I don’t know about you, but I sure love a good adventure. Ever since I was a child, when I watched the greatest explorer of our time — Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town — embark on the quest of a lifetime to “be the very best” in his pursuit of Pokémon-training glory, I’ve been captivated by adventures and those that go on them.
What exactly do I mean by “adventure” you ask? In the context of this article, I will define adventure as the truly gripping concept of leaving the “known” behind you and embracing the “unknown” that lies ahead. Whether it is going out on a road trip, trying new hobbies, traveling or taking risks in pursuit of something great (like starting a new business or “putting yourself out there” in general), adventures can take many forms. In fact, many graduating seniors like myself are about to embark on a very big adventure of our own, and it all starts “where the college ends.”
Before we start talking about big adventures, however, I’m going to tell you first about the place where the college ends. Another name for this sketchy metaphorical cliff is “the Edge” (the photo above illustrates it nicely). For many graduating college students, the Edge is simultaneously the most exciting and the most frightening place they have encountered. Some students consider the Edge to be liberation from 16 years of nonstop schooling, the end of oppressive Isla Vista landlords or the beginning of long-awaited career paths; they are genuinely stoked to graduate and they are excited for their futures. Good for them! But this article is not for these people.
My intended audience for this article is “the other folks” — the graduating seniors who have dared to look over the Edge, but instead of witnessing the wonderful world of opportunity that lies beyond (a.k.a. adventures), their eyes gravitate toward the Edge’s great shadow: fear for the future, uncertainty of what’s to come, sadness about leaving the IV/SB paradise or even regret about “where they are now” as opposed to “where they thought they would be.”
For many graduating college students, the Edge is simultaneously the most exciting and the most frightening place they have encountered.
When your entire view beyond the Edge is distorted by its shadow, it’s easy to view the Edge as the end of your youthful fun, as the shackling point of responsibility and the birthplace of crippling debt repayments. I’ve been in this haunting headspace before, and it’s definitely not a party. It’s more like a nagging mental sickness, actually, and it’s infecting our graduating Gauchos like a plague.
Unfortunately, after their first hard look over the Edge, many graduating Gauchos undergo an immune response that is actually quite negative; for lack of a better term, it’s called “losing your dinosaur.” If you’ve seen the classic film ‘Step Brothers,” you probably caught the reference and have some idea about where I’m going with this. If you’re not familiar with what it means to “lose your dinosaur,” it basically means that you give you up on your adventurous ambitions that you may have had when you were younger and instead choose to settle for something less than ideal as you grow up.
So instead of waking up each day ready to carpe diem the crap outta’ your final quarter at UCSB, you’re bummed out. You’re not excited about the future; you’re fearful of it. You become jaded, and the prospect of “settling” becomes even more enticing. Threatened by the cold sting of expectation and reality, you lose the dinosaur.
This is all bullshit and I don’t buy it. Seriously. I’m not saying that these aren’t legitimate concerns or that I’m superior to those that have them — I’m definitely not — but I’m saying them because I’ve been there and I know first-hand how stupid this mindset is. Proponents of this worldview may claim “reality” as their best line of defense for embracing the mundane. I may be a bit of an idealist, but I will just go ahead and call out this negative attitude for what it is: an excuse. When you’re an old geezer telling your grandkids about your life, you better not hand them a disgusting pack of excuses for why you didn’t live out your dreams. The time to start living was not in your past and it’s not in your future. It’s now, so start living like it. As you approach your UCSB graduation, please allow me to offer you a much more positive list of suggestions and ideas for your first flight off the Edge and into the world beyond.
1.) The party just started. Look, I know we all had a kickass time at UCSB; if you didn’t, it is 100 percent your fault because this piece of coastline is magical. But if you thought college was “the party,” just get ready for the huge rager called life. Take a second to think about what your twenties are going to be like when you have a half-decent salary… I don’t know about you, but I’ve already got some big adventure ideas up my sleeve! Whatever cool plans you have in the bag, one thing is for sure: you sure as hell won’t be stuck paying your minimum wage earnings to another jerk of an I.V. landlord (unless of course you choose to stick around this crazy town, which isn’t a terrible option either).
3.) Your best days are always ahead of you. Remember when you were a freshman and there was always that kid who bragged about how cool he or she was in high school? Don’t be that person. If you live your life through the rear-view mirror, constantly re-sharing old Facebook photos from your album “Sprang Break 2K15” or Coachella or whatever, you’re going to miss the awesome things happening around you right now.
3.) Mistakes make the best adventures. Did Tolkien make a slight mistake in the Lord of the Rings by not explaining exactly why Gandalf didn’t just ask the Great Eagles to airdrop the One Ring into Mount Doom? Possibly. But hey, this little mistake led to one of the world’s favorite fantasy franchises and allowed for a storyline in which Frodo embarks on the greatest backpacking trip of all time. If you’re not digging this reference, let’s not forget the very real story of my hero, Nelson Mandela. That guy made some serious mistakes in his life, but if he never ended up in jail and had his life stripped away from him, his personal story and message of reconciliation would not be nearly as impactful.
Mistakes make adventures noteworthy. Maybe you made some mistakes during college? Cool, me too. I don’t think anyone has gone through college, or even a single day, without making mistakes. Learn from them, but don’t dwell on them. It’s time to graduate and move on to your next adventure.
4.) Don’t wait for your passion to find you. You probably discovered early on that the purpose of college isn’t to sit on your ass watching Netflix all day whenever you’re not doing schoolwork; you’re supposed to use that non-class time to build a solid network, get involved in your community and explore new professional opportunities. Hopefully you’re actively doing this. If not, get out there! You’re just not going to find the things that you’re passionate about if you don’t get your butt outside the door and discover them.
I’ll be honest with you: I hate the word “passion” and the ludicrous fascination that our generation has with it. Why? Because I’ve see so many of my peers tripping out about “not having found their passion yet,” as if their “passion” is some elusive unicorn that they’ve been hunting for years but still can’t find.
We spend so much time trying to find a single career path — perhaps a job that will pay our bills and be an absolute party at the same time — that we bypass the incredible opportunities that we have all around us. There’s a terrific TED Talk about this actually that I highly recommend you check out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MBaFL7sCb8.
Mistakes make adventures noteworthy. Maybe you made some mistakes during college? Cool, me too
5.) Your job does not define you. I love America, but sweet damn does this country love to judge people based off what they do for an income. I highly encourage you to avoid falling into this trap. Perhaps you didn’t land that sweet gig at a Fortune 500 company while your less-qualified friend did? Get over it. What you do for a living does not make you the person that you are. You want some real inspiration? Drive by a farm sometime and take a look at the strawberry pickers who work their asses off in the blistering heat to put food on their family’s tables. Or perhaps next time you’re at a gas station, ask the guy behind the counter about his life; you might just learn something new that will challenge your preconceived notions about them.
While most of the jobs out there for recent college graduates in their early twenties can be accurately defined as “bitchwork,” don’t mistakenly assume that you’re not good enough or that your expertise isn’t valuable to the company you aspire to work for. Take the challenge of being the “no-name, new guy/girl” at the first place you work at and see the opportunity for what it is: an adventure. If you can find a job that pays you enough to make rent and start saving while still giving you the time to make your weekends awesome, then you’re already at a good start. Some of my gnarliest friends — friends that I’ve seen surf 20-foot waves or ice-climbed perilous routes — are accountants. Having a boring job does not make you a boring person.
5.) It’s not a true adventure without risk. What kind of adventure would Luke Skywalker have been on if their wasn’t the ever-present possibility that the Rebel Alliance would fail? If your life goals don’t scare the bejeezus out of you, you’re not thinking big enough. Don’t settle for easy and never settle for anything less than your best in whatever path you take. As Steve Jobs once said, “We are here to put a dent in the universe.” You’re probably not going to do that if your “big adventure” after college lacks challenge along the way.
Life sure as hell ain’t easy, and you’re going to fail — a lot. That’s alright. Perhaps you’re in a lot of college debt and you have no flippin’ idea how you’re going to make ends meet; I’m right there with you! You aren’t the only one burdened by debt and you won’t be the first one to overcome this challenge either. As they say in the military, “embrace the suck” and don’t let it ruin your attitude. It’s just part of the adventure!
6.) Set epic goals. Want to climb a mountain? Then do it. Want to travel to an exotic location? Then do it. Want to start a business? Then do it. Just because you won’t be surrounded by young college students anymore does not mean that your post-graduation life will be boring or that you’re done adventuring. If anything, your new independence will open an even larger door of possibilities.
I also suggest that you set a few goals now so that you’re ready to hit the post-UCSB road running. As Eric Greitens puts it best in “Resilience,” “If you want different, then do different.” It really is that simple. Fix those bad habits or character flaws now so that they don’t negatively influence your first steps into the “real” adult world. And no, being 18 years old in Isla Vista definitely did not make you an adult.
Life sure as hell ain’t easy, and you’re going to fail — a lot. That’s alright
7.) Find your Alfred. Bruce Wayne’s great adventure as Batman would have been nothing without the guidance of his trusted butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Could Batman still have kicked the crap out of Gotham’s criminals without Alfred? Yes. But without Alfred’s constant guidance and support — or even criticism at times — Bruce Wayne would have blundered aimlessly in his thirst for justice.
Even the great warriors from the “Fellowship of the Ring“ needed Gandalf’s guidance on their mission. You aren’t any different. If you’re not the movie type, imagine that you are planning a real adventure like climbing Mt. Whitney with your friends. You could wing it — like I did — and experience painful altitude sickness for the first time because you did not take the appropriate precautions (such as taking a day to acclimate to the altitude). On the other hand, you could talk to someone who has already climbed the same mountain beforehand to get life-saving advice.
In the professional world, such people are often called “mentors;” they are usually older folks who have done a few cool things and thus have some great insight to share with the younger generation seeking their advice. Mentors are key for navigating life, especially after college when there isn’t an easily-accessible team of professional advisors for you to reach out to. When you look for a mentor, try to find someone who successfully does something you would like to do but also has overcome challenges along the way.
Mentors are key for navigating life, especially after college when there isn’t an easily-accessible team of professional advisors for you to reach out to.
As James Salter says in Burning the Days, “I like men who have known the best and the worst, whose life has been anything but a smooth trip. Storms have battered them, they have lain, sometimes for months on end, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail.” I personally look up to people who have dealt with enormous adversity and prevailed in spite of it. Perhaps you search for different qualities in a mentor, and that’s totally cool. Regardless, building a solid mentor/mentee relationship after college will only benefit you.
8.) Attitude is everything! You don’t need to be some carefree, naïve hippy to have an optimistic view of life. There are plenty of career-driven, realistic people with an enormous sense of adventure. It’s also a proven fact that successful people tend to have positive attitudes. One of my favorite graduated Gauchos is an active-duty Army officer who still manages to mountain bike insane trails or skydive every weekend. Despite the fact that the military “owns” him, he still manages to showcase his individuality, adventure harder and have a more positive attitude than any other Gaucho alumni I’ve met. If you have an awesome attitude, you will lead an awesome life.
In conclusion, I challenge you to think of your life after college as a great adventure story. If you’re either opposed to reading adventure novels or just lazy with your research papers like I am, you can alternatively think of your life as a Wikipedia profile page that some college student will read one day. What will your life story sound like? Will it read like a grand adventure or will it be a lackluster tale that reeks of failure and wasted opportunity? The choice is yours. As you approach your graduation from UCSB, please keep this in mind: “Where the College Ends” is “Where Adventure Begins.” Get stoked, it’s going to be a wild ride!
Nik Frey dedicates this article to the UCSB graduating class of 2016.