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?

Putting Faith in Walls: A Lesson in Strength and Vulnerability

“You know the difference between strength and imperviousness, right? Well, a substance that is impervious to damage doesn’t need to be strong. When you and I met, I was an impervious substance. Now I’m a strong substance.” – Bones

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Whether or not we choose to admit it, every single one of us has put up a metaphorical wall at one point or another. When we separate ourselves from difficult situations and keep others at arm’s length, we use these “walls” to protect ourselves from the world around us. By not allowing anything to hurt us, we are (as Dr. Brennan of Bones might suggest) impervious to damage.

With the threat of possible failure in mind, a lot of people choose to never step out of their comfort zones or try new things. After all, why would anyone logically want to enter a relationship if they were aware of the risk of heartbreak that comes with it? Likewise, why apply for the job you want without a 100 percent guarantee that you will get it?

All too often, we believe that by avoiding any possible situation that could lead to disappointment, we are doing ourselves a favor — in essence, we think that we are “maintaining our strength.” Little do we realize, however, that being strong does not mean lacking vulnerability. (Tweet this!)

Our strength lies in the unexpected disappointments, the harsh rejections, the complicated and messy breakups, and the way we handle them all. We become strong when we cope with the challenges that life presents us, usually when we open ourselves up and accept that we cannot control the outcome of every situation.

As Ray Lamontagne sings in his song Be Here Now, “Don’t put your trust in walls ’cause walls will only crush you when they fall.” To me, this means that the walls you put up now will not protect you forever. Eventually, we will all struggle with something, but if we have never truly opened ourselves up to failure before, we haven’t already built up that strength that allows us to overcome our circumstances. In this case, without our impervious shells, we are unable to fend for ourselves.

It is easy for us to put our trust in walls and distance ourselves from the world. However, my dear readers, this week I would like to challenge you to take a small leap of faith in just one area of your life. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!

Timing Is Everything: Why Patience Isn’t Always A Virtue

“I was waiting for something extraordinary to happen but as the years wasted on, nothing ever did unless I caused it.” – Charles Bukowski

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Every day, time passes us by. Regardless of how we spend each of those moments, the clock continues to tick, refusing to wait for our permission, and yet too many of us choose to sit around and hope that our happily ever afters will work themselves out.

There is certainly something to be said for patience. After all, if not for patience, the world would consist only of grumpy, anxious people who live to check their watches and beat the rush hour traffic; no one would ever stop to breathe. However, there comes a point when our attitudes become too “que sera sera” and, even worse, when we miss out on opportunities and experiences because we’re still waiting for others to come around.

To start, we can think about this in terms of relationships. Picture this: Emma likes Joey, but he has given her mixed signals from the beginning and has never given her a complete answer, even upon confrontation. Mutual friends of theirs suggest that Joey is interested but perhaps emotionally unavailable. Meanwhile, Emma meets Zach and they instantly hit it off. Zach asks Emma on a date, and Emma thinks that a future relationship with Zach definitely has potential. Should Emma: a) Say no to Zach and hope that Joey will get his act together one of these days; b) Swear off men entirely and join a convent; or c) Accept the date and be open to the possibility that it could actually lead somewhere?

So many girls choose Option A and then find themselves disappointed. Either they realize that Joey is never going to ask them out, or they do finally end up with Joey and learn that he isn’t all they built him up to be, or they develop stronger feelings for Zach and regret turning him down in the first place. Of course, Option B is only acceptable if you are actually Catholic and willing to take an oath of celibacy, so that leaves us with Option C. Option C is usually the most difficult because it requires a leap of faith. With Option A, Emma never has to leave her comfort zone — she already knows what to expect with Joey and by waiting around for him, she doesn’t have to change anything. In retrospect, Joey could have some mediocre qualities, but Emma has invested enough time into this crush that she has become more and more willing to overlook them. Zach could be everything Emma has ever wanted and then some, but unless she is willing to let go of the fragmented possibility of being with Joey, Emma will never be able to find out for herself.

We often follow the same logic in other areas of our lives. We wait for that one person, company, team or organization to notice us, when there are so many more options out there. I am not suggesting that we give up on our dreams, but rather that we broaden them a bit. You might want to work for one company so badly that you sacrifice interviews with other companies that could be just as fulfilling. You might pass up one opportunity because there’s one-thousandth of a chance that another one might come up in the future. But when that in-a-long-shot chance never comes, what do you do?

