can do the same thing! If you’re passionate about your job/saving for grad school/buying a house you’ll be amazed what you’re capable of once you’re committed to that goal!

Part 2 – graduate school, courage and getting what you want!

P.S. If  you’re having a quarter life crisis and need a bit of help, I made something just for you.

photo by Robertina Jeno // cc

5 Kind, Sensible Ways To Stop Psyching Yourself Out

Do you want to stop psyching yourself out? Stop procrastinating and freaking out over deadlines/projects/pitches/finals week? Click through for 5 tips that will help you right now!
How often do you psych yourself out? How often do you get panicky and procrastinate-y and do NOTHING instead of the huge to-do list you hate?

Friend, I have been there. There was a three-month period in 2007 in which I attended graduate school full time, held two part time jobs, attempted to go vegan and lived with three other people in a two bedroom cottage.

What? Yes. How ridiculous am I?

And when it came time to write my papers, my coping technique involved staring the computer into submission, crying and then eating several candy bars. However! That awful three-month foray into insanity taught me a bit about how to chill the eff out in the face of pressure and not completely psych myself out.

5 ways to stop psyching yourself out


10 Truths I Wish I’d Known Sooner

(This is an excerpt from an article in my favorite yuppie, middle-aged woman magazine Real Simple. You guys? It’s so good. And this article? It bears repeating. By Amy Bloom)
1. Events reveal people’s characters; they don’t determine them.


Not everyone with divorced parents has terrible relationships. If two people are hit by a bus and crippled for life, one will become a bitter shut-in; the other, the kind of warm, outgoing person (cheerful despite everything) whom everyone loves to be with. It’s not about the bus, and a dreadful childhood is no excuse. You have the chance to be the person you wish to be, until you die.
2. Lying, by omission or commission, is a bad idea.


I cannot shake my dependency on the white lie, because I was brought up to be nice. And I’ve never figured out the nice way to say, “I’d rather stick a fork in my eye than come to your house for dinner.” But the meaningful lie, the kind that involves being untruthful or deceitful about important stuff to those you love, is like poison. Telling the truth hurts, but it doesn’t kill. Lying kills love.
3. Sex always give you an answer, although not necessarily the one you want.


It’s possible to have very good sex, a few times, with a person who shouldn’t be in your life at all. Have fun, and hide your wallet and your BlackBerry. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that a grown man, however nice, will become much, much better in bed than he was the first five times you slept with him. And if you sleep with a man who is unkind to you, there will be more of that; long after the sex is humdrum, the cruelty will be vivid.
4. Most talents are transferable.


If you can raise toddlers and teenagers with relative calm, you can be a CEO. If you’re a good driver, you can probably steer a cab, fly a plane, captain a boat. My years as a waitress―serving food to demanding people in a high-stress environment without losing my temper―served me equally well as a mother, a wife, and a short-order cook for my family. And if you have the teaching gene, you can teach anything. (I mean it. All you have to do is be one lesson ahead of your students. Sole meunière, Latin and Greek, algebra―you can teach it!)
5. Fashion fades; style is eternal.


Not only do you not have to wear torn jeans, a barely-there tank top, and a fedora, but you probably shouldn’t. The point of fashion is to indulge briefly in something fun. The point of style is to have one―whether that’s a sheath and spike heels or slouchy jeans and your husband’s T-shirt―and it should last you a lifetime. All you have to do is think you deserve to look and feel your best and spend some time figuring out how to do it. Don’t know? Find a woman whose style you admire and ask for a little advice.
6. You can’t fake love.


Staying in a love relationship when love is not what you feel isn’t likely to end well. If you know that what you crave is security/disposable income/child care and not the person next to you in bed, do the right thing. It’s true that one can learn to love someone over time and often through difficult circumstances. But unless the two of you agree to wait until you’re old and all the storms have passed, in the hope that love will kick in, it’s better to bail sooner rather than later.
7. Mean doesn’t go away.
Some people get better looking with age; some don’t. Some people soften; some toughen up. Mean streaks tend not to disappear. A person who demeans and belittles you and speaks of you with contempt to others is probably going to be that way for years. The first time it happens, take note. The second time, take your coat and go.
8. No one’s perfect.


