Lessons For My 21-Year-Old Self

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Left: 21-year-old Val enjoying a cup of gelato in Rome. Right: 28-year-old Val at an MBA brunch.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading through some of my older blog posts. For those of you who are new here, I actually joined the blogosphere in 2010 as a freshman at UCF, with my blog’s focus more heavily geared toward relationships and college advice. It has been fun to look back at my earlier posts and think about where I was at that particular stage in my life and what was important to me.

One of my favorite posts I came across was a list of lessons I wrote to my 16-year-old self, courtesy of my 21-year-old selfIt feels like a lifetime agoand yet, I can remember vividly who I was dating, which friends I spent the most time with, what my struggles were, and where I hoped I would be someday. A lot has changed in the past 7 years — I’ve graduated with my BA and my MBA, I’ve been working in community engagement for several years, I’ve gone from hosting theme parties in the dorms to hosting baby showers, and the list goes on. Because of all the changes that life inevitably brings, I’ve decided to revisit my old post with some lessons to my 21-year-old self from my now 28-year-old self.

  1. You won’t completely forget the one that got away, but you’ll look back on the relationship with fresh eyes.
    At 21, you knew that your high school crush was ancient history, but the guy you fell for in college? That’s another story. You’ll be heartbroken when the relationship inevitably ends, and rightfully so — he was your first real love. You’ll also find yourself in some not-so-sunny relationships in your twenties, and start to look back at that college relationship through rose-colored glasses. But with time comes perspective, and you’ll start to remember the cracks in the foundation: the arguments you had, the tattoos you hated, the fundamental differences that pulled you apart. And then, something miraculous will happen: you’ll realize that you were, in fact, the one that got away.
  2. Making friends as an adult is a lot harder than it is as a college student.
    Some of the friends you make in college will be your friends for life (or at least until age 28 — jury is out on what happens next!). However, as everyone parts ways for graduate school, career moves, and relationships all across the country, those friendships will require a lot more TLC. Be open to meeting new people and exploring new friendships, which will be harder as an “adult” but still important for maintaining your sanity and quality of life. Talk to people you meet at work functions, go to places and events that interest you, and continue to be authentically yourself.
  3. Social media will stick around longer than you think.
    You may now split your time between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the occasional Snapchat, but your pictures will survive online for a lot longer than you realized at 21. Now, you’ll not only laugh at what you wore or how you styled your hair, but even more so at what you posted and how you captioned it. Embrace this and be kind to your younger self — college was a weird time. 🙂
  4. You still don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up.
    Don’t pigeonhole yourself. There are jobs that exist that you aren’t even aware of right now, so it’s important to keep learning, be open, and build your relationships. You’ll grow into whatever you end up doing, so my best advice is to say yes to the things that interest you, challenge you, and scare you, as long as they fit within your values. Learn to say no when you need to, and set boundaries when the situation arises.
  5. You won’t fit every expectation you had for yourself at 16, at 21, or at 25.
    At 28, my life is not what I pictured in high school or college. It has evolved in ways I never expected, and that’s great! As a college student, I never imagined that I would be invited to public speaking engagements, attend blogger events, or do half of the cool things I get to do today. Life will always be full of surprises. Embrace the unpredictable and keep saying yes to the things you love.

What would you tell your 21-year-old self?

The Post-Grad 15: What I’ve Learned Since My College Graduation

Me as a college graduate!

Me as a college graduate!

When I was a freshman in college, I launched The Freshman 15 series on my blog. Every month, I provided a list of 15 tips for college students geared toward a particular theme, such as getting involved on campus, navigating college relationships and overcoming homesickness. That first April in 2010, the series kicked off with a list of 15 lessons I had learned that year in college, and this quickly became a tradition – every April brought with it a list of what I had learned outside of the classroom that year (see Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4).

Although these posts were some of my blog’s most popular, The Freshman 15 series fell to the wayside about a year ago. However, this month, I am excited to announce that The Freshman 15 is officially back and (hopefully) better than ever!

As many of my readers may know, I graduated from college back in May 2013, so this month’s article comes with a twist – a list of 15 lessons I learned in the year since I graduated college! The past year was particularly eye-opening for me, as I moved to a new apartment, began working full-time and experienced other substantial changes in my life. In that time, I faced plenty of ups and downs, and am excited to share what I discovered in the process!

