During a recent move, I read through all of my old journals. Not those classic trivial middle school diaries, but cover-to-cover Moleskine's filled with messy cursive and red wine and coffee stains that I wrote between the ages of 18-23. It's amazing how at 18 I thought I had all the answers, but the past 10 years have taught me why I never needed them. It made me think about what I wish I could have told myself then so I could have just stopped writing and gone to bed. It made me think of what I would tell other young people who are stuck thinking life is formulaic like I once did. So before entering into my next decade of adulthood, I thought I'd share the 5 things that I wish I knew when I was 18.
1. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE WHEN EVERYONE ELSE IS
I remember panicking when people would tell me to live it up in college because 'these were the best days of my life!" Not because I agreed, but because I was worried that the OK time I was having was allegedly the best it was ever going to get. It took me too long to realize that not every conventional thing that's 'fun' had to be fun for me too. I really did love college; but for the friendships I made, the town I fell in love with, and the education I was provided that led me to my career. I remember feeling so self-conscious that the parts I liked the least were the parts other people seemed to be holding onto for dear life. But I never felt like myself at frat parties, I was so bored at football games, I thought I disappeared in large groups. None of those things are 'cool' to admit, and I feared I would isolate myself in opting out of these traditional ideas of collegiate fun. But I wish I could tell myself at 18 that those things that made me feel like I didn't belong in college are the very things that made me adapt really well to the real world.
Your environment in the next 10 years may not always lend itself to your strengths, but that doesn't mean you're weird. It doesn't mean people won't understand. A lot of the people I feared I would let down by not being fun enough are still my very good friends today. So if you feel out of place at some point, cherish it for what it is but don't overexert yourself by doing things that feel unnatural. Your time is coming, I promise. I remember when I first moved to New York, passing through Gramercy Park on my way home from work, with the Chrysler building in-view and Empire State of Mind on my headphones (forgive me, it was 2009), I thought to myself, "this is my football game." I may have been alone, and I may have been in a brand new place with nothing familiar, but I had never felt more alive.
2. FOR THE LOVE, DON'T BASE DECISIONS ON LOVE (YET)
When I was younger, I felt like I was constantly watching everyone else fall in love. I felt like no one ever gave me the time of day that I so badly wanted. But I wish I could go back and not take it all so personally. I wish I wouldn't have given other people so much power over my self-image. It sounds so irrational now why I would have ever wanted to be with someone who didn't want to be with me. In fact, it sounds awful. I wish I had understood that one of the most invaluable aspects of my happiness in my future relationship would be the time I spent alone. That the 'boyfriend girls' I so envied and the people who sneezed and got commitment will never know the depth of my appreciation for when I finally found someone worth it. I cannot express how thankful I am now for those pivotal years I was single and, as a result, did not make decisions based on someone else. I could write a personal thank you note to every guy who wasn't interested in me, because as a very emotional person, I could have very easily let love (had it been requited) define me at the time. And I'm not afraid to admit this, because I know there are a lot of you like me out there who place [distractingly] high value on personal relationships. What I will say is, single or taken, make decisions for yourself. You and your significant other can pursue your dreams in parallel without one having to make sacrifices too early. You'll either grow together or grow apart, and that in itself is telling if it's a meaningful relationship. In my limited experience, the best relationships aren't a result of everything aligning perfectly. The best relationships are when you actively choose each other, even when everything can't align perfectly, so don't spend all your time trying to force it.
3. THERE WILL COME A DAY WHEN ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS HANG OUT WITH YOUR PARENTS
Oh man, as I sit here and write this, I dream about eating my mom's beef stroganoff on Sundays, watching the Bachelor with my dad on Mondays so I can hear his outrageous commentary about how he would NEVER give someone permission to propose to me on a hometown date. I want to just hang out with the two people in the world that I can be the most unapologetic version of myself because they’ve seen it all. There will come a day when you actively avoid making plans with your friends to go home to your comfy bed, but unlike when you were a teenager, your mom actively encourages you to sleep in and take up space. I can't emphasize enough what it does for your soul to spend a week of PTO posted up on your parents' couch, drinking chocolate milk, eating out of Costco snack tubs and watching unhealthy amounts of TV. Sometimes all I need in life is for someone to make me a sandwich and tell me they're proud of me. So trust me, save your money and go home, because Cabo's got nothing on Spring Break: Suburbia.