I knew that I wasn’t perfect; I just didn’t realize that this also applied to the people I fell in love with. The object of your affection will always turn out to have huge and varied faults. The smart thing is not to look for someone flawless (which is why Elizabeth Taylor married eight times), but to look for someone whose mix of strengths and liabilities appeals to you (which is why she married Richard Burton twice).
9. Ask for help.


It’s possible you’ll get turned down. It’s even more likely that you’ll feel vulnerable and exposed. Do it anyway, especially if you are the helpful sort yourself. Those of us who like to offer assistance and hate to take any are depriving other people of the opportunity to be generous and kind; we are also blinding ourselves to the reality of mutual dependence. You wouldn’t wear pink hot pants and pretend they were flattering. Don’t pretend you don’t need help.
10. Keep your eye on the prize and your hand on the plow.


It’s easy to lose sight of what you want, especially if you haven’t gotten it. I know it’s less work to put the wish away, to pretend that the wish itself has disappeared. But it’s important to know what your prize is, because that is part of who you are. Whether it’s financial stability, two children, a collection of poetry, or a happy marriage, take Winston Churchill’s advice and never give in. Never give in. Never give in.
What truth do you wish you’d known?

How To Become A Morning Person (Or At Least Fake It)

Is it possible to become a morning person? Can you create a morning routine you actually enjoy? You can! Click through for 5 tips to use today.

Would you hate me if I told you that I’m one of those awful morning people?

Most days I pop out of bed completely awake, all full of intention and purpose and eye boogers. I’ll be the one chattering glibly in your ear while you try not to punch me in the throat.

But of course, I wasn’t always this way. I spent most of my childhood waiting till the last possible moment to leave my bed and most of college growling at people who dared talk to me before 10 am. The nerve!

Now, I’m not sure that a dyed-in-the-wool night owl will ever be able to cross over completely to the land of Brightandearly, but there are a few things that can help you ease into your day with as few curse words as possible.

5 ways to become a morning person

Sleep Well

Blowing your mind, aren’t I? But mornings are obviously less painful if you can wake up feeling rested. You probably know all the tricks already, but they bear repeating. Go to bed and wake up at the same time. Sleep in a dark, slightly cool room. Don’t do exercise, watch exciting TV, or read exciting books right before bed.

Make sure you’re getting enough aerobic exercise. Don’t drink caffeine after 4 pm. Sleep in something comfy. Have the right pillows and mattress. If you’re looking for something to help you sleep, try some Chamomile tea or a bit of lavender aromatherapy.

Get the right alarm

Of course, you’re going to be an unpleasant breakfast partner if you wake up to a shrieking alarm clock! Why not try dawn simulator (I swear by mine). You could try setting your phone to wake you with something lovely and sparkling? I like Chicago by Sufjan Stevens, but you could use chirping birds, Feist or robot noises if that’s your thing.

You can get alarm clocks that vibrate you awake and even one that you turn off by shooting it with a retro video game gun! Or you can just leave you bedroom door open and awaken to your cat licking your face.

Make your morning as relaxed as possible

You’re bound to hate mornings if you’re only allowing yourself 15 minutes to shower, get dressed and eat breakfast. This might seem counter intuitive, but I actually enjoy mornings more when I get up earlier and give myself plenty of time to read blogs, eating a nice breakfast and try on seven different scarves.

I try to save a variety of little treats for myself in the morning – really nice Greek yogurt, swanky good-smelling Aveda hair products, a really good cup of peppermint tea. They all make the morning a bit nicer!

If you can’t manage to wake up any earlier, channel your second-grade self and pack your lunch, shower and choose your outfit the night before. You’ll save yourself a) time b) a headache.

Engage in some non-threatening physical activity

I’m not going to recommend that you work out first thing in the morning. I mean, it is a really good idea, but I wouldn’t do it so why encourage you to do so?

