Dear Graduates of 2015 (and beyond),
Seventeen (17!) years ago TODAY, I graduated high school. Yes, that’s right. When I was 18 – you were being born. Yes, I’m old. Old enough to know a few things, but not too old to be a fuddy duddy. (Wait, does using the phrase fuddy duddy make me one? Whatever. I’m not that old.) I’m here to fill you in on a few things that will happen or are necessities now that you are full grown adults. And yes, you are. Your parents probably won’t see you that way for awhile, but that’s why I’m here.
I know right now you’re probably rolling your eyes because another “adult” wants to give you advice. That’s fine. Just know that when you are almost 36, lots of 18 year olds are going to be rolling their eyes at you too. Karma is like that.
Lets get down to business, shall we?
1. Have a plan, but be willing to let it grow and change, or let it go – sometimes plan B is better than plan A
Look, I get it. Right now everyone expects you to be making big plans. You probably already have. You most likely know what you want to do when you graduate from college (though as an aside: if you don’t, that’s fine too – DO NOT let the “adults” around you pressure you, you will figure it out in your own time). You might even know when you want to get married and have kids. Good for you.
When I graduated high school I had a great plan. I was going to graduate and start teaching at 22; be married by 24 and have my two children at 26 and 28 respectively. Yeah…that didn’t happen. Today my life looks completely different than I had planned. And you know what? I’m fine with that. It took some convincing, but I’m trying to save you some time here. If your plan goes off the trail, follow the new one and see where it takes you.
For me, I ended up in a state I didn’t know much about, married to a man I met online at 19 and didn’t meet in person until I was 21. I don’t teach anymore. I don’t have kids (yet, anyway).
Guess what? Plan B has been so much better than my plan probably would have been. Give Plan B a try if you end up there.
2. The real world isn’t a popularity contest
Ah high school. It sucks. No really. A bunch of adults probably wistfully told you that these were the best years of your life and you should take advantage of them. Really? High school is filled with drama. Filled. Who is dating who, who has the best car/clothes/family/friends, etc. The popular crowd seemed to have it all together and if you are anything like I was that made you feel a little lost.
Guess what? REAL LIFE DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. I can’t stress that enough. Out here in the real world, no one cares if you were prom queen. (Though I can tell you that there are people you are graduating with today who honestly believe that will still matter and they will still be living high school at your 10 year reunion. Don’t be those people. No one wants to see the 38 year old at the club. Really.)
Your boss will not give one crap about what crew you hung out with in high school. You won’t get the job because you were pretty. Cheerleaders don’t get some free pass to an easy life.
If you are like me, know this – nerds kind of rule the world. The kids who didn’t fit in are now the most interesting people on the planet. Vapid “cool” girls are still vapid in their 30s unless they’ve figured something out and stopped caring about persona. Be you. Don’t worry about being popular. It gets you nowhere.
3. Pay your dues and be willing to work
I’m going to be honest here. You probably already know this, but older generations tend to look at the ones coming up behind us and think “Man, these kids are so self-absorbed, entitled and lazy.” It’s just a habit of getting older I think. But there is some value in knowing that. When you get out in the work force prove us wrong. Be willing to work an entry level job. Why? Because unless you are really lucky, no one is going to make you CEO on your first day, month or year at the office. Be humble. Accept the crap work and be fabulous at it. Work your butt off. Prove that you deserve to be there and work for the job you want not the crappy one you have. Seriously. You will be recognized for your work faster than anything else. If you prove you are dependable and hard working you will get promoted. It just takes time. Let it take time. Find one awesome thing to gain from each position you take and use it. When the next position comes (and it will, and it will be so much better) you’ll be ready.
Don’t be entitled. The world, and your bosses, don’t owe you anything. Even a paycheck.
4. In a year/ten years your life won’t look the same.
No one said this to me until I was in my late 20s and honestly, it’s probably the best bit of advice I’ve ever received. Life isn’t always going to be amazing. Sorry, but it’s true. Some years are going to suck. You’ll be broke. You’ll get dumped. You’ll lose a parent. These things happen and they blow. But in a year, your life will be different. Focus on that. Know that just about everything changes with time. All those crappy things go away, you adjust and you’re better off because of them. Focus on the next. I promise things will get better.
5. You’ll never really feel like a grown up, you’ll feel like an adult at times, but never like a grown up
OK I really, really hate to burst your bubble here, but you’ll never feel like a grown up. I’m almost 36 and…I still feel your age. Seriously. Yeah, I feel like an adult when I have to pay bills, or take my car into the shop or work when I really don’t feel like it. But as for feeling like a grown up? Nope. If you think that one day you’ll magically wake up and have it all together like your parents do, uh, it won’t happen. Why? Your parents don’t either. I’m betting that sometimes they feel like a fraud and wonder why they don’t seem more grown up like their parents. See what I’m getting at here? You’ll do adult things, but you’ll never be “grown up”. No one is. It’s a lie.
