• Liz Breen

It's Gonna Take More Than That To Ruin Your Life

Updated: Dec 20, 2018


Me, feeling skeptical about this whole graduating college thing

And it’s gonna take more than that to guarantee your success, too.


In my experience, these are the two things that young people need to hear more than anything else as they look towards the future. And, in my experience, it’s the last two things any of them want to accept.


See, after graduating college, I discussed my experience interning in the CONAN Writers' Room with a reporter at Huffington Post. Almost six years later, I still get emails and LinkedIn messages from college students who have read the article and say that they, too, want to secure an internship of this caliber; they, too, want to set themselves up to win; they, too, want to do the “right things” before they graduate, and won’t I show them what those “right things” are?


My knee-jerk reaction is to say, “No, I can’t.” Which is unhelpful. And my second reaction is to say, “None of this matters.” Which is also unhelpful. And also nihilist and partly untrue.

I received the latest of such messages this week, from a current sophomore, and I could sense the anxiety through her email — her desperation for a way in, but not just any way in, the correct way in. She ended her string of questions with this:


“Is there anything you wish you’d done differently? Anything you wished you had or hadn’t done while you were in college?”


And I finally (finally!) had a different, maybe actually kinda helpful response. What I wrote her was this:


“… To your question about if there’s anything I wished I’d done differently in college… no, there truly isn’t. Taking these four years to set yourself up for a life you’ll enjoy is incredibly important, yes, but there’s no one thing you are going to do or not do that’s going to jeopardize your future or absolutely guarantee your success. Your twenties is going to be a time of constant refinement and reinvention, and the most important things college can teach you are resiliency, adaptability and how to take your learning and acquisition of skills into your own hands. Success or failure is not the result of one defining moment, but rather the accumulation of your daily habits.


She never responded. Maybe because she was looking for a rule, a formula, a quick fix, or at least, momentary relief from this pressure she has put on herself. Or maybe she just thought what I said was stupid. Either way, I’m still not out of my 20s, and it’s a good reminder to myself that small changes compound over time, and altering your course by even a few degrees will bring you to a completely different destination once you travel a few hundred miles.

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