Cornell alumna uses writing passion to help others navigate the age of 23
Twenty-three can be a scary age. It’s a time when college graduates find themselves trying to make their way in the world—finding new careers, new friends, and new living situations.
Cornell College alumna Tyler VanderGaast ’15 is 23, so she knows a little bit about life after college. After experiencing some struggles on her own, she has decided to compile and share stories of how others navigated 23 in a blog called “Twenty Three and Up.”
“I was feeling a lot of pressure about making the right choice for my career—how to move forward and do the right thing that people expected of me. There’s a lot of pressure and anxiety around that,” VanderGaast said.
VanderGaast graduated with a degree in economics and business. She also had a minor in English, so she often spent her time at Cornell in the writing studio.
While she is putting her major to work as an analyst at a financial services company in Cedar Rapids, she recently found herself wanting to do more to keep her passion for writing alive as she tried to navigate the post-college world and understand her early 20s.
“I just had this light bulb moment one day when I was listening to podcasts that people have been living and growing up and making it through this world for decades and centuries. Everybody else has figured it out at some point,” VanderGaast said. “They must have learned something. I thought, well, I should ask them, write it down, and tell more people about it, so they don’t have to be as stressed out and anxious as I was. So that’s how my project came about.”
The Cornell grad has now interviewed about 20 people, both friends and strangers. She’s using words and pictures in her blog to explore the tales of once 23-year-olds. That includes a man who worked as an Army contractor associated with Apollo 13’s lunar mission and a woman who joined a circus based out of New York City. The stories are each unique, but they all have something in common. The stories offer a piece of life advice for those reading the blog.
“I have definitely learned a lot, VanderGaast said. “It has been really enlightening to see that people that I admire or people that I feel have become successful later in their life, started out in a completely different place. They majored in something else. They lived somewhere else. They thought their lives would go one way, and it just took a different path. So, that has been encouraging to know that one decision right now doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how your life will go. The other thing I’ve learned is not to put that pressure on myself because 23 is just the beginning, and yes, you are just starting out and making the first few big choices with your career and your life, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be many many more choices later on down the road.”
VanderGaast said Cornell College played a big role in her ability to follow through with her blog project. Writing Studio Director and Coordinator of Fellowships and Scholarships Laura Farmer introduced an interview project during VanderGaast’s time at Cornell, which gave her the skills to conduct interviews and write stories.
“As a Writing Consultant, Tyler did an excellent job working on The Interview Project, the Writing Studio’s online journal featuring interviews with Cornell staff and faculty on writing and the writing process,” Farmer said. “I’m thrilled to see her continuing to use her passion for interviews in such a creative and insightful way.”
Now, the 23-year-old has a goal of collecting 100 interviews and stories for her blog, even if that takes her into her mid-20s.
“I realize I won’t be 23 forever and my audience is probably not 23,” VanderGaast said. “Even if you aren’t looking for advice, I have everyone’s full story posted. Check it out if you are interested in the crazy places that a person’s 20s can take them.”
VanderGaast’s blog can be found at twentythreeandup.com.