Things I Wish I Knew at 22

Posted July 18, 2013 by Ellen Hunter Gans in On the Ladder
I turned 30 on Sunday. It wasn’t exactly a rager since I’m six months pregnant, but perhaps sobriety gave me additional opportunity for gratitude and reflection.

Lately I’ve been thinking back to graduating from college and starting my first job. I turned 22 a few weeks into the gig. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was stressed, a bit lost, and frustrated that I wasn’t doing something I loved.

I was also that delicious cocktail of cocky and insecure, which is a hallmark of most 22-year-olds.

Here’s a list of things I wish I knew at 22, courtesy of your friendly neighborhood 30-year-old.

1. You’re already building a brand

Whether you know it or not, you’re already building a personal brand. I’ve spent a fair amount of time convincing a potential client that I am no longer the sarcastic, acid-tongued teenage employee he knew when he was a customer at the Dry Cleaners where I worked in high school. (To be fair, I’m now a sarcastic, acid-tongued 30-year-old, so I guess my brand is pretty authentic.)

In other words, the person watching you line up tequila shots might be interviewing you for a job in a month.

2. It’s okay to be a little ridiculous

This is the big caveat to #1: I’m not necessarily recommending that you spend time face-down on the floor of the bar, but I’m saying there’s an age at which that becomes completely unacceptable, and you’re approaching it quickly.

Be young, don’t be too hard on yourself, and find balance between freedom, fun, and responsibility. Just try to do so in ways that don’t burn any existing or potential bridges.

3. You do not need to have your career figured out

You thought that if you got into the right college and picked the right major and studied hard enough and networked enough, you’d be on the fast track to the good life at 22.

There is no fast track. Your career will take many twists and turns, and that’s how it SHOULD be.

This is a time to figure out what gets you excited; what makes you feel alive; what makes you crawl out of bed in the morning. That’s not necessarily going to translate to the highest paying job or the one with the most prestige at the moment, but true passion pays off in the end. Trust me.

That’s not to say that you should feel bad if you’re currently in a job that doesn’t exactly tickle your fancy. It’ll be all right. It’s not permanent.Try stuff out. Learn as much as you can. Take that goofy job in Belgium for a year. Fall on your face a few times (just not at the bar).

I know it feels like you need a “plan” at this point — especially when HR managers ask where you see yourself in 10 years — but your plan will evolve. I’m doing something now that is a reflection of the passion I had at 22, but I didn’t see it clearly enough then. It took time. And that’s okay.

4. Do stuff

I know, I know. Your budget is tight. I don’t care. Go do stuff. Want to go skydiving? Do it. Want to learn Mandarin? Do it.

You may not have your career figured out, but you can figure YOURSELF out by trying things and going places. Now may not be when you have the money, but you (might) have more money than you did in college, and you have less responsibility than you (probably) will in five years.

I decided that I wanted to get to 30 countries by my 30th birthday, and they were all low budget trips. I hit #30 with six months to spare. I don’t regret any of them (except for a few scary moments in Egypt…). Still, I wish I had spent even more time doing stuff. When I had my first corporate gig at 22-23 I was so burned out by the end of each day that all I wanted to do was sit in front of the TV and go to bed early. I should have learned Mandarin.

5. Meet people and make their lives easier

It is said that everything is who you know. It’s true. For me, networking beats job boards every single day. Hands down. Having a strong network is one of the smartest things you can do for yourself and your career.

That’s not all. Some people view networking as one big game of: “What can you do for me?” Try to think of things the other way around, too. What can you offer someone? Perhaps you’re good at writing resumés. Wonderful. Offer to help your friends who need new ones. Perhaps you know someone who’s hiring a job that isn’t right for you, but might be right for a friend. Make the connection.

Give out at least as much as you take. Approach potential jobs the same way, too. They’re not hiring you because they want to fulfill your life. They’re hiring you because they have a need, and they want it filled as cheaply and painlessly as possible. How can you make their lives easier?

6. You’ll be okay. Seriously.

That’s all.

About the Author

Ellen Hunter Gans

Ellen Hunter Gans is a freelance writer and communications strategist. She's also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. Her blog is at, and her business website is at