Advice columns are boring. I get it.
It’s usually some out-of-touch Martha Stewart-type trying to solve strangers’ relationship problems with anecdotes and cozy cups of Earl Grey which, for me, is an easy “nu-uh.”
So, far be it from me, someone who has never been an advice-taker, to think I can write an advice column. Who am I to tell strangers how to live, right? I mean, I’ve been listening to me my entire life and I’ve given myself some pretty awful advice:
“Yeah, of course you should sell several whole Bitcoins for less than $300.”
“I know you don’t like this job but take the promotion.”
“You should 100% finance that car you can’t afford. THAT’S exactly how you get a girlfriend.”
“Yeah, you should absolutely get that tattoo of Afroman lyrics.”
Ok, the last one didn’t happen, but can you imagine? The point I’m trying to make is that, sure, not all advice is good advice and, even if it is good advice, it’s still subjective. Your life will be wildly different than mine’s been. There is no universal set of rules, but one can find value in learning from the successes and failures of others. And, y’all, I’ve failed a lot over the past 35 years – that’s right, thirty-freaking-five – and you will too, but you don’t have to fail the same way.
It’s still a little surreal to be this close to graduation and, as I approach that day, it would be a sin of omission to not part with a few of the lessons I’ve learned on the way. Of course, there isn’t a set of rules to life. If there is a code to break, I’m nowhere close, and while I bare the calluses of an unenlightened beginning, I know the power of learning. That’s why I did some research – I even reached out to a few experts – and found some important things to share so you don’t have to learn the hard way.
People love to say, “It’s not all about the money.” While I think that’s true, it would be naïve to pretend that money doesn’t make life easier. For the better part of my 20s, I made more money than I will likely ever make as a journalist, so I’m speaking from a place of certainty when I say that money is not the key to happiness – doing what you want to do while also making boatloads of money is the key to happiness.
Kidding aside, we all want to live comfortably and it's possible, but it takes commitment and self-control. While it would be wonderful to win the lottery, you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning and surviving a plane crash in the same ten-year span than you do of winning Powerball once. So, one reasonable thing to do is to invest in a retirement account and do it early.
While there are more investment avenues than ever, the two most common investment account types that you’ll run into over the first years of your post-college life are standard IRAs and Roth IRAs.
On an elementary level, you pay taxes on the front-end when investing in a Roth and the amount that you watch grow over your career is the amount that you will eventually be able to withdraw. Conversely, the amount illustrated in a traditional IRA over the same period can be misleading since the holder is taxed when funds are withdrawn.
“I am not a fan of a traditional IRA because the gains are taxed at the ordinary income rate, which is higher than the capital gains tax rate you would pay on just any regular brokerage account,” said Kelley Anderson, Ph.D. candidate and finance instructor at the University of Memphis.
Anderson said, “A Roth IRA, however, is a great option for young people starting out in their careers because they may be in a lower tax bracket while their income is low, and they are building up their experience and salary over time. Therefore, paying the taxes today addresses any risk of having to pay higher taxes later, especially if one anticipates being in a higher income bracket when they retire.”
Anderson also stressed the importance of diversifying your savings among several different types of accounts “to offer flexibility.” Many companies will match a percentage of the money that an employee invests, so it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with all the options provided by an employer.
Also, if you don’t fully understand what an employer is offering, just ask. If you don’t trust the answer you’re given, ask someone you trust to explain. Ego is an absurd reason to leave money on the table.
Mid-Southerners often take the quality of our tap water for granted. Frankly, we are spoiled when it comes to being able to turn on the faucet and delicious, clean water comes flowing directly into our homes and, ultimately, our bodies. I KNOW y’all hear it all the time, but you HAVE TO DRINK MORE WATER.
The U.S. Geological Survey tells us that our bodies are as much as 60% water. Like any other mechanism on Earth, your body performs below its maximum capabilities when its resources are depleted. Water – not LaCroix, despite what my partner tries to convince me – is essential to the way that our bodies perform.
I recognize that this isn’t a secret. We have all seen articles, signs and commercials suggesting that we aren’t drinking enough water. I’m not being lazy and piggybacking off that campaign, it is just really, really important.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that drinking more water not only regulates our bodies and performs essential functions like “protect[ing] your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues,” but water intake also contributes to having clearer skin, more energy and weight loss.
