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 Weekend Five: Things I Learned in the Six Months Since Graduation

Me as a college graduate!

Me as a college graduate!

It’s crazy to believe that it has been a little more than half a year since I graduated from college! It feels like just yesterday I was ordering a cap and gown and finishing up my last few senior projects for the year. About a week before walking across the stage, I accepted a position in my dream job, and looked forward to beginning anew.

Six months later, I am finally adjusting to working full-time and living on a different end of town. As I settle into “adulthood,” I am still in love with my work and apartment, but I have also learned a lot since the day I turned my tassel and accepted my diploma.

This week, I will reflect on some of the lessons I have learned in the past six months. Feel free to add your own post-grad lessons in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Learned in the Six Months Since Graduation

1. Not everyone will like you.
It’s harsh, but it’s true. No matter how sparkling your personality is, how hardworking you are or how well you match your accessories to your outfits, you won’t win the heart of every single person you encounter. As someone who cares admittedly too much about what others think, this was an especially difficult truth for me to accept. Sometimes this has to do with the other person — maybe he or she is jealous of you, or just bitter about something you can’t control. And sometimes this has to do with you — maybe you’re an acquired taste. Instead of trying to change those people, focus your energy on the things you can control.

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ElleWoods2. Take advantage of everything you can get your hands on.
“That’s not in my job description” isn’t necessarily a good reason to turn something down. Whether you have the opportunity to learn a new software program or head up a project in a different area than you’re used to, you can make yourself a much more valuable asset by saying “yes” and trying something new.

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3. Tragedy doesn’t care about timing.
In other words, life isn’t always fair. I learned this lesson the hard way when I experienced two great losses in my life within four days of one another. Although I knew that both were coming, they still hurt, and it was difficult to cope with one while coping with the other. Sometimes, you’ll experience several hardships in a short time, but you still have to pick up the pieces, show up at work the next day and function as a normal human being. Remind yourself that things will eventually turn up, and find healthy ways to cope with your feelings.

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graduation4. Timing is, however, important.
Never underestimate the significance of being in the right place at the right time with the right people. I would have begun networking earlier in college if I had known how helpful it would be in the time that followed. From job prospects to relationships, timing can make all the difference in how successful you are. Work hard, but be patient.

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5. Learn to laugh about the bad experiences and mistakes you have made. After all, you can write about them in your memoir someday!
Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Whether you just endured a difficult breakup or struggled through an important interview, the way you handle your hardships will define you. You won’t be able to find humor in everything, but try to learn from your mistakes and not dwell on them forever. When I look back on some of the things I worried about in college, I can’t help but laugh and ask myself, “What was I thinking?” Nowadays, I think a little reflection and a few laughs are just signs that you’re growing up.

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What are some of the things you learned when you first graduated?

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 4)

blair waldorf graduationIt’s hard to believe that when I first started blogging, I was only halfway through my freshman year of college. At the time, I thought that a blog would be a fun avenue for me to share the thoughts and ideas that I was too shy to say aloud, but in the years that followed, the blog became so much more.

In April 2010, we started with the very first Freshman 15, focusing on 15 of the things I had learned in my first year of college (some serious, some practical and some silly). Throughout the year, I created other Freshman 15 lists as well, focusing on specific topics like overcoming homesickness, making friends and navigating college relationships. Then, every following April, I listed 15 new things I had learned that year (see year 2 and year 3).

A lot has happened in the last four years. I’m shocked every time I receive an email about picking up my cap and gown, or filling out my college exit surveys, because I still feel like the awkward 18-year-old girl who navigated the university by map, the girl who couldn’t boil water to save her life and who hoped to meet her soulmate in the residence halls. Now, with just a few final exams left to go, I’ll share 15 lessons that I’ve learned since I first started college.

The Freshman 15: What I’ve Learned (Year 4)

1. Stick around if you can afford it.
I meet a lot of underclassmen who enter college with junior standing and who hope to finish their four-year degree in two years. While I understand the financial reasons behind this, I would encourage you not to rush through your program if you can help it. So many of these students think that by taking on an overwhelming course load in the hope of graduating early, they will be able to begin graduate programs at a younger age. However, if you stretch your degree out to three and a half or four years, you will have the opportunity to participate in research, internships, extracurriculars and other activities that will make you more well-rounded and boost your chances of admission. It also allows you to pick up an extra major or minor if that interests you.

