Advice To Myself At 18-Years-Old

Last Friday G and I were leaving the county clerk’s office to apply for our marriage license when we ran into one of my high school teachers. Even though I graduated eight years ago (O.M.G. has it truly been that long ago?!) we recognized one another right away. Partly due to me working for him at summer camp for several years, but also because I come from a high school boasting an average of 30 graduating students each year. In other words, there aren’t that many students to forget.

After a bit of catching up, I asked him how his school year had gone and how many more days until summer break. I don’t keep up with my old high school so I was surprised to hear the senior class would be graduating the next day. The whole encounter had me vaguely reminiscing on the past and all the changes which have happened since I stood on the stage myself in my cap and gown.

Then today my Facebook’s daily memory was of my graduation. Looking through my FB photo album of that day in 2010 had so many memories flowing.  I could recall the feelings on that day: the fears of the future, the thrill of college looming, the excitement of my first summer as an “adult.” It was like looking into the life of a stranger. There have been many lessons learned since that day. So many experiences have brought me to where I am today and molded me into this 26-year-old Ashley.

The memories continued as I was lazily scrolling one of my nightly go-to apps and came across a great question posted by RobbeVermont. The user asked,  “What is something you wished you knew when you were 18 years old?” And as I read through the vast majority of the 10,800+ comments I realized so many of the life advice being provided were 110% on the money. Pulling all three discoveries together — the run-in with my teacher, the flashback of my graduation, and this Reddit question — I started listing a few key topics I wished I’d known upon leaving high school and considered what difference hearing that advice as an 18-year-old would have made. Perhaps none, but then again, maybe some…

You’re going to make mistakes, and that is okay.

Mistakes are a daily way of life for everyone whether they want to fess or not. Every day you are going to make a decision that may or may not work out in the way you intended. You might hurt someone’s feelings or say something without thinking or forget an important to-do item that causes stress to you or someone or something further down the line of time. The only daily guarantee is that every single person on this planet is not omniscient when it comes to how Life works.

This can be a humbling thought: that no matter how much experience or knowledge you receive, there will always be something you know nothing about. However, this can also be empowering. Use your lack of skill to better yourself, better those around you, and better the world. Making mistakes teaches you a new lesson every single time. Don’t get down on yourself for not being perfect because no one in this world is! Learning and teaching is an ongoing struggle, so throw yourself into the fight.

Apply yourself in the present and let the future worry about itself (especially if you choose the college track.)

I was that student in high school who skated through. Every class was easy for me and I excelled. By the time I made it to college though, I was tired of school. I was tired of homework and reading textbooks and listening to boring lectures that did not apply to my future aspirations. I was just plain tired of the norm I’d played for the past twelve years.

College could care less if I was tired though. College is the metaphoric high school bully who beats you up, laughs at you, and steals your lunch money. Except the beating lasts at least four years, the laughing can follow you through your career path, and your lunch money is thousands of dollars for a paper certificate. High school can never fully prepare you for what college is about to do to your health, sanity, and wallet.

Looking back, I realize I held a high disregard when it came to college. I was tired of school so I did not care about my college career. I didn’t apply myself while in college. In high school, I was the “the know-it-all” who could study five minutes for an exam and pass with flying colors and I expected the same results once I started at my university. However, college requires you to actually apply yourself and study and work hard. My main concern became my future — what would be my career, where would I end up, who would I be with, and how would I pay for it all. My current courses, and ultimately my present grades, took second seat to the future because I relied too heavily on my past successes.

If I could go back in time, I’d do everything differently. I would apply myself completely in every single one of my classes because each adds up in the long run. If you drop or fail one course in your early years of college, it is a big deal. Not only do you lose GPA status (which is incredibly important when job seeking or applying for graduate school), but you also lose credits necessary for graduation AND money for those credits. Can I express the importance of money in adulthood? The vast majority of college students come into their minimum-paying careers with $50,000 or more in student debt. Do not increase that debt by giving up credits or prolonging your graduation by forcing yourself into more semesters of college. Seriously. Be mindful of your present situation and go into college knowing every credit, class, homework, exam, extracurricular, etc. are preparing you for the best future possible.

Time moves at an alarming speed, so enjoy what moments you have.

They say time flies when you’re having fun. These last nine months of my engagement have flown for sure. But before I was engaged, time still flew through both the good and bad times. It seemed once I graduated high school, time started to slip by faster and faster. Sometimes I wonder where that time has gone, but then I reflect on all I’ve gone through and am thankful for each and every minute. Some were happy, some were sad, but all have helped me become who I am today.