The Post-Grad 15: What I’ve Learned Since My College Graduation

 1. You can get through the seemingly impossible, but you have to take the first step. (Tweet this!)
In my first year out of school, I overcame a few challenges in my life that I thought would be impossible, simply by moving forward. Instead of sitting around, waiting for things to get better, I took action and made my life better. This year was proof that “Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change.” I achieved positive results in my life by doing things I’d never done before, and learned that our biggest opportunities for growth often come from the challenges we didn’t think we could face.

2. Don’t put glass bottles on the top shelf, especially above a carpeted surface…
… And if you do, make sure you have plenty of carpet cleaner on hand! I learned this lesson the hard way when I knocked a bottle of Kahlua off a shelf and had to make a late-night trip to the store for cleanup. Several rounds of vacuuming later, my apartment was as good as new, but my leg and foot were a different story! (The worst part is that neither my roommate nor I drink Kahlua or had any use for it on our shelf!)

01595c42c30d4e84d087359d60e68d083. Tragedy does not care about timing.
I have written about this before, but I cannot stress this lesson enough. Only a month after graduation, I experienced two profound yet completely different losses within four days of each other. At the time, I was in new-hire training at work, and in the middle of packing up for my upcoming move across town. Dealing with two negative situations at the same time was difficult and often felt unfair, but I quickly learned that – cliché as it is – life isn’t always fair. At the end of the day, you still have to find healthy ways to cope and still function as a human being. Life will continue to happen around you, whether or not you pick up the pieces, and the world will spin madly on.

4. You can find alliances in unexpected places.
Accept them. You will need them, as you adjust to The Real World, and from time to time, they will need you. Be the type of friend you would want to have, and open your eyes to the wonderful people out there who want to be yours.

5. Get a roommate.
You will save money this way, and you will be a lot less lonely!

I am fortunate to have this trail right outside of my neighborhood!

I am fortunate to have this trail right outside of my neighborhood!

6. Breathe in the fresh air.
I mean this literally. Make it a priority to go outside. Several months ago, my boyfriend and I discovered a nature trail near my apartment, and since then, I have enjoyed countless walks down that trail when I need to get away. (Recently, my roommate and I even encountered a bunny out there!) Find a peaceful place where you can go when the weather is nice and you need that change in scenery.

7. There will still be days that suck.
You know the ones I’m talking about… the long, cold, rainy ones when all you want to do is go home and sleep, but then you find yourself pulled into one fiasco after another, and when you finally think it’s all over, you drop your keys in the dark. Those days still exist, even now that you’re supposed to be a well-adjusted, sophisticated adult, and you will never escape them completely. But then there are the good days that make all the struggles and minor crises that much easier to take, because they remind us of the success we’re working toward.

8. You are never too old for a Disney movie night.
Sometimes it’s important to stop taking ourselves so seriously and to enjoy the simple things that remind us of our childhood. Whenever I’m sick, I curl up in bed and watch Beauty and the Beast, partly because Belle is my all-time favorite princess and partly because the film takes me back to a simpler time in my life. Find those comforts and take advantage of them when needed. (This same rule can be applied to the Spice Girls movie, which my roommate and I may or may not have watched at home a few months ago…)

9. Clothes make the man (or woman).
To be taken seriously in the workforce, you have to invest in a few key pieces. Make sure you have a nice suit and can put together a clean and polished outfit for an interview or for work. Some items can be found on sale or for much cheaper, but you will need to invest in quality clothes. (These are great graduation gifts to ask for!)

121212someecards110. Learn about finances before you graduate.
Know how to write a check, balance your checkbook and create a budget. You can find plenty of templates online to get started, but you will need to find ways to stay organized so that you can avoid paying late or spending more than your paycheck allows. Learn about how to build your credit score and develop positive habits now, so that your borrowing history doesn’t keep you from reaching your dreams later in life.

11. It is much more difficult to take time off to go see family.
Because of this, you have to value that time now more than ever. Don’t let those visits get lost amidst piles of work and obligations. Appreciate the family you have and make the time for them when you are able to do so.

12. When looking at jobs, think big picture.
Salary is important, but what about the job’s benefits? What about the company culture? Will you be happy there? I was lucky to accept a job where many employees have stayed on for years, one where I could see myself long-term, but some people will go against their gut and take the first job offer they can get their hands on. Keep an open mind, but don’t settle if the job isn’t for you.

Home sweet home!

Home sweet home!