There will also come a time where you may notice that you are starting to agree on less and less, but those are the conversations that will make you respect them more and more. Because I may not have inherited their opinions on every topic, but I did inherit qualities from them that are far more important; having a mind of my own, being honest, and doing what's best for myself. And even though disappointing them is the worst thing in the world, it can be what you learn the most from; sometimes it takes experiencing their unconditional support firsthand in order to move forward more fearlessly. So embrace the changes as your parents transition from managers to consultants. Rely on their moral compass to direct you when yours isn't sure where to go, channel their faith in you to accomplish anything when it's time to branch out. But most of all, be nice to them. Because as independent and fierce as you think you are, you are also their baby. I'm not a parent yet, but I have a niece and nephews that I love very much, and the thought of them being too cool for me makes me die a little inside.
4. RESUMES CAN GET YOU IN THE DOOR, PERSONALITY KEEPS YOU THERE
I'll never forget in college when on-campus recruiting came around, I just wanted to crawl in my shell. I had a decent GPA, but I didn't have internship experience and I wasn't involved in a ton of extracurricular activities. I just figured that the people who spent all their time in the library and held leadership positions got the jobs. Feeling unenergized by all the potential rejections, I decided not to go to the career fair, but thankfully my friend Hannah knocked some sense into me, helped me print out some last minute resumes and brought me along with her. That career fair turned out to be the single most pivotal day of my adult life, not just because of who I met, but also because of what I learned about myself. I learned that when I was talking to intimidating recruiters, I could find common ground and create a meaningful conversation. When I was able to articulate my experience rather than have someone read it, I was able to keep people engaged and I'd get asked back. At the time, I didn't really understand what was going on; when I started to get second interviews over other people, I almost wanted to make sure there wasn't a clerical error. But I ended up getting the most incredible job out of college from a person I met that day. We barely talked about the job; we talked about the life lessons we learned studying abroad, exchanged funny stories about a mutual professor, and talked about how we'd both love to work in marketing for a social cause one day (side note: I probably should've said I wanted to work for her company one day).
You'll soon learn that in the business world, interpersonal skills are everything. Working hard and job performance are too, but I do feel like my social IQ got me to a place my regular IQ couldn't. I didn't truly understand this until I was on the other side and started interviewing people. After seeing a pile of people who had the same basic qualifications, I realized I wanted to work with someone likable and who I could spend long hours with. Someone who worked well with others that was quietly confident instead of arrogant or entitled. Someone with the humility to admit they don't know it all but the gumption to figure it out if it's the last thing they do. So don't confuse professionalism with having to shed your personality or act like you're something you're not. There are times in life when a genuine human connection leads you to incredible friends, mentors, and sponsors that get you much farther than you could on your own. You never know what qualities an employer prioritizes and who will see a little of themselves in you, so as cliché as it sounds, always be yourself.
5. LIFE KEEPS GETTING BETTER
Unlike the naysaying alumni that told me to never graduate, my mom has always told me that no matter what, life gets better. She likened it to those line charts on my dad's stock shows that display constant ups and downs but have a positive slope overall. Even when it seems down, you're always better off from where you started. I'm not sure I really believed this until recently, as the anxiety of where your personal and professional life will take you can make the future seem bleak. But I honestly can't look back and say I wish I was in another time. And I honestly can't look forward and say I'm not excited for what's to come. Because the older you get, the less it becomes about you, and in a weird way it's a lot more satisfying. In your 20s, career success seems to be the barometer of self-worth for so many people, myself included. But it gets really old to only think about yourself, and it's really hard to find contentment in professional feats alone. I'm not even sure if I would ever allow myself be truly career content because I'll just keep raising my own bar. It's the self-sabotaging cycle of the ambitious. However, as time goes on, I feel so much happier when I'm directing my energy elsewhere; whether to my future spouse, family, friends, or greater causes.
And don't even get me started on how wrong I was about kids when I was 18. I spent 25 years actively avoiding all children, but my entire view of life was overhauled when my first nephew was born. It's completely different when they're related to you. When my life was struggling to excite me, I realized I had never known joy like watching someone else's life begin. Someone who is learning everything for the first time, who makes every stray acorn and passing fire truck and bunny-shaped pancake seem like it's the best thing that ever happened to them. It's the little things like that that remind me life only gets better; whether spending time with kids, getting to mentor young people, or having a passion project that's your baby (mine is!), helping someone or something grow gives you new life.
So new adults of the world, I know it's incredibly daunting to find a job you love and marriage is a lot of work and kids are expensive and there are a million reasons to feel nervous about getting older, but there are also a million and one reasons to feel excited about getting older. Trust that one day you'll look back through your 'journal' (AKA probably do a search through your gchat history) and realize you wouldn't trade where you are for the world.
And for the record, here are a few that didn't make the cut:
6. You can't pull off gauchos.
7. I know you're trying to be healthy, but iceberg lettuce with 2 ladles of ranch does not a salad make.
8. That new thing called TheFacebook will immortalize all of the embarrassing moments of your youth. Post wisely.
What would you tell yourself?