The One Thing College Doesn’t Teach You: How To REALLY Live

Friday marks a huge milestone for my little climbing family – many of them are finally graduating from Florida State University. Having graduated nearly two years ago, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this day for months – and as the topic of graduating into the “real” world has been floating around for the past few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time mulling on this idea of shifting from “college” life to “real” life.

What will you do today that will make you proud in a year?And I’m pretty sure most folks are doing it wrong.

There’s this horrible stigma that many of my collegiate peers fall for: this idea that after you graduate, you’re supposed to start settling (down, but mostly just settling). It’s touted as that time where you finally get a real house with non-beer-stained furniture, work 9-5 at an “entry level” salary, and focus entirely on things like weddings, babies, and car payments.

That’s all gravy, and are admittedly things I look forward to in the future – but where’s the rush? Where’s the balance? What about all those other things that are supposed to make life worth living?

So, graduates, here’s my send-off advice for you: Make sure you’re REALLY living now that you’re being freed into the “real” world. Make sure you head down a path of realness, not a path of pre-packaged so-called satisfaction that includes a handful of stock options.

You are young. You are free. You have time, and most importantly, you’re still in the phase of your life where eating cheap tacos is acceptable. So use this period of your life to do as much youthful, spontaneous, outrageous living as you can before you finally settle down and have a garage filled with holiday ornaments (yeah, I plan on having a massive collection of seasonal décor one day, so what?).

The number one thing I hear from my older colleagues and peers while talking about my big 2013 trip is this:

“I wish I had taken the time to do this when I was your age, it would be impossible for me to drop everything and travel for a year now.”


This is the prime time of your life to live out of a van for a year, to hop on a plane to New Zealand for a few months, and to use bleak employment outlooks as a worthy excuse to stop shacking up at your parents house and start adventuring until your savings run out. Now is the only time when it will truly remain acceptable for you to spend a month eating nothing but canned beans and peanut butter. Trust me, when you are older, these things will no longer sound quite as appealing.

And you know, for some people, a yearlong adventure just isn’t on the agenda – but just because you got offered a sweet job in your hometown right after graduation doesn’t mean you have to settle in every other aspect of your life. Just because you are starting a career doesn’t mean you have to become a corporate cog. Don’t lose your ambition, don’t lose those twinges of reckless abandon, and don’t spend your weekends cooped up in dimly lit bars with other bros freshly escaped from the office – spend weekend outside doing what you love!  And for heaven’s sake, stop blowing your fancy-pants paychecks on new watches – c’mon, you have three nice watches – spend that money on EXPERIENCES.

Get outside. Spend the weekend in a tent.
Experience everything around you.
Cook food from a local farmers market.
Keep climbing. Keep adventuring.

I’ll leave you with this: yesterday, I spent my entire day climbing, sleeping in a hammock between two trees, tending to my carrots, and writing. If you ask me, I’m livin’ the dream. Make sure you’re on the path to living your dream.

You know that whole “real” world they keep telling you about in college? Yeah, they don’t spend too much time hanging in hammocks or cultivating carrots there – so make sure you’re entering the REAL world after you stride out of that commencement ceremony this weekend. 

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Categories: Travel & Adventure

Author:Katie Boué

Katie Boué is the voice of - a travel lifestyle blog focusing on climbing, Airbnb life, and the outdoors.

15 Comments on “The One Thing College Doesn’t Teach You: How To REALLY Live”

  1. Tom Mackey
    December 11, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    I support your message entirely but I think most of us are really not as free as you say. Most of us are waist deep in college debt. I would love to be back on the trail for 8 months but hell if I can afford to defer my payments for that long. For us, ‘living’ means preserving our sense of adventure and not falling into cynicism while at the same frantically trying to protect our future.

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

      Interesting perspective Tom. It’s true that debt definitely puts a damper on things. But I assert that it doesn’t take away your freedom. There are all kinds of ways you can work to pay down debt faster and live more cheaply. Depends on what your priorities are. Either way, you are still free, your freedom just may have to be directed to paying off debt in the short term, knowing that working towards that now leaves you more financially free to pursue adventures later.

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Amen, Tom. I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have graduated without any debt – and it infuriates me to see how so many of my peers are forced to sacrifice what they’d rather be doing in order to scrape together debt payments, it’s just not right.

      I think you hit the nail on the head with your last statement – and perhaps I failed to properly emphasize that in my post. Not everyone can just take off for a year, it would be ridiculous to insinuate that, but too many of my friends have lost sight of what was once a strong sense of adventure and passion. You’re fighting the good fight, and so long as you continue to make every effort to hit the trail whenever you can, I’d say you’re doin’ it right. Keep the spirit alive, Tom!

