It’s been 10 years since I’ve graduated from high school. I went to college. I made mistakes. I got married. I made mistakes. I got divorced. I made mistakes. I had a successful career. I made mistakes. I had great people in my life. I made mistakes. I guess you could look at this like I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Well, you’re right. But each one has made me who I am today. Sure, some were hard, but so is life. Ten years has made me a lot wiser (thank god). As you get ready to embark on this real world journey, you will make mistakes too. And no matter what I say, you will inevitably make some of the same ones that I have. But maybe, just maybe, I can help you circumvent just one of those. So here goes…
Do what makes you happy. Not your parents, your spouse, or your boss. People will push you to do the things they regret not doing themselves. But that vicarious thrill is short-lived and puts your life in the hands of others. At the end of the day, you’ll never feel complete if you are living on the empty dreams of someone else.
Start at the bottom. Don’t expect to walk into a job at the executive level five days after graduating from college. You will have to work, and harder than you’ve ever known. You may think a job is “beneath you”, but trust me—you will never have the respect of those who work for you if you aren’t willing to do everything you ask of them. Getting your foot in the door with a great company can open up many opportunities, and with a little time and a lot of elbow grease, you can get to the “top”. But just remember—the ceiling is endless, and there will always be somewhere to climb from there.
Make the most of the hard stuff. So you’ve had a rough life. Get over it. Today you start fresh, and it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from. People who have dealt with difficult situations have two choices: you can let it drag you down forever, or you can choose to use it to make you stronger. I suggest the latter. Wallowing in self-pity is a destructive mindset, and it has a habit of following you wherever you go.
Put money away. Sure, it may not be a lot at first. But squirreling away just a few dollars at a time early on will prevent you from playing catch-up later. Consider splitting up your direct deposit so a percentage from each paycheck automatically goes to your savings account. Since the money never even reaches your checking account, it’ll be easier to resist spending it all. Five years from now, you will be amazed at how much you’ve managed to save.
Don’t ever take no for an answer. Maybe it’s human nature, but people will always be looking for an opportunity to knock you down and shut you out. Don’t let it. If you truly believe in what you are doing, and it’s legal, then put your whole heart into it and don’t look back. Sure, it might be hard. Sure, it might be an uphill battle. But if success was easy, wouldn’t everyone have it?
Know what your values are, and live by them. No matter what, stick to what you believe in. There will be more opportunities to compromise your values than there will be to exercise them. It may look like a good idea at the time, and it may seem like an easier path, but it’s not who you are. Don’t fold to the pressure. Trust me, you’ll be glad you stuck to your guns.
Ditch the smartphone and actually talk to people. Here’s a newsflash for you: all those people on your media feed are not your friend. Between social networking, texting, and email we have been given a false sense of importance that lives and dies in that device in the palm of your hand. Get your butt out to networking events, and have conversations with people mano a mano. Nothing can replace the power of human interaction, not even Siri.
Plan your vacations in advance. If you wait to see what your schedule is going to look like six months from now, you’ll never take it. There will always be a reason as to why this just isn’t a good time. By scheduling in advance, you will ensure your much needed getaway without feeling guilty. And while you’re there—enjoy it. Unplug from your email and take the time you desperately need to recharge. Otherwise when you return, you’ll be left feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.
Find a hobby, or better yet, hobbies. Yes, work and life obligations will take up a lot of your time. But what are you going to do to unwind? You need something that is not obligatory to be able to reflect on yourself and where you currently stand. Don’t underestimate the power of gardening, 4-wheeling, or cooking. I’ve found a strange solace in chopping vegetables for dinner at the end of the day. And I think you will too.
Don’t settle. For anything or anyone. How can you soar when someone else is always sitting on your wings? Which brings me to my next point…
Know what you’re worth. I know I said that it’s okay to start at the bottom. But it doesn’t mean that you should spend the next 10 years there. If your boss is a jerk, move on. If your partner brings you down, then it’s time to re-evaluate your situation. We all have to pay our dues. But we don’t need to keep adding to a virtual piggy bank with a hole in the bottom. You should get out what you put in.
Find your soul mate. Marry for love, and not for anything else. Don’t do it because it’s the “next step”, or you’re getting “older”, or your parents or partner want you to do it. Find that person that makes you feel upside down and gives you butterflies… every single time you see them. Any other reason will eventually fade away, as will your feelings.
Set goals, and keep raising the bar. Keep a journal of the things you want to accomplish. As you achieve them, build upon them and continue to push. Having a physical record of your goals will help keep them in your line of vision. I love looking back at the goals I set a year ago, and checking them off with a huge smile on my face.
Forgive but never forget. People will disappoint you. It’s inevitable. But holding a grudge takes way more energy than letting it go. Harboring all that resentment will eat you alive, and for no good reason. Forgive them, for whatever they did. But don’t ever forget it, because next time you’ll be prepared if and when they strike again.
Stop trying to get it right the first time. Just because you end up in a career that has nothing to do with your college major doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. I know very few people that knew what they wanted to do at eight years old and they actually went on to do it for a lifetime. If you happen to be one of those people, congratulations! But I believe that the side roads we sometimes take lead to a road that we may have never known otherwise. And the adventure is half the fun.
