So as of this morning, I'm officially 25 years old! What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? For starters, I can now avoid those additional fees when I rent a rental car. Although this doesn't happen often anyway since I own my own car. Thanks Dad! Most importantly though, I've taken a great deal of time over the past few months to prepare for this moment where I would feel like a real adult and in my moments of reflection I discovered so many mistakes and poor decisions I made in the first 24 years. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll feel once I’ve completely settled into this new chapter but one thing’s for sure: there are bad habits going out the window, mistakes I'll never make again and things I just want to start doing differently. Knowing what I know now, here are a few things I wish I could have shared with my 18, 21, 22, and even 24 year old self. Maybe some other less than 25 year olds can learn from my experiences.
1. Save Some of Your Money
Got your first real paycheck or that refund check that comes at the start of a new semester? Congrats! That Spring Break trip to DR or new laptop looks great but if your back account doesn't, be grateful for what you have and take a seat. You can keep up with the Jonses, but when you go to swipe your card at the store or restaurant and the system says unauthorized, please know that the Jonses will not be there to save your broke ass. Have fun! Enjoy life! Just make sure your fun and life are financially sustainable. Build up what my grandmother calls "F-You" money. That's the cash you have on hand so when you want to do something that no one else will do for you can say "F-You" and do it for yourself.
2. I'm Not Interested Means I'm Not Interested
Oh you actually thought that if you continued to spend your time, affection and money [see lesson 1] on the subject of your attention that you'd convince them to change their mind about being with you? Please mam, please sir, wake up and listen to what they are saying, not saying, doing and not doing. They don't return your calls because they don't want to talk to you and the reason you’re the one putting in the effort to spend time together is because they're a priority for you and you are not a priority for them. Whether it's through their words, actions or lack thereof, when someone makes it clear that they're just not that into you move on and stop wasting your time. Be happy actually! If you’re investing in unrequited love, the person who’s actually going to give you all you need and deserve is still out there.
3. Self Worth Begins Within
I barely made it out of college alive. Was it because the environment was dangerous? No. Was it because the work was so rigorous that I almost lost my mind? Nope. It was because I almost destroyed myself trying to be important. A full course load was never enough. In my senior year I was taking 15 credits, conducting two research projects, running a large organization, working three part-time jobs and I had an internship in the state’s capital which required travel. Keep in mind that by this time in my college career, this was actually my version of slowing down. I can't even remember the names of all of the organizations and committees of which I was a member. But I do remember having to be rushed to the hospital twice for exhaustion and a dehydrated liver. By the way, morphine is the Devil. One second you feel warm and alert and the next minute you're completely knocked out for half a day... While I do not regret all of the connections I made and the incredible leadership skills I acquired, I will say that the primary motivator for my overwhelming involvement on campus was my need to feel important, my desire to be affirmed, my goal of being known as the guy who made a difference—whether or not those differences made any difference in how well he knew and fully valued himself. You know why I was never satisfied? Because it took me nearly breaking myself in an effort to run the world to realize that my importance and value started within not outside of me.
4. Fans May Boo or Cheer, Either Way they do it From the Sidelines
We all have people in our loves that we love and adore. We want to see them do well and succeed and often times we place expectations on them that are so far removed from who they are because we operate according to our own definition of success. The cousin you want to see “do better”; the younger sibling you want to see become a star student; the friend you love who continues to walk into obviously bound to fail relationships, we can't play the game of life for them. As fans we can cheer when they do great and we can boo when they are consistently failing to score, but the truth of the matter is, we are positioned on the sidelines and despite all of the advice we'll give and the attempts we make to lead by example, people are going to be who and what they are until they decide to be different. Love them until it hurts but recognize when you are losing focus on your own game because you're wrapped up in someone else's life. Stay on the sidelines, don't take it personally and know your place.
5. Whether Left or Right, Keep Moving
Have a five your plan? I had one and it has changed every 5 months since I created it. The plans we lay for ourselves in our early 20s are plans we often create without even fully knowing or understanding ourselves. Don't get me wrong, we should be looking ahead, thinking about next steps. But do not take a left turn because that's what you said you would do three or four years ago. Take a left turn because that's truly what you believe and feel is right for you and if not go right. If you have the option, go back, forward, up or down. Just know that the only time when you should be really uncomfortable with the changes that come is when you stop moving altogether, which typically happens when we're afraid of what's around the corner. We have to keep moving. It's how we grow. It's how we learn. It is how we find out exactly who and where we are supposed to be.
6. Watch The Time You Spend On Short-term Amusement
Entertainment is just that, entertainment: material created to amuse and quite frankly distract us from other complicated, substantive and perhaps meaningful topics. While it's great, we have to place some parameters around entertainment to keep it from actually interfering with our efforts to live meaningful lives. Whether it’s the value of Beyonce's music or Nicki Minaj's IQ, I've watched 20 somethings engaged in heated, intense debates about topics that, in the grand scheme of things, DON'T MATTER! First of all, 110% of the celebrities and public figures to whom we dedicate our time discussing don't know/deeply care about us unless we’re spending our money on their products. Watch what you actually spend your time discussing. If you know in your heart that a year from now it won't matter, watch the clock carefully. Also social networking can be fun and exciting. Trust me I am on Facebook and Twitter too, but when we are so busy signing into to websites that we forget to sign into ourselves, it’s time to take a step back.
7. Friends Shouldn't be Given Tenure, Real Friends Don't Need It
In our youth we form friendships like they're going out of style. Meeting people in every corner of our lives we form these circles of people who earn their place in our lives often because of the time they've been around and not because they actually put in the work to demonstrate their value. After knowing people for so long, we tell ourselves that we truly know them and that they have our best interests in mind. We bestow the title of friend onto these people without even considering what our bar is and whether or not they meet it. Don't give people tenure and promote them from associate to friend because you've known them for a while or because you've had a few great conversations. Know that people have the capacity to change just as you do and as you change and grow your needs when it comes to friends may adjust. Be aware of those changes and know that friends belong in our lives because of their actions and their character, not because they are familiar to us.