Life doesn’t happen without change — whether it’s graduating college and moving into the real world, starting a new career, or becoming a better version of yourself. With any transition, there’s likely some apprehension, uncertainty, and maybe a bit of fear. Lucky for us, Karamo Brown, Queer Eye’s culture expert, go-to self-confidence builder and bomber jacket-lover, knows a thing or two about how to get through anything.
As college graduation approaches, Brown spoke with Her Campus before giving his first ever commencement speech at Chaffey College, as part of his partnership with Extra Refreshers Gum. He gave his best advice on how to deal with the anxiety around knowing (or not knowing) exactly what your future holds, how to chase your dreams even when others might not believe in them, and why focusing on yourself is the most essential part of getting where you want to go. From Netflix’s resident hype man himself, here are ten tips for how to turn your anxiety and self-doubt — from college to graduation and beyond — into curiosity and self-confidence.
1. Don’t give into the pressure of needing to know exactly what you want to do after graduation.
“Any young person who’s reading this who has that pressure should release it right now. You have to understand that there are some pressures that you give to yourself, and there are some pressures that have been put on you, and that pressure of figuring it all out the day after your graduate is a pressure that you should not own, that is not your own. That is other people’s fears being placed onto you.”
2. You’ll continue to learn after you graduate, so experience the world — it’ll help you discover what you want to do.
“Life is about exploration and about being curious. It’s great to say, “Well maybe I’ll try this after college,” but you should never feel that what happens after college is going to be determining what your future is or what your life is going to be. So, yes, I went to school for social services to become a social worker, and I knew that there was a piece of that that I loved, and that I always appreciated, but also in the back of my mind I wanted to explore television and dance. It was about letting myself know, ‘one day I’ll try that, and it’s going to be okay. I don’t have to figure it out the day I finish college.’ And I want kids to know that as well.
A lot of people assume that institutional knowledge means that you’ve learned everything that you need to learn. But there’s something valuable about combining institutional knowledge with lived knowledge and lived experiences. That’s where you really find out who you are and what you are able to do and be in this world. I think that’s what people should be focusing on more—living life and learning just who you are.”
3. You don’t have to follow the traditional path in order to be successful.
“A lot of times, in my personal opinion, community college and the value of community colleges are overlooked, and I think people think, for some reason, that there’s more value at a four-year university. But, I think both community colleges and four-year universities have such extreme value on a young person’s life. I’m glad that we’re getting to highlight young people at a community college who have graduated, who have done the work. I’m just really proud of that.
I worked with Extra Refreshers Gum to find a school where the students were inspirational, who give back. You know, Extra is all about ‘give extra, get extra,’ and I think what’s amazing about these students that we’ve been working with is that they understand the importance of small gestures, and how those small gestures can make a big difference in the world. So I’m excited to speak to them.”
“I think the first thing to do is, as you are finding the courage to go after your own dreams, you have to have more conversations with the people who are putting their fears on you. Say, ‘What are you afraid of if I go after my dreams?’”
4. Even if you do know exactly what you want to do, don’t ever stop being curious.
“If you feel confident about what you want to do, don’t ever stop being curious. If you want to be a doctor and you know that being a doctor is exactly what you want to do, that’s great. But be curious about what other ways you could become a doctor. Maybe there’s one year of your life when you give help to people in another country who don’t have services, or maybe you donate your services for one week out of the year. It’s about being curious about what else you can do to help others and give back.
I think it’s great if you’re confident, but understand that your confidence doesn’t equal limitations. You don’t have to believe that that’s where the ending point is. That’s just the beginning of you understanding all the potential that you have and what you can do.”
5. If someone doesn’t believe in you, don’t be afraid to ask them why.
“I’m the son of immigrant parents, and so for me growing up my dream was to become a dancer, to be in television, [but] I had parents who were like, ‘we didn’t come to this country for you to ‘waste’ [this opportunity].’ You feel that pressure. But that’s their fear that they’re trying to put onto you, not your own fear. So I think the first thing to do is, as you are finding the courage to go after your own dreams, you have to have more conversations with the people who are putting their fears on you. Say, ‘what are you afraid of if I go after my dreams?’ Don’t approach them with, ‘you’re wrong for telling me this. You’re wrong for that,’ because that’s never going to be how the conversation is. When you can break it down with someone by saying, ‘what are you afraid of if I go after this?’ that allows them to be vulnerable with you.
Most of the time, parents only tell us to go after things because they think this is what’s going to give us a career, and money and a house or family, when they don’t realize that there’s so many different opportunities — especially for this generation, where you could go on YouTube and make two million dollars in no time. So I think you should approach those people and ask them what their fear is, and then, secondly, surround yourself with people who encourage you to be curious and go after and try your dreams. I know while I was in school, there were other things that I did while I still did my studies, and I think it’s important to still never forget to try even while you’re doing.”
6. Ask for help if you need it.
“For my kids, something I’ve been telling them since they were kids is to ‘Plan. Do. Ask for help if needed.’ The reason I tell them that is because I believe that for any challenge we have in life, if you make a plan, you take one step each day to do that plan, and ask for help anytime you feel like you’re not getting to where you need to be in that plan, it will always help you achieve what you need. I think that’s a great piece of advice for anyone who feels overwhelmed or has anxiety about achieving or reaching a goal. And that’s what I share with them. Go make a plan, do it, and I’m here for you along the way.
For any young person who is also feeling that anxiety of ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I think the same is applicable for them as well. Make a plan, do that plan, ask for help along the way. I think that will give people the ability to know that they’re not alone, and that they can do it.”
“I believe that for any challenge we have in life, if you make a plan, you take one step each day to do that plan, and ask for help anytime you feel like you’re not getting to where you need to be in that plan, it will always help you achieve what you need.”
7. Even though it’s hard, don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know what their journey is like.
“This goes back to something that I’ve said on Queer Eye, which is that ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’ If you keep comparing yourself to people, you’ll always find yourself feeling anxious. So if you can find yourself a space to say, ‘you know what, that’s their journey. It’s not my journey.’ But also saying, ‘you know what, let me be open and acknowledge what I’m feeling and give them an opportunity to acknowledge what they’re feeling” will make you feel more connected.
It’s about not comparing yourself to what other people have. You know, that’s a hard space when you walk out of your house and there are ads that tell you you’re not pretty enough, your hair doesn’t look good, your clothes don’t look good — it’s very hard. It’s about understanding that you are beautiful just the way you are, and if you want to make changes for yourself that doesn’t mean that you don’t love yourself. On Queer Eye we call them make-betters not makeovers because we believe that each of us can be better in some way, but that doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with you initially. I think it’s about practicing that, telling yourself you’re good enough, and not comparing yourself to others.”
8. Mentors don’t have to be the traditional type you envision— someone who’s with you through every step of your career — your interactions can be as short as meeting them in passing. Seek them out.
“There’s a reason why mentors and bosses are so important, because if done properly they’ll be able to guide you to where you need to be. A lot of people are afraid to ask for that help because they want to seem like they did it on their own, and I think they do a disservice to themselves.
I had professors that were those mentors, I had older friends that were those mentors, my sisters were those mentors—the list goes on and on of people that I’ve written thank you cards to. Sometimes we have to remember that mentors aren’t people that are always going to be there for months and months, sometimes it’s just one interaction in a day that you have an opportunity to ask someone, ‘how did you get there?’ and they give you some advice that you just need to hold on to. That’s a mentor as well.”
9. Always take the time to practice self care.
“Set boundaries. I am good for stopping emails or stopping social media with no problem — I mean, literally, I will just go dark. Sometimes you just need to disconnect and not feel guilty about disconnecting. In the mornings, I get up and I don’t reach directly for my phone. I just sit up and I breathe and just reflect on the intention of my day. That helps me to not feel so anxious about the things I have to go through. I remind myself that I’m prepared, I’ll make it through, and anything I don’t know I can ask for help.”
10. While you’re getting help from others, take the time to lift them up as well.
“I lean on my friends, and I lean on my brothers in Queer Eye. We call each other and just lift each other up. We have little things that we do where we just randomly send each other little messages like, ‘you got this’ and we don’t even know what’s going on in their day. I think those little small messages are sweet sometimes, because it helps us.
My kids are college age, and I think about the pressures they go through and how they’re navigating them with believing in themselves, asking for help and being kind to others — which is really important. That’s why I got into this partnership with Extra Gum, because they’re all about helping young people to feel confident and believe in themselves and understand, again, that those small gestures change the world.”