In the end, we need to make our decisions wholeheartedly, but we should also keep our options open. It all boils down to timing — if someone is interested in you but can’t make the commitment now, and you’re at a point where you need a commitment, you can’t sit around and twiddle your thumbs while you wait for both of your needs to line up. If your dream company isn’t hiring and you need a job now, you have to start looking elsewhere instead of hoping that your chance will come in six months or so. Try not to make a decision that you’ll resent, but don’t wait around with the mere hope that life will answer itself. Most of the time, it won’t.

I’m not telling you to settle for something you don’t really want. I’m telling you to keep an open heart and mind so that you can stumble upon something better than you ever could have dreamed of.

The Friday Five: Tips For Spring Cleaning

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With the weather now warm and the flowers in bloom (along with every allergen imaginable!), we can officially say this: spring is here. And the spring brings its own set of opportunities along with it: the opportunity to uphold our New Year’s Resolutions, the opportunity to plan for the summer, the opportunity to begin anew. Of course, one thing that spring always gives us the chance to do is to de-clutter our lives. In other words, it is time to participate in some hardcore spring cleaning!

A lot of people shudder at the thought of unearthing piles of forgotten belongings and having to sift through everything at once. In fact, I am currently dreading packing up for the move from my on-campus apartment (where I’ve built my home since August 2009) to my new Bachelor pad in four months, mostly because of the hassle of storing and then moving so many items I haven’t even looked at since freshman year. Anyone in my family who is reading this is probably even laughing right now, knowing how much I hated cleaning before I started college. However, a part of me looks forward to the detox that this year’s spring cleaning will bring. In honor of change, here are five tips for organizing your things more effectively.Tweet this!

The Friday Five: Tips For Spring Cleaning

1. Turn on some music.
A great way to stay energized throughout the process as a whole is to satisfy your sense of sound with some upbeat music. Unlike television, it won’t give you the excuse to look up from what you’re doing and become distracted, but it will make things infinitely less boring. All you have to do is resist the urge to dance. Make a playlist following some of these rules before you start, and choose music that won’t make you fall asleep (for me, anything by Nirvana or Coldplay). Some songs I’ve been enjoying lately that might help you get started: here, here and here.

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2. Break things up.
Trying to tackle everything at once will only leave you frustrated. You’ll grow weary very quickly, because there won’t seem to be an end in sight, and you’ll give up prematurely. To escape this fate, before you begin your spring cleaning, make a list of everything you need to sort through. Then, when you decide to start cleaning, focus on only one or two of those things at a time. For example, in my room, I need to reorganize my desk, dresser, bookshelf and closet, so I will focus my attention solely on one of those sections in a day so that I don’t get completely burned out. If cleaning is really not your thing and you have some time to spare, then consider breaking things up even further and focusing on one drawer or shelf a day.

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3. Don’t be afraid to throw things away.
Nostalgia alone shouldn’t dictate what stays and what goes. If you find something that you haven’t looked at in more than a year, chances are you don’t need it now. You will always be able to justify keeping it with some “memory” you have, but you will have to prioritize if you are going to get anywhere. If I haven’t used it, looked at it or thought about it in months, I usually toss it in a black garbage bag, and after my pilgrimage to the dumpster, a part of me often feels liberated. Clearing yourself of the junk that has been piling up all year will take a huge burden off of you.

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4. Find a method to your madness.
Before you start putting back the things you decide to keep, figure out how you are going to organize them this time around. Is there a more efficient way to store your belongings? Evaluate. For example, I like to keep my books in alphabetical order by author, and the clothes in my closet are coordinated by color. You may want to store certain belongings in labeled boxes in order to find things easier. However you choose to do it, make sure you figure something out so that you will have a more clearly defined place to put new things as you purchase them.

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5. Embrace the challenge.
You aren’t just clearing out a space in your room or your house — you’re making room for change. Let this exercise inspire you not only in all things material, but in all areas of your life. Figure out where you need to rethink things and what you can do differently to keep life fresh and pursue new experiences. 🙂

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What are some of your tips for spring cleaning?