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 Friday Five: Lessons For My 16-Year-Old Self


Author Note: I apologize for my lack of posts in the last month or so! Between studying for finals, trekking all across town on interviews and traveling overseas for the best 10 days of my life, there hasn’t been a lot of time for writing. I hope to change that in the new year to come!


 

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Once upon a time, we were all sixteen and crazy. As high school sophomores and juniors, we worried about all the wrong things and made the wrong decisions, all in the hopes that our lives would turn out to be just another glamorous episode of some teen soap opera on the CW. Of course, our lives were not nearly as dramatic and romantic as we hoped, but we didn’t learn that until well after we graduated.

If I could go back and talk to my 16-year-old self, I would definitely have a few suggestions for how to be less of an angst-ridden cliche and how to be more awesome.

The Friday Five: Lessons For My 16-Year-Old Self

1. You will forget “the one that got away.”
You know that guy you’ve been crushing on since last summer, the one who didn’t end up asking you to junior prom despite the fact that you’re clearly perfect for each other? Well, in five years, he’ll be no more than a story you tell your college friends about the days when you liked guys with skinny jeans and awkward haircuts. Sure, the two of you might still keep in touch on Facebook, but only so you can laugh at the ridiculous statuses he posts and remind yourself of how you really dodged a bullet all those years ago. You’ll forget the sadness you felt when things didn’t work out, and the void he left will be filled by plenty of new relationships in the years to come.

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2. Don’t let relationships become your only focus.
Once you really enter the dating world, you will find that at times you’ll want to be in a relationship, but at other times you’ll want to be single, and that’s okay. You’re young, and you still have plenty of time before people in your family will start guilting you into “settling down,” so when you *are* single, take that time to focus on yourself. In fact, by the time you turn twenty, you will probably have sworn off dating at least once in favor of “focusing on your career” or undergoing some form of makeover. Being with someone can be great when the timing is right, but there is much more to life and growing up than checking off “In a Relationship” on Facebook.

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3. In five years, you will laugh at whatever you wore in those photos.
No matter how cool you thought you looked, any fashions or trendy hairstyles you try to replicate will look ridiculous when you flip through old pictures in the years to come. So smile big, have a sense of humor and remind yourself that one day your kids will think you’re just as lame as you think your parents are now.

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4. Few of your friends will stick by you past graduation, and that’s okay.
Enjoy the moments you have together, but realize that in a few years you will probably hang out with an entirely new crowd, save for your best friend from high school and a few people who went to your university. The high school drama will end with high school, and you’ll have another four years to form new relationships with people you have much more in common with.

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5. You don’t need to know what you want to be when you grow up.
It doesn’t matter that at sixteen, you have no idea what you want to study in college or whether or not you’ll go to grad school. In five years, after a lot of soul searching, college coursework and trips to your adviser, you might still not know what you want to do with your life, but chances are you will be a lot closer to realizing what you want to do and what will make you happy. In the meantime, learn how to learn, and open your mind to new experiences and interests. Take up some hobbies, read books in your spare time and recognize that what you might want now could easily change when you’re older.

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What would you tell your 16-year-old self?