DEAR HARRIETTE: I wanted to know your perspective on a gap year, or "summer of fun," when a student takes a year or a summer to relax before he or she starts a full-time job in the real world. I am about to graduate college and hope to secure a job after graduation.
Recently, I have been thinking I should take the summer to hang out, travel and spend time with my family and friends. A lot of my friends plan on doing this, so I know it's common, but I'm not sure if it is the best move. As a businesswoman, what is your take on going straight to work? -- Summer of Work or Fun?, Dallas
DEAR SUMMER OF WORK OR FUN?: Theoretically, I like the idea of a summer of fun. Practically, I have very different thoughts. There are thousands of college graduates who begin to look for work even before senior year ends. Most jobs are highly competitive, and even though the economy seems to be improving, young people continue to have difficulty finding work immediately upon graduation.
Assess how long you can afford to live without having a job. If your parents are willing to support you during your time off and the period it takes you to find a job, that time of fun and exploration could be worth it, as it also can give you fresh eyes with which to consider your future. If you cannot afford it, look for work now and take a vacation when you earn time off.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My girlfriend's birthday is this week, and I have planned on taking her out to dinner to celebrate. I asked her what restaurant she wanted to go to, and she told me to choose. I don't want to make it obvious or make her feel bad, but the reality is that I don't have a lot of money at the moment, and I cannot afford to spend too much on her birthday dinner.
I have been researching places that are affordable, but I am afraid that she will think I'm being cheap or don't want to give her a nice birthday dinner. Do you think I should just let the dinner happen and not mention anything about the money? -- Girlfriend's Birthday Dinner, Memphis, Tennessee
DEAR GIRLFRIEND'S BIRTHDAY DINNER: Your girlfriend may be more aware of your reality than you give her credit for. Get creative. Identify an affordable and fun or romantic restaurant to visit with your girlfriend. Add special touches like asking the waiter to bring a bottle of bubbly shortly after you two arrive. Select a special dessert and ask them to bring it with a lit candle. Your added touches that show how much you care can go much further than an expensive plate of food.
Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.