Advice for my 18 or 25 or 30 year old self...
A note to my younger self... and to my daughters...and to their friends... and to anyone figuring out their place in the world.
Things I wish I'd known when I was 16, or 18, or 25, or 30.
(My own kids naturally don't always like to take advice from their mom, but maybe someone else will find some helpful nuggets here!)
A FEW THINGS I WISH I'D KNOWN...
Life is a journey, not a destination. A cliche, yes, but a good one. Life isn't something to be figured out, and your future isn't a problem waiting to be solved. We're all just journeying along, learning as we go, trying things, and looking for ways to make a difference and enjoy life.
You don't have to figure it all out. Just figure out today. What feels like the best choice for today? What will help you to feel happy, productive, helpful and GOOD today? Do that. Don't worry about next week or next year. (Well, unless there's a deadline next week, then work a bit on that.)
You don't have to choose a career. What?? Isn't that what adulthood is about? I'd say no. Some people will choose a career and stick with it forever, sure. But some people will do lots of different things in their lifetime. Neither choice is wrong. So remove that pressure from yourself. Asking a 16 or 18 year old student to make a decision about what they will do with their whole life is ridiculous. A few of us know at 18 what we want to spend our life doing, but not many. Just learn and grow and follow your interests. Take the next step in your path. Who knows where it will lead? You don't have to have it figured out, and you might be happier if you don't. Removing some of the pressure can open our minds and hearts to new possibilities.
Wherever you are right now, it's not a mistake, even if it feels wrong. Time spent learning is never wasted. Feel like college sucks? That's ok. Maybe it does. Maybe your major doesn't feel right. Maybe college isn't a good fit for your path, or maybe this isn't the right time. Maybe your job is mind-numbing or toxic or just icky. That's ok. Do the best you can today, where you are. Sometimes we can change directions easily, and sometimes we've gotta wade through a little more of the spot we're in before shifting gears. If you can't make a change right now, just do your best today. Working on things that are hard or uninteresting will help to build your resilience and the muscles of self-discipline. So this time won't be wasted, even if the content is miserable. Build up your self image of being a person who can do hard things...you never know what opportunity could cross your path.
If you're feeling down, that's ok. We all have down days. Some of us have more down days than others. Some of us with really happy, excited personalities also have some really low, yucky days. That feels weird and wrong. But it's not. Some people are more even-keeled. And some of us are more like a roller coaster. So we brighten the world on our up days, and we have to learn how to manage the low spots. Sometimes taking a walk, getting fresh air, journaling, or a glass of water can jump start things. It can boost us just enough to find the self discipline to tackle the to-do list on the down days. But sometimes our minds just can't overcome our thoughts or doubts or fears or overwhelm. Then we need to talk to someone and add some tools to our toolbox. A friend, a parent, a doctor, a counselor, a therapist, a coach. Talk it through. Sometimes our bodies need some medication to help manage things. That's ok too, and it's more common than you think. Don't let your struggles define you. Work on solutions, learn, grow. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Learn new ways to help your mind stay healthy so that you are better equipped to manage the stress that life will bring.
Time spent learning about yourself is just as important as time spent learning about whatever subject your school assigns for you. Some of us are able to do the same kind of work for our whole lives. Some of us thrive on new ideas and change. Some of us can sit at a desk and some of us need a change of scenery. Some of us work with our hands and some of us can create brilliant virtual content. There's room for all kinds, and all of us are valuable. Learn what kind of person you are. Learn about your personality type and your tendencies. Learn what makes you tick and sets your soul on fire. Learn what annoys you and bores you. Putting together all these pieces of your personal puzzle will help you to build a life that's enjoyable and fulfilling.
You don't have to take the traditional four-year-college route. Gasp. No, really. Some careers require a degree, yes. And some don't. Some people will gain the knowledge they need at a technical school. Some people can take a few online courses to get them on their way. Some people will learn skills on the job. Some people will learn through online courses, YouTube videos and books. Some people will figure things out on their own. It all depends on what you're interested in. None of those options are wrong. As for me? I went to tech school for one year. Didn't finish. Couldn't wait to get into the world and start making my own way. I'm impatient and I like to dive in and figure things out. The only time it's ever been a detriment was when I worked in a cubicle for a big corporation who highly values college degrees. I couldn't advance. But do you know what? I hated that cubicle. A desk job at a big company was torture for me. That wasn't my right path. So I quit and started three successful businesses (so far). That's my right path. I learn as I go. There hasn't been one other time in my life when my lack of a degree has impacted my ability to do amazing work.
Be careful with debt. Pay as you go, as much as you can. Drive cheap cars until you can truly afford something nicer. Don't rack up credit card debt. Learn frugality when you're young. Gigantic loan payments can keep you tied to a job that you don't love, and your happiness is far too valuable for that. So proceed with caution. Some people envy the freedom of our self-employed lifestyle...it's only possible because we don't have a lot of payments.
It's okay to change careers. I started out as a graphic designer. I had a few jobs in that line of work, and started a graphic design business as well. My interests and skills evolved and life brought different opportunities, and now I don't do as much graphic design. It will probably always be a part of what I do, but it's not the only thing anymore. Even if I completely shifted gears and gave up design work altogether, that time spent as a designer would not have been wasted. It was a part of my journey that led to the next step and brought me years of valuable experience.
Don't worry about what other people think. Easier said than done, I know. It feels like everyone is watching to see what you do with your life. The church gave you a scholarship so you'd better succeed. Your family knows how brilliant you are so you'd better make something of yourself. The community saw what a great student you were in high school so you'd better go out in the world and shine even brighter. No pressure, right? I'll just say this: a happy, fulfilled life is the best kind of success. Don't tie your ideas of success to a paycheck or a job title. Chase the ideas that light you up inside. You will shine bright in the world, and those who care about you will cheer you on.
Your time and happiness are much more valuable than money. You might end up with a high-powered career with a huge salary. You might buy a big, beautiful home and have a fancy car. But if you are not happy with your life, if your work doesn't inspire or fulfill you, or you don't have time for enjoyment, all that money doesn't really matter. Enjoying the work you do, whatever that is, will make your life happier overall. Doing work you hate all day long and then crashing on the couch and waiting for the weekend is no way to live. And doing work that you love will inspire you to work harder, which just might translate into more success too! I've learned a LOT in my life. I've tried a lot of things, I've had lots of job, I've enjoyed successes and learned from mistakes. I love to share about my journey, and I love to recommend some dear friends who do amazing work in life coaching and counseling. If those are things that you're interested in, I can put you in touch with them. It's all about learning and growing, friends!
Go out and explore this world. Find some reasons to smile. Find some things you enjoy. Find some things that inspire you. Learn, grow and ask for help. Love, Ang