13. Develop a sense of community, wherever you end up.
Find free events in your area, cheap museums to visit, local parks and other attractions that contribute to your community’s identity. This helps you to take pride in where you live, especially when you are in a new place, and in my case, it helps me feel less homesick! These types of events can also help you to save money while still having fun with friends.

14. Life doesn’t fit into a neatly shaped box.
Sometimes, things don’t go as you plan, no matter how hard you try. There may be times when your life feels less like a glamorous Audrey Hepburn movie and more like an extremely depressing episode of Girls. It’s okay to veer off path once in a while, so long as you develop that support system that can steer you back on course.

15. Be thankful for the good times.
I cannot stress this enough. While you experience highs and lows after graduation, you will want to remember the highs and never take them for granted. As one project I’m working on this year, I keep a jar of all the great things that have happened in 2014. Every time I experience something positive that I want to remember, I write it down on a small slip of paper and stick it in the jar. At the end of the year, I look forward to pouring everything out and reliving some of those happy memories. After all, amidst the lows, the year has also brought with it some pretty spectacular highs. 🙂

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Readers: Are you a college graduate who would like to share a lesson you’ve learned since graduation? Email me at vmoses90@gmail.com for details on how you can contribute to an upcoming article on So It Must Be True!

The Weekend Five: Lessons Learned From ‘How I Met Your Mother’

One of the very sweet moments of the series finale, in which Ted and The Mother finally meet.

One of the very sweet moments of the series finale, in which Ted and The Mother finally meet.

On Monday night, many of us experienced the end of an era: the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. It was a highly anticipated evening, as we looked forward to seeing those first few moments between Ted and the eponymous Mother (finally revealed to be named Tracy McConnell), and learning what would happen among the other characters over the next 17 years. Although I only started watching the show a few years ago, I was quickly hooked, especially as protagonist Ted navigated his way through failed relationships and substantial life changes to which most viewers could relate.

 Watching the series finale, I loved the first 50-some odd minutes. It was those last few that completely ruined the episode for me – and my perception of the series as a whole. Without diving into the spoilers, I felt personally betrayed by the writers that I had put my trust in over the years (as did many fans), and I was heartbroken by the way the writers decided to end such a beautiful story. But then I took a step back, remembering how much I had loved the series and the impact it had on me, and realized that in spite of those last few moments, the series still taught a lot of valuable lessons when we needed them the most.

This week, in honor of a show so many of us fell in love with, I would like to share five of those lessons that How I Met Your Mother taught.

The Weekend Five: Lessons Learned From How I Met Your Mother

c5b3eddbde2fcccfa0eab606694c28454cbbe938ee1170a3af0d285801d0404c1. You can choose to express your anger, or you can choose to let it go.
Throughout the show’s nine season run, Ted endures more than his fair share of #singleguyproblems. He says “I love you” to a woman (later revealed to be “Aunt Robin,” future girlfriend) on the first date. He falls for a married activist whose latest protest interferes heavily with his work. He even gets left at the altar on his wedding day! Ted has plenty of reason to feel downtrodden and even angry. But in one episode, when he has the chance to approach Stella (the woman who left him at the altar) to give her a piece of his mind, he ultimately decides against it, and lets his anger go. It is a teachable moment for many of us (not just his children) when Ted tells us that we can only move forward from the difficult situations in our lives by giving up on our grudges.

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2. The ninth step to the Platinum Rule is coexistence.
In one episode, Ted’s friend Barney illustrates The Platinum Rule, which discourages people from dating coworkers, neighbors, etc. His eight “steps” to The Platinum Rule go through the different feelings the characters will encounter after engaging in one of these relationships, ending in awkwardness and negativity. But Ted creates a ninth step: coexistence. Sometimes, when a relationship ends, we are fortunate enough to separate ourselves from the other person, but sometimes, the circumstances require you to still cross paths on a regular basis. Ted’s ninth step teaches us to coexist – to smile and remember the good times, and much like the previous step, let go of any anger we once felt.

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images3. Suit up!
Ted’s friend Barney is well known for his catchphrases. One of his most famous? “Suit up!” While his catchphrases are generally silly, we can definitely all benefit from suiting up once in a while! I’ve always believed that it is important to present yourself well, and that includes investing in a good wardrobe.

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4. Life turns up.
There are times in the series when Ted feels pretty hopeless when it comes to love and life. He is convinced that The One is not waiting for him in New York City, and he nearly leaves his entire life behind because of that. Little does he realize that the future mother of his children and love of his life lives only a few blocks away, that they have crossed paths before, and that their first moments together are just around the corner. It teaches us that we mustn’t give up on the things we want, and that things will get better when we least expect it. Ted spends the entire series searching for that love, but he does find it, and it is more than he ever imagined.

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5. You may not appreciate the way something ends, but you can still learn from it.
This can be applied to many aspects of our lives: relationships, jobs, even series finales. 🙂 After the HIMYM finale aired last week, my friend Rachel and I were discussing the ending, and came to that very conclusion. The show may not have ended the way we preferred, but we still enjoyed the series as a whole, and learned a lot of valuable lessons over the years. Similarly, you may experience a difficult breakup, but that doesn’t mean the relationship wasn’t worthwhile — after all, you may still have positive memories, and you likely learned what you don’t want in your next relationship.

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What are some of your favorite lessons/memories from How I Met Your Mother? Did you enjoy the finale? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 3)

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As of today, I am officially done with my junior year of college. It feels like just yesterday that I was a freshman myself, writing the original Freshman 15 post that started it all. 🙂 Since then, I have undergone many experiences I never could have possibly predicted, and learned a lot from every single one of them.

Every April, I share fifteen new lessons that I’ve learned throughout the year (see last year’s post here), and this month is no different. It has been an interesting year, to say the least! Feel free to share your own experiences in the comment section below, and if you would like to be a part of my next Freshman 15, please email vmoses90@gmail.com for details.

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 3)

1. Running into faces from your past will show you how much you’ve changed. (Tweet this!)
Because I attend a state university, I’m bound to run into people from my hometown from time to time. I’ve only kept in touch consistently with a few people from high school, so I often forget about my life before college. However, when I do encounter old friends and classmates, I realize how much many of us have changed since then (and how much some have stayed the same!). The longer you go without seeing the people you used to see every day, the more you find that this is the case. Every so often, I feel like I’ve attended a one-on-one high school reunion, complete with “How have you been?” and an exchange of “Are you still dating _______ from high school/Are you still interested in becoming a ______/Have you talked to ______ lately/Did you know _____ and _____ stopped talking?” There’s nothing wrong with this – it might be a shock at first, but you’ll learn just how much you’ve grown since graduation.

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2. The little things do matter.
In the workplace, in relationships and in life, the little things will set you apart. Write thank-you notes to the people who interview you – even if they don’t give you the job, they will recognize the gesture and associate your name with something positive. Take a moment to compliment someone on something that they didn’t think you’d notice. Don’t show up at a social function empty-handed; a plate of brownies goes a long way. Be kind and gracious. Class never goes out of style.

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3. Birds of a feather don’t always flock together, but a lot of people are not aware of that.
Be careful with the connections you make — some could have a negative impact on your reputation. I am not telling you to be cruel or judgmental, but be aware of the situations you wind up in and the actions of the people around you. You may be hardworking and responsible, but if you spend too much time with people who are constantly in trouble, you could end up in trouble yourself. As we learn in public relations classes, it takes a lot to fix a damaged reputation, and if you’re seen with people who make a lot of inappropriate decisions, others will assume that you’re exactly the same.

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4. A healthy dose of rejection isn’t always a bad thing.
Let’s face it – rejection sucks, no matter where it’s coming from. Whether your dream job just told you they “decided to go in a different direction,” or your crush is just not that into you, being rejected can make you doubt yourself and your abilities. A few months ago, I applied for a prestigious position at the university and was denied before I even reached the interview process, for reasons I didn’t fully understand. The elimination stung, and my self-esteem took a temporary nosedive, until I recognized that a) There are other options out there for me, b) I can still accomplish a lot without filling this particular position, and c) The school was missing out. Talk to anyone older than 30 and you’ll find that everyone has endured a form of rejection at one point or another. When it happens to you, be strong – don’t belittle yourself, but consider the areas in which you could improve, and realize that another opportunity will come again if you are open to it. (In the unsourced words of Marilyn Monroe, “Good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”)

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5. Being negative and judgmental only hurts you.
When you accept others as they are, you find yourself surrounded by more friends and attract more positivity than ever. Don’t rule out a potential friendship for superficial reasons. When you’re constantly picking others apart, people don’t want to be around you — they begin to see you only as that grumpy classmate that brings others down.

