Soon I’ll board a plane bound for Boston and spend the weekend “roughing” it in a college dorm. A twin bed, no air conditioning, and shared bathrooms? It’s like the adult version of summer camp and I couldn’t be more excited.
When I graduated from college ten years ago, I never imagined the time would fly as quickly as it has. Many of my friends are married, starting families, and eagerly marching into the next phases of their lives. They’ve been doing so for quite some time. I, on the other hand, am a completely different story. I’m still single, never want kids, and have trudged begrudgingly through the swamp known as life. The real world has definitely kicked my ass more than I thought it would.
I may have a few more aches and pains than I did in 2005 but I don’t feel a day over 22. In May 2005, I was just as lost as I had been at the start of college four years earlier, and truthfully, sometimes I still am. I do think I’ve grown up in the last ten years though, and I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about myself along the way. I’m a far cry from where I thought I should be at this age, but I’m learning it’s all about the journey. You see, the world inside my head works differently than reality. It’s more imaginative, vivid, and impractical. I’m a believer of the impossible and a dreamer to the core. Reality always took a back seat to my imagination; however, when it came time to thrust myself into adulthood, I fell rather than floated to the present. If I could pass along some words of wisdom to myself as a recent college grad, I would do so, at least so I could prevent that earth shattering crash landing.
Here’s what I would tell the “me” of ten years ago:
- College will most definitely be the best four years of your life. Cherish those memories. Those experiences will never be replicated. College was the limbo between youth and adulthood, the time for making mistakes and figuring out that you are capable of so much more than you dreamed. It was the time you bore the sole brunt of your actions with no one but yourself to rescue you, and you learned by trial and error which mistakes never to make again. You found out that extremely long, tiresome days were overshadowed by the activities that filled the hours; you really could run on empty without feeling spent as long as you enjoyed what you were doing. And you lived within walking distance of all your friends, leaving any chance of loneliness squashed. Those close friends will remain in your life, and even though the dynamic of your friendship will change as you age, the bonds are still as strong as ever.
- If you don’t go to grad school immediately after college, you will never go. I get that you’re still trying to figure yourself out, but for God’s sake just do what you love. You know how happy photography and writing make you. Choose one of those and apply for grad school immediately. Learn as much as you can and make yourself invaluable to the field. Ten years later you still only have a Bachelor’s degree, even though you’re capable of so much more.
- Take a moment to seriously consider how you want to spend the year after college. If you’re not going to grad school, it’s wise to take a year off before starting a “forever” job. You really have no clue which path you want to walk for the rest of your life. If living and working in the Colorado Rockies is high on your life list, DO IT. There will be no other opportune time once the real world latches on to you. On the other hand, if you decided to take the year off to have two major surgeries, you’ll feel like a brand new person with a brand new start. You can’t go wrong either way, just give it thought. Don’t make a brash decision. I won’t tell you life will work out either way, I don’t know that for sure, but any opportunity can segue into another.
- Think before acting. Let’s face it; you’ve never really been a pro at this. When you want something bad enough, you go after it immediately. And when you don’t, you impair your judgment by not caring. Take college; after being rejected by your first choice (Boston College), the only school you really wanted to attend, you chose Stonehill because of the quaint campus. Nothing more. It ended up being a blessing and sent you in a completely different direction than what you thought. You chose to major in art just so you could get into a certain class freshman year. Let’s not forget you had no former interest in the subject whatsoever and rolled your eyes at being dragged to museums on various vacations. Thank God for Digital Imaging! A whole new world opened itself up to you and you never wanted to shut that door again. After falling madly in love with art and finding out that your prior plans for spring semester were cancelled, you chose to study abroad in Florence junior year at the last possible minute. Another blessing. I’d love to say you grow out of this snap decision-making but you don’t, and they don’t always have positive impacts on your life.
- Don’t buy a condo before you’re sure you want to settle down in one place. (Exhibit A of not growing out of making quick decisions after college.) Yes, you’ll be able to paint your walls and your dwelling will feel more permanent than transient, but you’ll end up feeling tied down to one place. Not having a clear life plan, you decided you could easily land a job at a theme park and take it from there. While that’s true, you never stopped to consider what if you weren’t happy doing the work you were doing? Owning a home would sure make it difficult to move on to something new, especially if you bought that home during the height of the market. Your dreams are bigger than one city. Don’t forget that. You should be able to find yourself during these years. Owning a home should come only after that has occurred.
- When it comes down to it, seek happiness in a career above all else. You’ll find out what it’s like to work jobs that stress you out for one reason or another. Stress is normal; hating your life because of that stress is not. You know yourself well. Don’t take a job that comes along if you know you loathe the fundamentals of that position. You’ll be miserable. Don’t settle. Refuse to spend your days going through the motions; that only drains your wisdom. You’re intelligent, efficient, and diligent. Your work should neither belittle nor demoralize you. Surround yourself with equally bright people and always choose to learn. Find what makes you happy and follow it, Kristin. Never. Stop. Following. It.
- Take chances. You’ll spend years dreaming about leaving Florida behind, just do it or stop talking about it. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Rent out your condo (or if you’ve listened to me at all, you won’t buy one in the first place), have a plan for a job, and just live the life you always wanted. The planning part is key. Don’t act on a whim. I know that fear will paralyze you, but you have to leave; you have to create a new life whether it’s in Colorado, California, Tennessee, or Massachusetts. You want it badly enough. You at least have to try. And if you fail, you can always move back to the state that raised you. You’ll return with more of an appreciation for it and even a newfound contentment with calling it home. I can’t say you’ll live here forever, forever feels like an eternity to spend in one place, but as long as you have friends and family close by you’ll learn to accept that you are still a Florida girl. Believe me, your gypsy soul and nomadic heart still own you; I don’t think you’ll ever truly escape them.
- Control your emotions and temper. First thing’s first, consult someone to stabilize your mood swings, the sooner the better. Life is more enjoyable for everyone when they can anticipate which version of you is emerging. No one likes your Linda Blair side or the Debbie Downer. If you don’t feel like talking on the phone, don’t answer it. It is much better to avoid the call than appear bitchy. When you’re heated, you’re apt to saying things you regret. It is always best to walk away or just take a moment to breathe. Once your head clears, you may resume your conversation calmly. Never, ever appear ungrateful. Chose your words wisely and your tone carefully. How something is said makes all the difference.
- Be smart with your money. Your retirement may be a long ways away, but preparing for it starts now. Don’t wait to open a Roth IRA and 401K. The earlier you start, the more you’ll have in the future. Keep your car as long as you can. Yes, you still drive the same ’99 Honda as you did in high school. He starts, and has AC and the radio. That’s all you really need. Stop wasting money on knickknacks. You’re just going to toss them out when you eventually move. Spend money on experiences like concerts and vacations. They make the best memories. But the number one rule for being smart with your money is to never spend more than you can afford. If you can’t pay it off on the next bill, you don’t need it.
- Even if you make the exact same choices I made, you’ll be just fine. I promise you. There’s a bright side to your first job: it leads to many friendships not confined to the borders of this country. In fact, you’ll spend Christmas and your 32nd birthday in Germany with one of those amazing friends. It eventually even leads you to an extraordinary job that wows people. Your brief stint living back in Massachusetts will breed even more heartfelt friendships and also ignite those writing flames again. The uncertainty will be worth the agony. You may end up living in Florida again, but you’re happy with everything now. Sometimes you just need to come full circle to appreciate what you have.
As Darius Rucker sings, “thank God for all I missed. It led me here to this.”