6. Facebook changes everything about graduation
I can remember my AP English teacher sitting with us just a few days before graduation and telling us that we would probably never see the bulk of these people around us again. Sure, we’d have a few good friends we’d stay in contact with, but for the most part, we’d never see 95% of the people in our graduating class again. Even factoring in reunions.
Sorry kids, but you don’t have that luxury. Facebook has changed everything for you. Will you even need reunions? I doubt it. You’ll likely stay in touch with a large part of your friends from middle and high school. That’s just the world we live in now. On my friends list I have like, half of my high school class. People who were in the mega popular crowd who barely spoke to me even. It’s strange.
Here’s the thing though. Know that going forward you don’t have to associate with people who treat you like crap. Those people in high school who didn’t give you the time of day, but who made a point of having you on their friends list to inflate numbers? Yeah you don’t need them in your life. From now on YOU get to choose your family. (And yes, friends are family – you’ll find that out very, very soon) You get to choose who you let use up the real estate of your life. Be careful of that. Protect that real estate. Ain’t nobody got time for drama in the real world. It’s OK to let those crappy people go.
7. You will blink and find yourself at your 10/20 year reunion…go – schadenfreude is cathartic
Time flies when you’re having fun. It flies faster with each birthday. I’m not making that up. You won’t believe me right now, but bookmark this and come back when you’re 36. You can tell me then. I literally just blinked and it went from Christmas to summer. I imagine when you’re 80 years are just one blink – maybe half.
That said, you’re going to find yourself with a 10 Year Reunion invitation in like two blinks. You will not know where the time went and you’re going to question whether or not you should even go.
Do me a favor. GO.
In case you aren’t familiar with the term, schadenfreude is German. It means happiness at the misfortune of others (leave it to the Germans…). I promise you that there is at least one person who made you their target all four years of high school that’s going to go. Guess what? They are probably still failing at life. Go and take your 5 minutes of pleasure in seeing them fat, balding and sad (and probably still living their glory days – they are the old creeper at the club). Yeah, I know that sounds horrible. But I truly believe you need it for closure. You need it for validation that they were just crappy and you don’t need them in life and you don’t need their approval to feel good about yourself. Go, have your one drink, see the circus and then get the heck out of there.
8. Take care of yourself and your mental health
Not to scare you (ok, maybe to scare you just a little…) but your body is going to start rejecting you at 25. Your skin is going to start to change. It’s weird. I can’t explain it. You’ll just have to believe me. At 30 you’ll probably start getting pimples again. (It’s annoying. Buy some good pimple cream and deal with it. Next year things won’t be the same, remember?) By 35 you will not be able to handle a hangover anymore, not that you’ll want to, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Start taking care of yourself now. Wear sunscreen and moisturizer.
And take care of your mental health. No one talks about that, but seriously. Your brain is important. Pay attention to your stress level, even now as you go into college. Learn to relax. Learn to be away from your phone and the computer and the TV and just unplug. Learn to be quiet and enjoy a lack of noise. I promise life is better if you do.
9. There will be a time when naps and nights in are waaaaaay better than partying. Embrace it.
Parties are awesome. Drinking (responsibly) is fun. Clubs are great if you’re into that. But there will come a time where you’ll be in your PJs at like 8:30 and for a split second you’ll think “Man, this is sad.” and then right after that you’ll think “NO WAY. THIS IS AWESOME.” Embrace the yoga pants and the pajamas and Netflix with ice cream. Take naps. Seriously, you spend most of your life wanting to PAR-TAY but eventually a nap is going to sound awesome. And they are. Enjoy that.
I couldn’t think of a clever way to say this one, sorry. There are going to be times when you have it and times when you don’t. My best advice is to try not to go into debt. Everywhere you turn on campus for the next four years, someone is going to be offering you free swag if you sign up for a credit card. DON’T.
Have one credit card. Use it for emergencies, not pizza.
Pay cash for things as much as you can.
Take control of your money and learn to budget. I’m sorry to say that high school probably didn’t prepare you for that. It should’ve. That’s our bad.
Don’t spend money to impress people. Don’t buy “stuff”, buy experiences. Save up for the expensive stuff you want – delayed gratification isn’t a bad thing despite what society is throwing at you on a daily basis. Yes, it’s awesome to have the expensive stuff your friends do. But your friends are going to be saddled with student loans and credit card bills the size of a state budget when you graduate- broke from the start – still want to be like them? Didn’t think so.
11. Lastly, life is what you make it. Yes, that makes me sound like an old lady. But it’s true.
Look, the bottom line is that you are now the captain of this ship. Even now, at 18. Your parents have a little pull if they’re paying your college tuition, but even the college or university you attend can’t share information with them. Even your grades. It’s illegal. Now that you aren’t a minor it’s all on you. So in ten years, your life is what you will have crafted. You can’t blame your parents or your friends or society or life. Sorry. It’s all on you.
Make sure you get what you want. And have fun in the process. Remember, you’re only as old as you feel and I still feel 18. And I own this.
Now go kick ass.