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6. It’s never too late to try something new.
People assume that if they join a club after their freshman year, they won’t be able to make an impact or fulfill an officer position, and that isn’t always the case. You can still get a lot out of the opportunities you pursue throughout your sophomore, junior and even senior year, regardless of your seniority or longevity there. If a student organization, elective or part-time job sounds fulfilling to you, try it out, even if it’s way different from anything you’ve done before.  This is how I became a cheerleader in high school, and it’s also how I decided to study Hospitality Management as a minor. Trying something new could be the best decision you’ve ever made, or it could reaffirm your beliefs in what you already do.

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7. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
(Wow, I’m full of animal metaphors today!) It’s always a good idea to start working on a basic five-year plan for your life, but realize that things don’t always go accordingly. What if the on-campus position you wanted is offered to someone else? What if you decide you don’t want to be pre-med anymore? What if you and your high school sweetheart break up mid-freshman year? Of course you should be positive and take each day in stride, but if something doesn’t work out, it isn’t the end of the world. There are always alternatives, and you should make sure to keep those at the back of your mind in case your life changes.

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8. The longer you’ve been away from home, the more you begin to appreciate it.
Now that my third year of living at university is over, I find my trips home to be a lot more important than they used to be. As you take on more and more responsibilities, you find yourself increasingly looking back on your childhood and start to wonder why you ever wanted to grow up so fast. I only live three hours away from home now, but with the knowledge that I may move out of state after graduation, I treasure my trips home much more now than I did as a freshman.

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9. Most of what you worry about will work itself out.
The moments that felt like the end of the world last year have been reduced to distant memories of people and events that didn’t quite work out. You will go through all the normal emotions and doubt that you could ever possibly recover from that breakup/betrayal/job rejection/etc, but sure enough, in a year you will be able to laugh about it and you will probably even be thankful that it took place. So allow yourself to feel what you need to feel, but realize that this too shall pass. 🙂

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10. Comfort zones are overrated.
Some of my proudest college moments took place when I did something that completely terrified me. For example, in high school, I was the girl who used to shake from fear before giving presentations, and yet since I have enrolled in college, I have hosted two open mic nights and a 100-person Triwizard Tournament, spoken publicly on behalf of my organization, given tours of the university and more, all because I overcame that fear and took a leap out of my comfort zone. Do something that scares you and do it with all of your heart.

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11. Don’t postpone your life.
Oh, I’m a freshman — I have plenty of time to study abroad/find an internship/go on alternative spring break. Yes, as a freshman, you have the rest of college ahead of you, and several opportunities will present themselves throughout the next few years. However, you should keep a basic plan in mind so that you don’t wind up in the middle of your senior year, regretting that you never had time to [fill in the blanks]. Take advantage of new experiences as they arise, and have an idea of when you want to fulfill your goals.

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12. Learn to take criticism.
Admit it, we live in a critical world. You might be wonderfully talented in your field of study, but the sooner you accept constructive criticism from someone who knows what they’re talking about, the better. One day you might be receiving not-so-constructive criticism from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and being able to swallow your pride and learn from any mistakes you are making will allow you to improve upon your strengths and weaknesses. It will also prepare you for the harshness of the real world!

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13. You can learn something from everyone.
Every person you meet has his or her own story and something they can teach you. I look to each of my friends for different advice and their own unique perspectives, and I feel fortunate to have such a wonderful group of people in my life. Everybody thinks about life a little bit differently, so talking to new people and asking their opinions will make you a more well-rounded person and help you expand your own views.

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14. You deserve the best.
Don’t lower your standards in life just because you think you don’t deserve better. As Maureen Dowd says in one of my favorite quotes, “The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than what you settled for.” Never surround yourself with negative people who treat you poorly — realize that you choose whom you let into your life, and that you don’t need those types of people around.

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15. Live in the moment.
Cliché as it may sound, I often lose sight of the proverbial “moment,” instead reflecting on past experiences or planning for the future. Because of this, I don’t always feel like a college student. At different times throughout the past three years in school, I have felt like a busy career woman, a tired mother of eight, a crazy recluse, and an awkward tween, but I find that I’m at my happiest when I’m able to act my age and experience life one day at a time. Does this mean you should get wasted every night in the shady part of town and make every decision without considering the consequences? No. But it does mean you should spend plenty of time with your friends, get a little boy- or girl-crazy once in a while, embark on new adventures and make the occasional non-life-threatening mistake. You may be in a weird transition period between adolescence and adulthood, but that doesn’t mean you have to grow up overnight.

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Readers, let me know if there is ever a college topic you’d like to learn more about in the future!