However, I do love a good three-minute stretch, a few rounds of the sun salutation or even just rocking out to my favorite song. I can very highly recommend The Knux or Wild Beasts for the latter! If there’s any way that you can walk or bike to work, it is not an exaggeration that it will change your life. It’s so lovely to see the sunrise against the skyscrapers and arrive at work all pink-cheeked and awake.

When in doubt, add caffeine

Really, a cup of coffee or strong tea can make all the difference, right? Of course, developing a 9-cup caffeine addiction isn’t particularly advisable but a single cup in the morning never hurt anybody.

Of course, you can also get an energy boost from a bit of deep breathing, a hand full of peanuts, drinking a big glass of cold water or singing a few bars of your favorite song.

Are you a morning person convert? If you’ve got some good tips, share them in the comments!

P.S. Becoming a morning person is just developing a series of habits – this will help!

Photo by Joseph Gonzalez and Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Should I pursue my dreams or a steady paycheck?

Do you feel like you have to choose between pursuing your dreams and a steady paycheck! If that's you, click through for some goal-setting, dream-chasing tips and advice!Sometime opportunities present themselves that put a big monkey wrench in the works! You decide to pursue one dream but then “adult” life comes calling—which is the right path to choose? One reader asked me this question:

Dear Sarah Von,
I recently made the decision to leave my current employment. The original decision was to leave in late October, do some traveling and go back to school in the winter. But before making the decision to go back to school, I applied for public servant positions which pay 10K more than I currently make and would allow me to have a stable income to start my “adult life.”
Now after three months they are calling me to do interviews! I am completely conflicted and have no idea what I should do – pursue the high paying career or go back to being a student and work in something that I adore?
Oh, giiiiirl! That’s a tough one – and I think I might just shock you with my incredibly pragmatic answer to this million-dollar question about pursuing dreams or money.

Should I pursue my dreams or a steady paycheck?

Here's the thing about dreams: they usually need funding. Click To Tweet Traveling the world, going to school, starting a business, buying a house, dressing your dog in exclusively brand name gear – all of these wonderful things require dropping some change.

How you choose to earn that money is up to you. I have a friend that house sits and tutors (in addition to her full time job) to finance her summer mountaineering expeditions. I know people who have taken jobs because of the tuition waivers that come with working at a university. And don’t we all know an artist/writer/actor who’s waiting tables on the side?

I would never, ever advocate pushing your dreams aside in favor of an unappealing, soul-crushing ‘stable grown-up career’ just to make a few bucks. But who’s saying you have to commit to this job for the rest of your life? Or even for more than a year?

Related: How to get a job housesitting

Why not take the job for a year, keep living with the ‘rents and sack that big, grown-up salary away for future dream-funding? You’ll be able to travel for longer, fund your education or save it for a down payment on house later in your life. I’m not sure what you’re planning on studying in school, but perhaps it’s not the most money-making of majors?

If you’re not going to be pulling in six figures in your future job as a social worker/teacher/nurse, you could use the money that you make at this public servant position to put down on a house/car/set of braces, as you might not have heaps of disposable income once you start working your dream job.

I think the trick here is not to get sucked into this job, if you do, in fact, take it. Remember that you took this job to finance other things and as a means to an end, not to start climbing up the ladder of public servantry.

Many of us have experienced the phenomena that is the expandable budget – no matter how much money we make, we somehow seem to save the same amount. $2,000 a month and you save $400. $4,000 a month and somehow you’re still only saving $400. What?!

So look at the way you spend your money now (which I imagine is a significantly smaller paycheck) and continue to spend like you’re earning that amount, even when you move up into the next tax bracket.

Post pictures around your room of that places that you’ll travel with this money, read books about your chosen career, smugly check your bank account balance and think about how many classes/flights/Indian saris that money will buy you.

If you’re concerned that you won’t be strong enough to walk away from the money and the stability that this job offers once your one-year anniversary comes round, there are steps you can take.

Don’t get drawn into drama at work and keep up with friends that remind you of the greater goal you’re working towards. Really, this all adds up to just a bit of delayed gratification. But aren’t most good things worth waiting for?

What advice would you guys give our would-be traveler and student?

P.S. If you’re trying to figure out the balance between money and happiness, this will help.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash