The decisions that you make now matter; the future you get will be the one you build. But how can you build a better future?
You know the basics: Hard work, good planning, and a bit of luck will go a long way. But when it comes to planning out specifics and avoiding pitfalls, what you don’t know could hurt you. Here are some helpful reminders to guide you as you try to make the most of every stage of your life en route to a promising future.
Secure Your Privacy
Those of us who are making our way through school and forging new careers in the internet age are living very different lives than the ones our parents had. As recently as the 1990s, it was hard to imagine that the things that we did in relative privacy — both in real life and online — could really come back to haunt us. Plenty of people who came of age in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s made terrible mistakes in their youth, and many of them never faced real consequences. But you won’t get away with that now: In our connected modern world, there are always people watching. From covert smartphone recordings to insidious tracker viruses on our devices, you can always count on something that could hold you to account for your actions.
That’s why young people today need to be smart about securing their privacy, both in-person and online. Take photos, for example. Digital photos are easy to take on smartphones, and lax social media privacy settings will allow others to tag you in photos you don’t approve of. Many teens and young adults (as well as some full-grown men and women!) destroy their own privacy by posting every photo that they take to social media platforms. This is a bad idea, of course: What you do and say on social media can hurt your educational and job opportunities, and photographic evidence is impossible to dispute. That’s why you should store your digital photos securely in a cloud photo manager and share them only with trusted friends and family. This doesn’t mean that you can’t post the occasional selfie, but it does mean that you need to be smart about how much photographic information you share about yourself.
Secure cloud storage will mean easy access to your images (which will be saved in higher quality than the social media sites can muster), and it will keep unwanted photos from following you around later in life.
More Steps to Better Privacy
Your photos aren’t the only thing that could hurt your future. Videos, text posts, and even links could come back to haunt you. So be smart: Lock down your social media profiles with strong privacy settings, avoid posting controversial, inappropriate, or political content online, and make sure that your friends and family aren’t undermining your efforts online.
You can also take steps to ensure that admissions officers and would-be employers find the information that you want them to find. Check out your search engine results and think about ways to add your name to sites with more search engine equity — perhaps volunteering, for instance, could lead to a better site being included in your search results.
Protect your browsing habits, too. Be wary of questionable websites and consider using a VPN. Finally, be on guard for phishing attacks. Even the most secure cloud storage services can be rendered useless if you give away your password and login information to bad actors.
Building a Positive Reputation
Social media posts and other online missteps can hurt your reputation. It’s important to be smart and protect yourself. At the same time, though, you can’t go through life trying to be invisible. Avoiding embarrassment is smart, but building a positive reputation is even smarter.
We already saw how volunteering and other smart moves could get your name included in web search results on pages that you’d love for admissions officers and employers to see. What else can you do? Academic achievement will help here, point out experts at a prep school with a well-regarded college advantage program. Position yourself in a superior program and then achieve: Your awards and other accolades will likely end up online, where they’ll stand out and make you look even better compared to peers who have failed to make good impressions online.
Many other achievements and activities will help you build your resume and your good online reputation at the same time. Internships, athletics, and bylines in the local newspaper all serve dual purposes. If you are wise about managing your online presence, then your great reputation will be reflected accurately in your online footprint.