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Q&A with Harlon Cohen

By Christopher Schonberger

At the beginning of The Naked Roommate, you advice incoming freshman to have a plan and be prepared for college to be a challenging transition. What would you say to that person when he’s a senior getting ready to transition to the “real world”?

It’s all the same stuff. There’s a reality check, but the fact is college is the "real world" in a lot of ways, too. So it’s not like starting from scratch. A lot of things from college will carry over.

But the bigger emotional issues people deal with have to deal with this idea of finding your place and being patient. I think one of the biggest challenges about life after college is you’re no longer bombarded with opportunities. You have to be the one to be proactive and take risks. And if you haven’t been someone who’s explored opportunities and taken risks in college, it becomes all the more challenging after college.

One of things I tell grads is, we’re living maybe five years longer than our parents. So in terms of urgency to get things done, don’t feel like you have to have it all laid out right away. You can do what you love, and also take time to figure out what you don’t love. If it doesn’t go as planned and you realize it’s not for you, that’s not considered a failure. That’s part of the experience, and you’ll still be picking up skills and knowledge to apply to the things you do ultimately want to pursue. Give yourself five years to figure out your shit. Put up blinders to other people’s success, because in five years those people aren’t going to achieve great things because they’re going to be thinking, “Holy shit, I hate what I’m doing.”

So instead of having a plan, the best approach to life after college is to plan to not have a plan?

In a sense. Just realize it doesn’t have to be rushed. And remember that if you live with your parents and make some money for a couple of years while you’re there, that’s not the end of the world.

That’s true. Parents are a whole different type of “roommate” though. How can someone make that situation work without going insane?

It’s tough, and again, you’ve got to ask your parents, “Do you want to get along?” Not all parents want to reassume that role, and it’s important for them to treat you like an adult. But you’ve also got to understand that you’re still their kid, and there are some things that will never change—like them wanting to know what you’re doing all the time. Sometimes people think, “Oh, you don’t trust me,” but really they probably just want to be able to sleep at night. People take it the wrong way. So it’s important to understand that most of the clash is not your parents thinking you’re irresponsible. They’re just reacting to you being around again by being concerned parents.

You deal with relationships pretty extensively in the book and have even coined a “holiday” of sorts around Valentine’s Day—Rejection Awareness Week. How does the dating scene change after college?

That’s such a big question, and the thing I always say is we live in a world where people are so afraid of taking risks and having people not like them that we tend to leave college and only see opportunities to be rejected and feel bad about ourselves. Rejection Awareness Week is about changing that frame of reference and not seeing opportunities to be rejected and feel like shit, but seeing opportunities to meet new people and build relationships. And in doing so you have to grant people a little permission to not always like you, and come out of rejection denial. Once you open yourself up and get past that denial, you’ll find yourself able to pursue a lot more opportunities. And if you find yourself incapable of doing that, you take a step back and you train for the sport of taking risks.

In my book I talk in detail about this, and it still applies after school because I don’t think people graduate with a degree in being able to take risks. We’re so afraid to talk to a stranger or tell someone we like them that all we’re doing is preventing people from enjoying what we have to offer, which is really selfish if you think about it.

I think that’s definitely relevant to all parts of grad life, especially in dating. At college the dating pool is right there at your fingertips, and there’s at least some degree of accountability because someone probably knows a friend who knows a friend who knows the person you had a one-night stand with, so it’s not as easy to just disappear. Part of dating after college is accepting that if you get burned and the person never calls back, it’s probably for the best.

You know, I’m ultimately a researcher, and I talk to students all over the country. And I think that hooking up and getting into relationships without taking risks is dangerous going forward in life. It’s important for people to gain the confidence to live in a world of choices and be able to know that they chose someone not because they were the only choice available.

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