For years, you’ve imagined the day your deserving hand grasped that crisp diploma. Through exhausting tests and early wake-ups, graduation day seemed like some elusive, unreachable date on the calendar.
Now, though, you’ve earned the right to tread across the stage and into the vast horizon of possibility. The rite of passage into true adulthood has happened. As the familiar Dr. Seuss book has told you, you’re off to new places. You’re off to your dreams.
It’s thrilling. The optimism of what awaits you incites celebratory feelings and the tossing of graduation caps.
It’s also a little scary. The unknown dredges up fear and uncertainty. How do you know you’re ready?
It’s been 11 years since I was in your shoes, but it doesn’t feel so long ago, mostly because I never truly escaped my high school days. As an English teacher, I still live the high school experience every day, even if it’s from a different vantage point.
Because of this, I’ve come to appreciate the things I wish every high school senior knew before stepping out of the doors for the final time.
1. You’ll miss these days.
I couldn’t wait to step out of those doors for the final time. Now, though, I can appreciate that despite the hardships, frustrations, mood swings, and mean girls, some of my best life moments happened in those high school hallways. Treasure the final moments because someday, you will want them back.
2. A college degree doesn’t guarantee your dream job.
Don’t get me wrong...I’m a firm believer in the value of education. I’ve centered my career around it. However, please understand that earning your degree only opens doors for you. It doesn’t mean you’ll get to walk right through those doors with ease. It still requires work, effort, and networking to get to your dream job. You might not get that top-level job you have your eye on right out of college. It might be a decade until you get to where you want to be. Be prepared to work your way up, even after the next diploma is in your hands.
3. Adult life is expensive.
I never thought that at some point in life, a sale on vacuum cleaners or water heaters would be a blessing. Whenever you think you’ve properly finagled your budget, something will break. That something will cost more than you could ever dream. Even regular life will put a dent in your wallet. The freedom of adult life comes at a hefty price, and your disposable income might not allow for nightly caviar and expensive cocktails.
4. Friends will come and go.
Everyone always talks about high school friendships not lasting forever.
Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.
Over the next few years, you’ll learn people will fade in and out of your life. It might feel like there is a friendship revolving door in your life. Know that’s okay. Learn to be your own friend and be confident enough to trek through life solo. Also know, though, that as friends make their exit, new people will enter your life. Learn to appreciate the present and who is with you now.
5. Every choice you make can impact your future.
Even seemingly insignificant decisions can lead your life down a different path. Be conscious of your choices and their impact, but don’t obsess over them to the point of overwhelming yourself.
Trust your instincts. Regrets are a natural accompaniment to freewill. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can at the time and understand that everyone wishes they’d done some things differently.
6. Listen to your heart when deciding your career.
Friends, family, and even society will try to dictate what job you pursue. Be confident enough to recognize it is your life. You are the one who has to work in the career you pursue. Find something that fulfills you and gives you purpose.
7. Salary is only one measure of success.
As a teenager, I thought money equated to fulfillment. I’ve learned that equation isn’t necessarily true. Find what truly makes you feel alive and purposeful. Sometimes dollar signs aren’t the answer.
8. Don’t be afraid to be surprised.
In high school, we’re told to plan for the future. However, I’ve come to realize sometimes the best things in life aren’t things we ever expected. We often end up in completely different places than we could’ve ever imagined. Surprise twists aren’t always a bad thing. Don’t be so rigid in your planning that you fear the unknown.
9. Accumulate memories, not stuff.
As I get ready to enter my 30s, I’ve learned the things that make me happiest aren’t the shoes, clothes, or technological gadgets I’ve accumulated.
It’s the memories.
The once-in-a-lifetime moments I’ve experienced with friends and family are what I truly treasure. Sometimes, it’s even small moments like sitting on the deck watching a meteor shower or going to a family gathering. Don’t spend your adult life collecting things that someday won’t matter. Collect moments with those around you. These are what you will treasure later.
10. You can never be fully prepared, so just enjoy the crazy ride.
No matter how prepared you think you are or how much advice you receive, you can’t completely prepare yourself.
Adult life is hard. It’s stressful. It’s confusing.
But that’s part of what makes the journey beautiful.
No matter what, this is your story. There will be difficult times and mistakes. There will be regrets and mishaps. Enjoy every single moment, good and bad.
Don’t be afraid to explore, to be adventurous, and to change your mind.
Above all, high school seniors, never lose the optimism for your dreams that you have right now. Dream big, and live bigger, no matter what that looks like for you.
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