If I were to pop onto the football field of my high school to give the 18-year-old version of myself a few words of life and career advice before fearlessly snagging my diploma and heading off to college... I'd have a lot to say. For starters, I'd tell her to:
Travel, Travel, Blah Blah Blah
Literally everyone will tell you to travel and study abroad while you're young. And that's awesome advice, and yes you should do that. Of course you should try to do a travel abroad program. Heck, take a year after high school and go see the world before starting college. Go do all of it. But here's the thing: Don't let you or anyone else trick you into thinking that these are the precious couple years to travel or you have ruined it for yourself. They will tell you that the older you get, the harder it will become. They will gladly put up walls for you. Don't lose hope in your ability to travel if you don't accomplish it immediately after high school. Travel is not reserved for the young or the retired. It is your choice to incorporate it into your life.
"Growing Up" Doesn't Have to Look Like Anything Else But You
We are taught from a young age what a "grownup" looks like. And I'm sorry, but the quintessential grownup is dull. You are a grownup. The epitome of a grownup is the ability to stay young at heart as you carry on the responsibilities that come your way. I have friends who go to Disneyland every week and dress like mermaids and have funky hair colors, and that is how to be a grownup. The minute you sacrifice who you are to act the way you think you are supposed to act, you will sacrifice the fire within you. And once you do that, it's a slippery slope and it becomes harder and harder to get it back.
Partying is Fun and Nothing More
Sure, partying is a rite of passage. I get it. You followed every rule in high school. Didn't have a sip of alcohol. Got straight A's. You deserve this. But don't drag it out. Enjoy the parties but don't lose sight of one important thing: You cannot numb or hide from who you are at a party. Enjoy the simplicity of it. It is a social event, but don't allow yourself to get lost in it. There are better people and better life experiences out there. I promise you.
Change Your Major a Million Times Then Stop Caring
First off, please do not pick a major as a "safe bet." There are no safe bets in terms of college majors. We're all in a rat race that we have to learn how to navigate safely and happily. So with this said, the most unsafe bet is to major in something that you believe will lead to job opportunities. If your heart is happy, you will thrive and be motivated to work harder. The people who make fun of you for wanting to major in theatre are the people who are clueless in terms of how to make money doing it. Also, these are the same people who are primarily money-driven, and they are not worth your time. Trust me. They will suck the life out of you.
It's OK to change your major. It's OK to change your mind. The person you are in this moment will grow and change so much in the next four years. And that's exciting! Allow yourself the room to grow and learn. If you get to a point where you financially cannot change your major again because it will add another year's worth of student loans to your list of debt, then please know that that is OK. You are not carving your life in stone with your major. At any point in your life you can change your mind. Right now you are learning the skills to focus on something, and that's great. But don't lose sight of the beauty in changing your mind.
Your Gut Instinct is Your Best Instinct
Everyone, including the future version of yourself, will think that they know what is best for you. They want you to be happy. They don't want you to hurt. But here's the thing: You are radiant right now. Right now as you are. You have huge dreams for yourself and you wear bright colors and you love having fun summer jobs and believe that the happiness you feel in these jobs should be the same way you feel about your career. You're wonderful. The world will try to tear you down and tell you what to think. But please know that your gut instinct is your compass. Age will try to silence your compass. Don't let it. It's not an act of defiance. It's an act of maturity.
Erika Jenko is a playwright and theme park junkie trying to navigate the magical world of adulting. Also, a YouTuber and blogger at www.subwaymouse.com.
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