Back to School: Advice to My Younger Self

Photo Credit: Flickr / Steven Depolo

Photo Credit: Flickr / Steven Depolo

It’s mid-September, and school has been back in session for most of the kiddos for the past month or so.  I volunteer for an organization that pairs up mentors with high school students from low-income families, and my mentee is now entering her Senior Year. A few weeks ago, I met a second-year MBA student who attended a networking event I was at.  She asked if I’d meet her for coffee, which I did earlier this week. Both of these young women are in the last year of their respective programs.  In just a few short months, the “real world” begins for each of them – in different ways.

For my high schooler, the “real world” means going to college. The first time living away from home and being completely responsible for your well being.  Getting to class, getting your homework done, looking for jobs and internships, making new friends and creating your own version of away-from-home family. Managing a budget and living with roommates.

For my MBA student, the “real world”  means making a career switch.  Recruiting for full-time work in a brand new industry, perhaps with different rules and expectations.  Figuring out how what you’ve already done will help you be an asset into an industry where you are yet unproven. Figuring out how to craft your resume and your interview answers so that you are perfectly justified in making the switch and presenting your best self to your future employers.

Both of them are at this wonderful, scary cusp of life:  A time when they must define themselves by what and who they want to be now…and several years from now. At 18, how many of us had this foresight? What about in your mid-to-late-20s?

If I could go back in time, and advise my 18 year-old self, or even my 20-something MBA self, my advice would be the same:  Stay open. Face your fears. Embrace change. Always keep learning.

Stay Open: because events that feel like drama or tragedy might turn out to be the biggest opportunities of your life. My very first broken heart turned into the catalyst that led to a masters degree, world travel, and so much more. Conversations and events that seem insignificant at the time might provide a huge insight later in life.

Face Your Fears: these are the fears that pile up in your head because you think you can’t, aren’t worthy, etc, not the fear you might face if someone held a gun to your head. I believe in facing your fears and working through them. That solve looks different for everyone. It could mean therapy, it could mean writing, it could mean jumping out of an airplane. Fears get bigger in our hearts and minds because we don’t want to face them.  We want them to stay in the closet.  But the longer we leave them there, the bigger and more debilitating they become. It might take a little (or a lot) of willpower to face that fear, but it’s possible, and so worthwhile to do so.

Embrace Change: because it’s inevitable.  This could also be rewritten as “Embrace Failure.” Companies merge, fail and reorganize. Jobs are gained and lost. So are relationships. People we love move in and out of our everyday lives for many reasons. Embrace the change, and learn from it. Fail early & often, and learn from that, too. Thank people and experiences for the lessons you learn from them.

Always Keep Learning: because this helps facilitate all of the other things I mentioned. It keeps you hungry, curious and open. And it’s not just the learning you get in school, from books, websites, podcasts, it’s also the experience of living that offers lessons, great and small. Everything life throws at you can teach you something.  Some lessons may sting, others may be more celebratory, but learning doesn’t end with a diploma.  Staying curious keeps you motivated.

I’m honored to be able to mentor, and provide some of my life experience to my mentee as she plans her own future. It’s such a lovely miracle to witness her progress and maturity. And I learn as much, or maybe more, from her than I think she is learning from me.

What advice would you offer your 18-year-old self?  How might your life today be different if you had taken your own advice?

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