Keep your friends. I know that life is busy, but make time for the important people in your life. Your boyfriend may be great, but if you keep ditching your friends to hang out with him, who is going to be there when he’s gone? Hold on to those people who are honored enough to be called your friends, because they will be with you for the long haul. Through good times and bad, a true friend will be beside you in the trenches.
Love your family. Sure, your brother is a pain, your mom calls too many times a day, and your dad still protects you like you are fifteen. But they love you. And if tomorrow morning you woke up and they were no longer here, you would give anything to have them back. We never know what life will bring, so I think Journey put it best: You’ve got to hold on to what you’ve got.
Cut the fat from your life. Just as there are loving, important people in your life, there are also the drainers. You know who I’m talking about—the kind of person that drains you of everything you have and has nothing to offer you. These people are self-centered, and downright exhausting. Get rid of them. They will probably never change, and you are better off without them.
Believe in a “higher power”. I’m not implying that you have to be religious and go to church every week. But stuff is going to happen. And when it does, you will want to talk to something. You will want to believe in something. I don’t care if it’s the sun or that figurine on your dresser—you’ll be glad you have it when you need it.
Lead by example. The best way to get others to follow suit is to show them how it’s done. Set a good example. Whether it be for your kids, your employees, or the neighbor next door who loves to accidently forget their trash in the hallway. You will get a better return on your efforts by practicing what you preach.
Stop getting in your own way. When everything is going great, you start to wonder, “What’s wrong here?”. The answer—nothing. It’s okay for things to go right for you! Sometimes we psych ourselves out so much that we don’t believe that things can actually be that good. Ditch those beliefs and embrace what you’ve got. You are the only thing stopping you from being happy.
Get a mentor. Identify those who inspire you and seek them out for advice. Most people are happy to share their successes, and the great ones are even willing to share their failures. Take it all in, and use those examples when you are facing similar challenges in your own life. And then, when the opportunity arises, be a mentor to someone else. Just as you were able to benefit from the teachings of your inspiration, they will learn from you.
Never forget where you came from. As you continue to climb that ladder of success, as you undoubtedly will, remember that you weren’t born there. Remember all the people along the way who supported you through your celebrations and stumbling blocks. Don’t forget what it’s like to live on ramen noodles in your college dorm room. And above all, never let anyone else convince you that your “old friends” are no longer cool enough for you. Because they are. They saw the awesomeness in you before anyone else did.
Give back. Look for opportunities that fit in with your busy lifestyle. Whether you volunteer at the local youth club one day a week, or participate in a charity event once a month, find the time to share your blessings with others. You never know what life is going to bring, and if and when you are faced with hardship, you will be forever grateful to those who step-up to help you.
Everyone has the same amount of time. I’m so tired of hearing the excuse that someone is just so busy. Yes, they work. I do too. Yes, they have family obligations. I do too. My point is, that at the end of the day, there is one thing that we all have the exact same amount of: time. There are 24 hours in a day. How you choose to spend those hours is up to you. But don’t fall into the trap of believing that you are the only one with a busy life and everyone else has more time. Because they don’t.
Look presentable. My Grandmother used to say: “Never leave the house undone because you never know who you might run in to.” Your outside appearance is a reflection of how you view yourself. That doesn’t mean that you have to be in full makeup and formal attire, but avoid the “I just rolled out of bed” look. It might just be the grocery store, but you never know where you are going to meet people.
Take care of yourself. When we are young, we feel as if we are invincible. But those years of hard partying and neglecting your health will catch up to you. Incorporate regular, physical exercise in your life, and fuel your body with the nutrients it needs. Go for regular doctors visits, and don’t ignore symptoms when they arise. You’ve got so much to offer this world, and we want you around for the long haul.
Stop worrying about everyone else. You can’t live your life based on fear of what others might think. And honestly, most people don’t care about what you are doing as much as you may believe. Staying in a career or relationship because you are afraid that someone may view you as a failure is as stupid as entering into these ventures because you think everyone will view you as a success. People have their own problems to worry about, leaving them little time to worry about yours.
Turn off the news. Staying abreast of current events is important. But watching the news channel for two hours every night when you return home is not going to help you unwind. The media is riddled with stories of horror and tragedy, dim outlooks, and negative studies. I used to keep on the news in the background whenever I was home. I started to think that the world was in shambles, there was no good left in humanity, and the apocalypse was coming next Tuesday. Catch up on the headlines and make note of important situations. But don’t let it suck you in. And often times, you’ll find that skipping a few days is like missing a week of your favorite soap opera—you’ll be able to pick up where you left off like you never missed it in the first place.
Keep perspective. You will experience a wide range of powerful emotions. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when the work is piling up and you are struggling to stay afloat. You will swear that today is the worst day ever…at least 100 times. Remember the day your mom forgot to wash your blue shirt for spirit day and you thought your high school career was over? Well, you survived that. And you’ll survive this stuff too. Count your blessings and be grateful for what you have. Your blood pressure will thank you later.
Bottom Line: Life is hard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. But it can also be incredibly rewarding and exhilarating. You will celebrate many milestones in your adulthood, and sometimes, grieve tragedies. But keeping your head straight and your heart full will no doubt carry you through the hard times and help you heal faster. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. It’s up to you how you decide to live it.
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