Today marks ten years since I graduated from high school.
After seeing a friend’s Facebook post and realizing this, my stomach sank a little bit. It’s official. It’s been a decade since I was that bright-eyed eighteen-year-old ready to take on the world. It’s been a decade since I stood, adorned in a cap and gown, looking to the horizon of life with excitement, with my twenties ahead of me, without a gray hair in sight.
Brushing aside my hair, which now has quite a few grays, I mourned for a few moments before going back to my day—weeding the garden, going to Walmart for dish detergent, eating leftovers for lunch, and doing dishes.
I’m pretty sure when they asked me ten years ago where I saw myself in a decade, this was not the day I imagined.
The truth is, the luxurious, settled, mature life I imagined isn’t quite what I got. Adult life is tedious, it’s difficult, it’s exhausting, and it’s full of difficult decisions. As much as I thought I could set myself up for an easy adult life by working hard in high school, this isn’t the case.
It’s not all bad, though. Over the ten years since graduation, I’ve had a lot of milestones, a lot of big moments. My first teaching job, getting married, my first apartment, my first house. We bought our first dog, who is now my best friend. I published three books, and we went on lots of trips. We’ve explored, we’ve changed, we’ve worked hard. We’ve made a good life.
Over the past decade, I’ve loved and lost. I’ve learned and changed. Below, ten major lessons I’ve learned since graduation.
1. Adult life is expensive.
When you get that first paycheck, you feel a little like Gatsby. But then the mortgage, student loans, car payments, groceries, and everyday life starts to eat away at the number. Soon, you realize the life of cruises and expensive wine are dreams of a naïve high schooler. In reality, sometimes our biggest splurge is going to Wendy’s on a Tuesday and not ordering from the Value Menu.
2. When one thing goes wrong, expect at least a few more to follow.
The water heater broke a few weeks after we moved in. We took a deep breath and shelled over our cash. And then the truck tire went flat. And a cat got deathly sick. And our money was just being sucked out of our account like a huge vacuum was over it.
When one thing goes wrong, more will quickly follow. Seriously. Murphy’s Law isn’t something to mess with. Oh, and we’ve also found when we start to dedicate ourselves to building up savings—at least ten expensive things break.
3. Life can change in a single moment.
For good or bad, life can change in one single day. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve realized life is fragile. Just when you think the ride has smoothed out, something will completely change your direction. Be flexible. Be prepared to deal with things on the fly. Never take anything for granted.
4. Friendships will disappear.
Those best friends necklaces from high school will tarnish. It’s not because anyone chooses it. Life just gets busy. Sometimes friends will disappear and come back later. Be sure to welcome them with open arms. Be thankful for the friends you have at every stage of life. They’re there when they’re there for a reason.
5. Sometimes life is about luck.
Hard work can get you so far, but sometimes life is about luck. Sometimes it’s about doing or saying the right thing at the right time. Sometimes it’s just about the stars seemingly aligning to help you achieve your goal. So if things aren’t working out the way you want, it’s not always your fault. Work hard, set yourself up for success, but realize this won’t always be the answer.
6. The house will never, ever be clean.
True statement. So just give up now. No one looks back on life and wishes they’d spent more time mopping. As a side note, though, if you follow this philosophy, be sure to never, ever accept unexpected visitors. You need a heads up to shove stuff in closets and get out your Swiffer.
7. Paying bills isn’t fun.
Watching money drain from your account—not fun. Keeping track of what needs paid when—not fun. Mailing bills, checking bank accounts, wondering what the light bill will be when you accidentally left all the windows open and ran the central air—not fun.
Bills suck. As a teenager, you think the freedom of living on your own will be worth it. It’s really not.
8. Your hair/skin/teeth/nails will never be perfect.
I have spent more money than I care to know over the past decade trying to get the perfect hair, whiter teeth, better skin. I’ve tried to resist the aging process, panicking and spending $100 on an anti-aging kit over a single eye wrinkle.
And I still don’t have supermodel skin, teeth, hair or nails.
Buy makeup. Take care of yourself. But don’t go broke trying to be perfect.
9. Your metabolism will never be as good as it was at eighteen.
Two donuts, a few sodas, and McDonald’s all in one day? No problem. At least not at eighteen.
I would say about five years after graduation, I started to notice that my metabolism couldn’t handle the diet of a teenager any longer. Growing up means having to actually count calories sometimes, to actually say no to the second piece of cake. And it also means you might actually have to exercise to fit in your bikini. I told you adult life is tough.
10. Sometimes big dreams come true.
Ten years after graduation, some dreams haven’t been achieved yet. But many of them were. I have my dream teaching job, I’ve published three books. I’ve hit many small life goals and had so many special moments.
No life is perfect. There are always regrets and sorrows, dreams that haven’t come true. The thing is, sitting here ten years after graduation, it’s actually fun to look back at how much life has changed in the past decade.
Advice to Recent Graduates
So recent high school graduates, enjoy your time. The next ten years will go so fast. Seriously. But know that it’s okay. In ten years, you might not be exactly where you planned. You might be pulling weeds and shopping at Walmart instead of sitting on a luxury cruise ship or traveling the world or sitting on your yacht. But you’ll be okay.
Because you will have the next ten years to work on those dreams you haven’t accomplished yet. Ten years after graduation, this is what I’ve learned most of all. There’s always time to go after your goals. It’s never too late.
So I’m not going to be sad anymore or mourn my youth. I’m going to smile at all of the life I’ve lived these ten years.
And then I’m going to prop my feet up because I’m tired from my day of chores. A twenty-eight-year-old body certainly isn’t as resilient as an eighteen-year-old one, after all.
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