  2. December 11, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    I couldn’t love this article more if I tried. Life is for living and at no point in my life do I want to look back and go “I didn’t do the things that really mattered to me”. So yeah, I do work a 9-5 job, have a house (also known as “Basecamp”), and recently bought $75 in Christmas lights – but I refuse to actually do the ‘down’ part of whole “settling down” thing. I wouldn’t say my weekends are jam packed with adventuring because I’ve managed to just make it part of my lifestyle in general.

    So for everyone out there, whether you’re just about to embark on the “real” world or you’re already fighting the battle, don’t lose sight of yourself. Work to live, don’t live to work.

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      YES YES YES. It’s all about living YOUR dream. For me, that dream is currently living in a van for a year – but that’s definitely not everyone’s dream (and that’s a good thing). And hell, I’ve already started daydreaming about my own “basecamp” after this yearlong trip, and how I’m going to decorate my and Niko’s first Christmas tree – it’s all part of living MY dream! The key is to always remain dedicated to your passions, and keep the spirit of adventure alive – and you, m’lady, are most certainly succeeding at that.

      An old climber from Tally Rock Gym had a sweet tattoo on his ribs that says “Work to eat, Eat to live, Live to climb.” Sums it up pretty well.

  3. December 11, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    Awesome post Katie! Though I definitely don’t agree with the people who say that you have to do it now, while you’re young. That’s total BS! You always have the power to up and make a change, whether you’re 20 or 60. I met so many people on the road this year who were traveling with families, traveling alone, were working on the road, people who quit their jobs, who were retired. There is no ONE time in your life when you can adventure and explore. It’s never too late :)

    • December 11, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Ain’t that the truth – it truly is never too late – but I don’t think there is any better time to do this kind of “crazy” stuff than now. No house to worry about, no kids to consider, no major career stability to risk losing; this is the time when it’s the easiest to break free (in my opinion, and based on what “older” folks keep tellin’ me, at least). Well, now, and when I’m retired.

      But then again, I think you and I have a very unique perspective on all of this. And by unique, I mean we’re a little bit nuts. ;)

    • December 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      Another second to the you don’t have to do it when you’re young! I hate hate hate the idea that I’ll have to give up the adventuring someday!

      • December 11, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

        Beth, you and Rebecca don’t even count – you ladies were BORN to adventure. I don’t think you two could lose your dedication to adventure even if you spent an entire decade locked up in a cubicle. You two are truly my inspiration.

  4. December 11, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    I’m hearing the exact same thing from my colleagues when I tell them about my plans for 2013. Indeed, I even had a meeting recently with a more senior Politico who gave me kudos for my decision to take a year off. He actually did the same when he was younger, but his only regret was that he didn’t make it TWO years! :)

  5. December 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

    Amen. That is all.

  6. December 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    I got the dog. I had the job. Bought the house. Married the boy.

    It did NOT work for us (it does for a lot of people). So we took matters into our hands and paid off debt like crazy. Debt, provided you’re willing to eat cheap tacos (at any age!) and cut extras, can be eliminated.

    I kept the boy and the dog. The rest? I don’t miss at all.

  7. December 11, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. When I graduated from college, I worked like mad to build my career. I took low-paying jobs, worked long hours and built up that resume which eventually landed me a decent job with a bigger organization that had all the perks.

    That was great, but it also consumed all my 20s. I ended up being 30 pounds overweight with high blood pressure and cholesterol and aside from work experiences, nothing I could look back and say, “That was awesome!”

    It was in my 30s that I decided enough was enough. I got in shape. I got outside. I hiked and climbed mountains, took up jujitsu, traveled to China (twice) and Thailand. How I SOOO wish that I’d taken that path after college. My job pays the bills, but the foundation I built afterwards had paid LIFE dividends.

  8. Dad
    December 12, 2012 at 8:54 am #

    Here’s a different generation’s perspective – absolutely this is THE best time in one’s life to adventure on a large scale… assuming you have the wherewithal to do so. To Tom’s point, I would add to your post “You are young. You are free. You have time…”, “You are broke.” Financial commitments are a drag one will have through-out life, unless you are fortunate to be born into or inherit a trust. From my much older perspective, I offer that time is a very precious commodity and one that can support taking off for a period to explore and enjoy life. But it will run-out, so to speak, and eventually one has to enter the workforce and do all those things that are seen as limiting freedom (like having children).

    It will only become more challenging as you age and add “stuff” to your life (house, cars, relationships, kids, pets, etc.) . So do it now! You’ll figure it all out later, and probably not have any regrets.

  9. December 20, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    I am also one of those that had this vision coming out of college. Took a couple years but I realized that you shouldn’t spend your life working. I finally got this work/life balance down and am trying to top it more in the favor of life. But it’s a work in process. For now I am taking what I can get and am enjoying every second of it. Great post. Hopefully some of the young ones listen to what you have to say.

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