While I whole-heartedly disagree, I often hear people say, “I just don’t like the taste of water.” For those readers who echo that sentiment, the CDC has a few suggestions for how you can increase your intake: drink plain coffee or teas, sparkling water, seltzers (White Claw probably doesn’t count), and flavored waters, or you can just, you know, throw a lemon in that glass of water, and get on with your day.
One of the worst things that we dragged from the 20th century is the stigma surrounding mental illness and those who seek help for mental health issues. Based on data provided by Christina Gough, research expert with Stastia.com, while down since the start of the pandemic, the health and fitness club industry was a $33 billion industry in 2021. This means that Americans spend tens-of-billions of dollars annually to build and shape their arms, legs, and stomachs, but will completely ignore the health and fitness of their minds.
While it is especially hard for many of us to talk about – me included – suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. We have all – every person reading this – been living through some form of collective emotional trauma over the past couple of years. We’ve had to sacrifice normalcy and many of us have lost people close to us. If you feel like something is just...off, it’s because something is.
NAMI also tells us that the rate of suicide has grown by 39% since 1999 and, proving the danger in stigmatizing help, 78% of people dying from suicide are men.
I’m from Memphis and that means a lot of things, but for me it means that there is zero “coward” in my blood. Being said, as someone that has suffered from diagnosed anxiety his entire life and, as someone who has often felt like giving up was easier than moving forward, one of the most influential things I’ve ever done is asked for help and, in hindsight, I feel silly for waiting. Why should we be embarrassed about wanting to be happy?
Maturity is a more dynamic concept than we often consider it to be. Maturity doesn’t just exist as a measure of how we act around our boss, or whether we’ve hit a growth spurt. There also lives the idea of emotional maturity, and emotional maturity can be graded by how honest we are with ourselves and how well we take care of ourselves. So, to all my macho, “what did you say,” loud-music playing, ripped-sleeves wearing, tough guys, you aren’t nearly as mature as you think you are if you’re still pretending like you don’t get sad.
I know I kind of shaded anecdotal advice, but, as a non-expert, it’s the only advice I can directly offer. Most of the best advice exists independent of the scientific method and all advice is subject to the nuances of a situation, but if one bases their entire life on a set of principles that hasn’t changed since elementary school, they likely won’t experience much growth. My life has changed so much in the past four years that I’m still trying to grab on to it, but I am going to leave my University of Memphis family with a few of the most important things that I’ve learned.
Be honest. Always. We’ve always heard that “honesty is the best policy” and, ok, sure, but retrain yourself to not view it as a binary “policy” in which there is an alternative. Truth is the most productive thing that you can bring to a conversation.
“Sorry” is the most disarming word in the English language.
“I don’t know enough about that to offer an intelligent opinion” is an intelligent opinion. Don’t talk about stuff you don’t know about.
I’m not going to offer much relationship advice because it suggests that one needs to be in a romantic relationship to be happy. That’s not true. Romantic relationships are a choice. Also, I don’t consider myself especially qualified to offer that sort of advice. However, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given was about relationships, so that I will share. I truly don’t remember who, but someone once said, “everybody’s ugly when they’re old.” This wasn’t an ageist outburst, but rather a commentary on the importance of finding somebody who you love unconditionally – even when they’re “old and ugly,” sick or needing to be cared for around the clock.
My parting wish is that you will never need any of my advice. I hope your 401k grows beyond your wildest dreams, and that you get to love deeply and can embrace the associated hurt as the beautiful mystery that it is. If life ever gets too hard, or if you don’t feel like you can keep going, I hope you know that, yes, you can.
Life’s hard – that’s a fact. You will all be faced with situations that shake you, affect your path and change who you are, and the way you’ll handle those situations will determine the people that you become. So, start with honesty, move with love and always be good to each other.
Oh, and drink more water.
Jeremiah Hall is a graduating senior. He is the outgoing AV Editor of The Daily Helmsman and General Manager of The ROAR, the University of Memphis’ campus radio station.