Do not rush anything in your life. Enjoy the good times, learn from the bad times, and embrace everything in between. Everything shifts and changes, people come and go, and the memories we have of our time spent in this world are what we have to hold onto.  Remember we’re all given only a certain amount of seconds during our lifetimes, so why push any faster than another? Relish every second!

And relish every person who shares your time with you. Those in your life are what are most important, not the adventures, toys, or anything else. Tell your loved ones you love them because today will never come again and you are not promised tomorrow.

Heartbreak is a part of life. Use the situation to better yourself and your life.

Another constant in Life: you’re going to be hurt. Again and again and again. One of the pieces of marriage advice which G and I have been told multiple times (and depresses me each time I hear it) is even in marriage you’re going to have your heart broken. In any relationship where two imperfect individuals interact there is going to have differing opinions, beliefs, and backgrounds. You will never see eye-to-eye on every subject and that means someone is bound to be hurt somewhere along the line.

When I graduated high school, I also entered into a new romantic relationship. My first relationship actually. And over the past eight years I have had my heart broken by my first love, my second love, my third, and so many others. Heartbreak sucks, but heartache is a very real part of Life that we all must pass through.

One of the best pieces of advice I could give my 18-year-old self is each time your heart is broken use the situation to better yourself and your life. It was not until after my first break up that I began to discover who I am as a person. I was forced out of my comfort zones to make those discoveries, but that shove into reality was exactly what I needed. I found my courage and flexibility and fierce independence. I learned what I wanted for myself without the shadow of someone else in my mind. I tried new hobbies and met new people and placed myself into new situations all to discover who I wanted to be and what made me tick.

And most of all, I learned to love myself, something which you must do before you honestly and unconditionally love someone else.

In the same way I fell in love with myself, I also learned a lot of my faults through reflection of failed relationships. It is easy to look back on your exes and call them out for what they did wrong, but it’s much harder to reveal your own mistakes and failures. But you know what? You have them.

When I look back on my relationship with X, I realize I was too dependent on my significant other and was demanding on my expectations for him. When I look back on Wilbur, I see how I allowed myself to be quiet on topics that deeply hurt me and cast a blind eye to the reality of the relationship. Light has been shed on issues I had never noticed during the relationships. Issues either in my own personality or in the make-up of the relationship. As I’ve come to take responsibility for my own faults, I can work to better myself to not only have a happy life but also a healthy relationship with G. And that is worth the heartaches of my past, and the heartbreaks of my future — knowing I’m continuously growing and moving forward to be the best person I can be for my loved ones.

Also, remember relationships do not necessarily mean romantic. Relationships can be friendships, partnerships, colleagues relations, etc. All of the above are going to break your heart in some way and it is on you for your reactions and transformation. (Which brings me back to #1 above in that we all make mistakes. Live and learn, friend, none of us are perfect in this process.)

High school really isn’t that important.

In the end, I wish I would have known at 18 that high school doesn’t have a huge impact on the person I am today or the position I am in now. I was the stigma of a nerd in high school, but I was also a hopeless romantic with low self-esteem and no clue on where I wanted to go in my future. My closest friends in high school contact me maybe once or twice a year nowadays with the exception of Saki, who is my monthly wine date. I have no urge to return to my high school for alumni sporting events or host a class reunion or any other nostalgic reason. High school is strictly a short, four-year blurb in the past. A blink in your life, honestly.

Once you leave high school, you begin again. You start fresh in college or trade school or a career. High school labels stay in the past and you can create the persona for which you want to be known for the future and the things you did in high school no longer matter. If you were homecoming queen or a spectator in the stands, if you were valedictorian or 150th in your class, if you shot baskets or skipped classes or played trumpet or, or, or… None of that matters once you graduate. You’re now a nobody who can make a new name for yourself and become who you want.

So enjoy the celebrations and your summer before launching into the next stage of Life. Make memories, make mistakes, and most of all, make yourself who you want to be.

And for my personal favorite piece of advice shared on the AskReddit thread:

It doesn’t get easier. You get better. – mastercadium

Life never gets easier. The trials you had in high school will be replaced with trials of college or work or relationships or simple Life. It’s just a fact. So work with what you have and learn from every experience to become the best person you can. That’s the Human Project after all, right? We’re all just rambling through Life with no clue on how to obtain the ultimate goal, but we’ll get there though, friends. We aren’t alone in our attempts and we all have people to help support us, encourage us, and teach us.

Love the Life you have and know high school were not the best years — those are yet to come!

Is there anything you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self? What is it?Please feel free to share here or on RobbeVermont’s growing thread. You never know who is reading and who may need that little nugget of advice as they begin their adult life.

Warmest wishes for a happy Life, blogosphere, 

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