To the Class of 2020: Congratulations! You’ve just gone through what could be the worst situation you’ve experienced in your life so far – the COVID-19 pandemic and everything it took away from you during your senior year.
So as you go out into the great beyond, here are a 12 life tips/advice from a 53-year old who has had her share of ups and downs and learned from them all. As with anything I write, take what you want and leave the rest.
- Don’t measure your success by the success of others. Man, I wish I would have learned this sooner – I would have been a lot easier on myself. Case in point: I’m a writer and I’ve always wanted to be one. I know of people my age (and younger) who are much more successful than I am. VPs of companies, entrepreneurs, etc. For a long time, I thought I should be grinding in my career so I could achieve the status of others my age. Turns out – I want to be a writer. I don’t want to be a VP. That doesn’t make me less successful – it makes me happy.
- Be smart with your money, no matter how much you have. I cannot stress this enough. I don’t care if you make minimum wage or $100,000 a year. Live within your means and pay attention to your finances. When my kids used to ask me to buy something, I would tell them to check back in 30 days. Nine times out of 10 they no longer wanted that thing 30 days later. Pay off your credit cards. Buy used cars. Don’t buy more house than you can afford. Start saving early – even if it’s a tiny, tiny bit. I assure you, even if you are struggling financially, you will at least feel like you have some sort of control over what is going out of your wallet. (Dave Ramsey is a good resource for this!)
- Your hardships can be your blessings. You are going to have shitty things happen to you, and how you respond to them early on will serve as a benchmark for how you get through life. Hardships show you what you’re truly made of. They teach you to process feelings. To make decisions. To pivot. To learn and accept that life is not fair. That loss is a part of this life. And when the next hardship comes, you will be that much stronger than before. I promise you. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I got through (insert problem here); I can get through this.”
- Stay in the present – don’t “futuretrip” (I love this word) or look in the rear-view mirror. I’m a worrier with regrets, which means I worry about what’s going to happen in the future and I feel guilty about decisions I’ve made in the past. As I get older, I’m learning to “forgive and forget” the things I regret and try not to look too far ahead of me, knowing full well that futuretripping is nothing more than gazing into a crystal ball. Now, it’s OK to look TO the future. To build TOWARD the future. But don’t spend so much time worrying about tomorrow that you don’t enjoy today. And yesterday, well, it’s yesterday. Today's a new day. Insert any other cliches here.
- Don’t wait on others to do things for you, complete you or keep you from moving forward. This is YOUR life. Take it by the balls, man! Don’t wait for anyone else to help you. Don’t wait for that other person to come around and make you “whole.” Don’t wait to take that next step because you’re afraid you might fail. The more you do for yourself, the more confidence you'll have and the more accomplished you'll feel. I assure you that you can do more on your own than you ever thought possible – that’s why God made YouTube videos.
- Get a little help from your friends. You’re probably going to find in your life that you have a friend for all reasons and seasons. You’ll have your high school friends, your college friends, your work friends, your mom/dad friends, your gym friends …. so many friends. But there will always be your “person” – or “people.” Don’t let life get in the way of keeping those friendships. Those friends are the ones who you can call when something incredible happens, something awful, or anything in between. And be there when they need you, because trust me, you’re gonna need them.
- Hold boundaries – be tolerant yet know how much you can tolerate. You probably had a teacher you didn’t particularly like in high school. You might have thought he or she had it out for you and that’s why you got a bad grade … whatever. Guess what. Some of this stuff you just have to deal with. You might have a mean boss. Your kid might be a complete handful. Your mother-in-law might make you feel like shit. Fine. Figure out what your boundaries are as far as what you can tolerate and what is just going too far. And don’t let anyone tell you that the boundaries you set make you “sensitive” or “selfish”. It’s not their call. They’re YOUR boundaries.
- You’re going to make a shitload of mistakes. Oh, my God, so many. Because you’re learning. Every single day, you’re learning. Some mistakes are going to be dumb. Some will be serious. Some will make you look like an asshole. Some may be just because of ignorance. I say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” If you screw something up because you didn’t know how to do it right the first time, you should get a pass. Just figure out what you did wrong, learn from it and you’ll know better for next time.
- You (usually) get a second (or third) chance. Not everyone gets it right the first time. I am a perfect example. I went to three high schools, four colleges, and have had probably six or more jobs since I graduated. I’m divorced, sort of got married a second time and have had a few serious relationships since then. You know what? Screwing things up sucked, but I’m not a failure. Maybe I’m a slow learner. Who cares? I eventually figure out what works for me and I go from there. It’s all you can do.
- Do your life on your timeline. If you’re not ready for college, that’s OK. If you don’t want to go to college at all, that’s OK. If you want to get married, that’s OK. If you don’t want to get married, that’s OK. Now I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do these things, nor should you see this as a pass to live in your parents' basement and do nothing. But don’t let anyone tell you that you have to graduate with a certain degree, with a certain GPA, in a certain period of time. Don’t let society tell you that you won’t be successful unless you are married and have a baby and a house by age 25. Don’t go into the family business if you really want to do something completely different. Don’t let people say you can’t do anything if you in fact think you can. And even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do (which I don’t expect you to), take this time to try some stuff on for size and see if it fits. Now is the perfect time to do it.
I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from an iconic movie that came out long before your time:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Now go. Get on with it. And have an amazing life.