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2. Use university resources early on.
Know what resources the university offers, and don’t wait until the last minute to use them. Even though I attended a lot of workshops and events as a freshman, there was a lot that I didn’t know about until my senior year. Currently, in my position at the university’s career center, I have encountered so many students who are just weeks away from graduation and having someone on campus look at their resume for the first time. Find out what your school provides for its students, and use it! You are paying for it, after all. 🙂

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barney3. Know how to dress professionally.
In college, you may be invited to a “business casual” event on a moment’s notice, and you’ll need to know what that entails. Invest in a professional wardrobe so that you’ll always be ready for the next job fair, interview or networking event. Ladies (and gentlemen, too, I suppose), make sure you avoid anything too short or low-cut. If you would wear it downtown to a bar/it has sequins on it, it’s probably not okay to wear.

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4. Always keep your resume updated.
Don’t be the graduating senior who never made a resume before. Start a resume early in your college career, and add in the details over time. I’ve met some people who even kept a secondary list of organizations and jobs they have been a part of, and then they referred to that list every time they crafted a new resume for a different employer.

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5. Some industries are harder to break into than others.
I honestly didn’t know this until last semester. Whichever field you hope to work in, do a little research so you can decide if the job availability after graduation is worth it. (It might be. And your passion for a subject may surpass any worries you have about your future salary, but this is still something to keep in mind.)

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header6. Have some ideas about what you can potentially do with your major.
No, you don’t need to know what you’re going to be when you grow up – at least not right away – but it’s good to at least be aware of what types of career paths are possible with your major. A few months ago, I met a psychology student who was interested in graduate programs but disliked people and animals. As you can imagine, it was difficult to think of a career path he could follow in psychology that wouldn’t focus on either of these areas. Think about why you selected your particular major and research some of the careers that could potentially follow graduation. (Also, find out if they require further education or certification!)

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7. You won’t be loved by everyone at every moment.
Sometimes you have to say or do the unpopular thing, and it may make you feel like a villain. Nevertheless, it’s important to stand up for yourself and what you think is right, and at times, that means saying something that people won’t want to hear.

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8. DS4303evelop new skills whenever possible.
Find new ways to diversify your skill set. Learn a new film editing software, master a programming language, practice ballroom dance or try out a new recipe in the kitchen. Whether your aim is to boost the “skills” section on your resume or to become more well-rounded, learning new skills is an excellent way to exercise your brain. (Nunchuck skills are always a plus.)

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9. Do what makes you happy.
Simple enough, right? Unfortunately, all too often we worry about what others think about our actions, and let it define our happiness. Unless others are warning you against a potentially dangerous situation, you are perfectly entitled to make your own decisions, so long as they don’t negatively impact everyone around you.

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10. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.
Just as much as we need to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of everything we do, we need to stop having such strong opinions about what everybody else is doing. Let others live their lives without so much judgment. Again, unless you are warning someone against a potentially dangerous situation, you should probably stay out of any situation you haven’t been invited into.

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11. Burnout exists. Give yourself a break.
As a complete workaholic, I fall especially victim to this one. Make sure that even when life is at its most hectic, you are taking care of your health and getting some semblance of sleep here and there. Check out this great article by Leonie Dawson for more tips on dealing with burnout.

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HermioneRonHarry12. True friends are hard to come by, but you will find them.
You are bound to meet a lot of people when you start college, but not all of them will become your lifelong friends. Your true friends will be the ones who celebrate your successes and help you through the rough times without expecting anything in return. That’s the key – your friends won’t have to remind you of what they’ve done for you, because they know you do the same for them.

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13. Take advantage of student discounts.
With graduation looming closer and closer, I can practically see all of the wonderful discounts that come with being a student just vanishing before me. Know that local venues, attractions and conferences will give you student discounts, because those can really help you out.

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14. Time management is everything.
Do whatever you need to do to stay ahead of your school work and obligations, because as soon as you fall behind, things will begin to snowball. Managing your time effectively will help you to avoid the burnout that affects so many of us! Here are 15 time management tips, many of which I use to this day!

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15. Learn the balance of yes and no. (Tweet this!)
This is a lesson that I am learning every day. When you first start college, you will want to join every club and be in 10 places at once. Unfortunately, there is only one of you and only 24 hours in the day. Learn to prioritize and figure out, over time, what you can and can’t commit to. Don’t bite off more than you can chew – trust me, you will regret it!

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What are some of the things you’ve learned during your time in college?