Ten years ago I was 18. I had graduated from high school, I was about to start college, and the entire world was in front of me. It was a very exciting time. I was blissfully naive and thank god for that. I have gained a lot of wisdom in these last ten years that I am I glad to take with me into the next ten. And even though I haven’t been in school for six years, the start of a new school year still makes me both reflective of what has been and hopeful for what is to come. So I started reflecting on these last ten years and what I wish I had known at 18 that I know now at 28.
These Aren’t The Best Years of Your Life
And thank god! Don’t get me wrong, college is an amazing and formative experience. I am so glad I went, but I would never go back. When I was 19 I loved living on a floor with 50 other women, sharing a shoe box with my best friend, and having lots of boy drama. I was happy to give up sleep to socialize, go to class, have adventures. But the college years are so transitional. Everything is in a constant state of change: your roommates, your schedule, your job, your classes, your home. And with every step, every change, comes a new life lesson. College does an excellent job of easing you into “real life” things like cooking, cleaning, paying bills, managing your time. But everything feels like scraping by. Working multiple jobs just to cover rent, eating Kraft Mac and Cheese multiple times a week, drinking alcohol that comes from plastic bottles.
Now I have a career and I no longer live paycheck to paycheck. I have a home and my own space full of things and people I love. I have a pantry full of delicious healthy food. My friends and I still go on adventures, but they are on a much more epic scale. My life has stability, I get to do the things I want, and I don’t have to choose between fun or food or sleep. But most of all, I know myself so much better now than ten years ago. I know what I want, where I am going, and my dreams are now plans.
I used to believe that college was supposed to be the best time of your life. So many people told me that these were the best years of my life, that I could never get this time back, to make the most of it, yada yada yada. And to some extent, that’s all true, you should make the most of your college years – but you should make the most of all of your years. And I’ve found every year I enjoy life more and more. I am having way more fun at 28 than I was at 18.
Don’t Waste Time on Shitty Guys
Unfortunately I think this is a lesson we only learn through experience. And when I was 18 I didn’t have a lot of experience. And so I suffered some shitty guys, some shitty games, and some shitty experiences before I learned what I was looking for, and more importantly what I am not looking for. When I was 18 I thought it was an ego boost to “win” the guy who was going after multiple girls; I believed all the talk even when the actions never came; I thought jealous or territorial behavior was a sign that he really cared; I had all kinds of misconceptions about physical expectations and my right to say No.
I wish I had valued myself more when I was 18, I wish I had respected myself more when I was 18, because then I could have taught all of those boys how to value and respect me as well. I wish I had more confidence and understood how awesome I was and that I didn’t feel like I needed to prove that or diminish in order to “win” a guy over. I wish I hadn’t measured my self-worth on whether or not a guy was in my life or not. Because once I loved myself the way I needed to be loved, once I stopped worrying about guys, once I really enjoyed who I am, I found a great guy who reflected all of that back to me. And I really realized how much energy I wasted on shitty guys.
Invest in Great Friendships
This is a lesson I feel I relearn every few years. Learning to distinguish between the quality friends and the people who are just using you is a life skill. Much like learning not to waste time on shitty guys, you have to learn not to waste time on shitty friends.
After college I realized I had a lot of party friends, but they weren’t solid friends. They were always too busy to help me move, every hang out was filled with booze, we drank to get drunk, gossip and drama ran wild. What once was a good time was quickly burning out, and I needed more from my friendships. So I started branching out, meeting people through hobbies rather than parties, investing in friendships that took root.
A few years back I realized I had a lot of one sided friendships that were draining a lot of energy out of me but they gave me no real support. People who would never commit to plans with me because what if something else came along, but then wanted me to drop whatever I was doing if Friday came around and they had no plans. People who took days to respond to text messages. People who, once I stopped reaching out to them we didn’t see each other any more.
I’ve gone through a couple of periods of refining my social circle in my twenties. And I think that is a very healthy part of growing up. Your good friends will always make themselves known, and they will always survive the refinement. Good friends aren’t flakey, they lift boxes, respond to texts, invite you out, know when your birthday is, and still know how to party. Distance isn’t a factor, schedules always work out, and simply spending time with you is good enough to be worth their time. When hard times come you are there for each other.
Learn to spot the good friends and be the good friend. The great friendships stand the test of time, define your twenties and beyond, and make life so much easier. Invest in friendships that go with you phase to phase, that live life with you, that define you life.
There is More to Life Than Work and Money
One thing about school that is both wonderful and incredibly misinforming about life is how structured everything is. Take these classes, in this order, and get this result. Everything is focused on getting a degree, a GPA, there is a formula and sequence to it all. And as long as you follow all the steps you get the prize. Then you graduate, the economy is shit, and the job market is flooded, and there is no clear set path to a prize and you realize you also have no idea what you actually want to do with life.
And that’s ok.
My early twenties were spent working multiple jobs to make ends meet, staying in jobs I hated because I needed the income, interviewing for endless jobs and getting no where. And at times I felt completely lost.
What I wish I had realized earlier is that life is about more than work and money. I wish I had realized the jobs I enjoyed the most were more about who I was working with rather than what I was doing. I wish I had thought out of the box more and challenged myself. I wish I had taken advantage of my years of just jobs and traveled more, lived abroad, and had more adventures. I wish rather than being discouraged by the lack of formula I had taken advantage of that. I am only just now realizing no one defines my future but me, and why can’t I retire at 40 and move to Italy? I’m only just now realizing all of those “wouldn’t that be fun” thoughts don’t have to be wishful thinking.
Try New Things
When I was 18 I was a very picky eater, I had never left the country, I had never traveled alone, I didn’t like wine. College was actually really great for pushing me out of my comfort zone on every level possible. The first time I studied abroad I was on a cay fourteen miles from shore, accommodating picky eaters wasn’t on their agenda, and so if I was hungry I had to eat what they made. And that’s when I learned that I actually enjoyed a lot of foods. I came back from that trip a changed person. I had caught the wanderlust bug and would voyage off on another study abroad trip eighteen months later (and eventually work in travel for three years) and I had a new found love for food.
In the last ten years, the more I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, the more I grew. Being open to trying new things, getting out of my comfort zone, has lead to many adventures around the world. I’ve met new people, found new hobbies, discovered new foods and drinks. The last ten years would have been very boring if I hadn’t pushed myself and gone after experiences that came my way.
What have the last ten years taught you about life?