Scene: Suburban high school in bayside Brisbane. 19 November 1999. My last day of year 12.
How was that 20 years ago? YIKES.
Thinking of that day 20 years ago – which I can still clearly remember – I was a bundle of anxiety. There was so much of the world that I just had no idea about and so many hopes and dreams and expectations that I knew I would have to navigate.
Adulthood was upon me and I was not ready. I cried. A lot.
Looking back now, I have managed to get through those last 20 years just fine. Awkwardly, no doubt, but nobody’s actually keeping score…except my mind which likes to remind me of things at 3am sometimes.
I’ve learnt a LOT since high school and I thought I’d share some of those lessons for any of the youngens out there who are a bit apprehensive about this whole adult thing.
TL;DR: You’re going to be fine.
#1 Life is so much bigger than school
I know school feels like everything right now. In the grand scheme of things, it’s NOTHING.
If school has been good for you, that’s great. Enjoy it while it lasts because soon you’ll know what it’s like to really work and balance a social life and figure out what to cook for dinner and pay the power bill on time and try and remember everyone’s birthday. You don’t think going to school six hours a day and doing some homework is easy but you’ll realise just how easy it was when you’re old like me.
If you’re having a terrible time at school and can’t wait for it to end, good news! You’re almost done. Stick it out. I’m not going to sugar-coat it: the real world can be tough but it can also be wonderful. You’ll have so much more choice and power about how you live your life. Hang in there; better days are coming.
#2 Literally nobody cares what you did at high school
Do you know how many times somebody has asked me what subjects I did at school, what my university entrance score was, or what type of maths I did in Year 12? ZERO. In my first jobs, sure, it sat on my resume to fill in space but for the most part, nobody gives a damn.
Remember that when you are freaking out about picking elective subjects or choosing which maths to do. Unless it is absolutely going to impact your future career, don’t stress. Do what you can manage, do it well, and then move on.
#3 You don’t have to have everything figured out
I can’t tell you how many times I changed my mind about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just didn’t know and I was so scared that if I picked something and it was wrong, I’d be stuck.
The truth is, I’ve started four different degrees and finished none of them. I’ve paid a lot of HECS in my time. But I’d do it again tomorrow. It took actually doing the thing to realise that I didn’t want to do the thing. A year into a law degree and I wanted to gouge both my eyes out. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be and I HATED it. So I changed direction.
Nobody cared as much as I thought they did. I figured it out as I went along and I’ve continued to do that my whole life. Start climbing the mountain, discover you’re going the wrong way, climb back down and start again. The mountain is not going anywhere.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to know everything now. You’ve got time.
#4 Don’t try and fit in or make others happy
Don’t pick a career or life path based on what you think people will like. Have I mentioned that law degree that took away my will to live? I thought it was so important to look smart and have people go ‘WOW’ when I mentioned I was doing law.
To be honest, it was just a bunch of pimply teenagers sitting around reading 100-year-old judgements in ye olde English that was not even remotely glamourous. I didn’t feel smart doing it, I felt miserable.
I put off becoming a writer for 18 years for all sorts of reasons when it was staring me in the face the whole damn time. Follow your own path. Don’t have it figured out yet? Refer to lesson #3.
#5 You never truly feel like a grown-up
Do you remember when you were in grade 8 and you thought the grade 12s were SO grown up and impressive, and then when you got there, you realise they weren’t that grown up at all? That feeling never goes away. Even when you are a fully functioning adult, you still feel like a much younger version of you.
I’m approaching 40 and I still laugh at farts. They’re funny.
#6 Nobody really knows what they’re doing
Honestly, we’re all just running around looking for an older adult to tell us what to do. Even when we’re amazing at something, half the time we’re doing it and questioning whether it’s right in our heads.
Don’t worry about not knowing anything yet: it’ll come, or not, but you’ll figure it out. You’re actually smarter and more capable than you think you are.
#7 Not everything has to be perfect
Don’t take this the wrong way: you should always try your best, make the effort, and be interested in the outcome. BUT, unless you’re a surgeon or something equally life-changing, then good enough will do most of the time. You will do a lot of things in this life and if you’re panicking about being perfect every time, you’re going to be miserable and crippled by the anxiety of trying to obtain something that is impossible.
The burnt toast is fine. The pass on that essay is fine. That haircut you just gave your kid is hideous but fine. That time you responded to “have a good flight” with “you too” when the other person is not travelling, is embarrassing but fine. It’s fine.
#8 Learn to ask for help
If you’re not accustomed to asking for help, you better learn. Life can be challenging and overwhelming and just downright shitty sometimes. There are going to be so many times in your life where you just need someone to be there for you or do something for you. You need to learn to ask them for what you need.
People are not mind readers, as much as you might want them to be. There are no teachers checking your homework or reporting back to your parents about how you’re going. You have to figure it out yourself and ask for support, even if you don’t know what will help at that particular time.
The bonus of asking for help is that you’ll learn a lot about a person by how they respond with a ‘no’.
#9 Be brave
Ever been so terrified you can hear your heartbeat thump in your ears? Welcome to adulthood where everything is terrifying and you have to routinely talk to people you don’t know.
The truth is that as you grow up, you are going to face so many different challenges and a lot of them you will want to hide from. The truth is also that you can’t hide from everything. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.
Sometimes you just need to be scared and do it anyway. When you’ve been brave, congratulate yourself. Being brave can be physically and emotionally demanding but each time you do it, it gets a little easier.
#10 Stay fit and active before everything starts to hurt
At some point, your body starts to deteriorate. For me, that was 35. A bit of exercise and my back is stuffed. A few wines with dinner and I have a hangover that lasts three days.
While you’re young and agile and flexible and all those other good things, get all your partying done. Then do all the things that are good for your body. Find something you enjoy and do it. If you don’t want to run a marathon, don’t.
Also, learn to meditate. It’s the best and will help with everything. Promise.
The bonus lesson: Just be you
Don’t try to be an imitation of someone else. Be you and do it proudly. If you’re awkward, be awkward. If you’re loud, be loud. Whatever it is that makes you who you are, embrace it.
There are enough copycats in this world all trying to compete with other people, to have more and be more. Just be you and your life will be much easier.