Since I am quickly approaching my 38th birthday in a little less than two months, I have to stop and think about what I would tell the 23-year-old me if I had the chance to stand in front of that wide-eyed young woman who was ready to take on the world of journalism, fall in love and everything else in between at that point of my life.
Most people may view this upcoming birthday as insignificant since it marks two years until I turn 40 and three years further away from being in my mid-30s. And in most cases, it is. But nearly 15 years ago, I was 23 and so many things changed in my life. And with the things I know today, I don’t know if I would’ve changed many things, but maybe I would’ve been a little smarter, a little less naive, a little less scared to speak my opinion and tried to act in a way with my eyes wide open.
And while I can’t say, I haven’t done my share of taking on some pretty hefty battles of my own and even stumbled upon the falling in love part, I always wonder what advice I would have given that naive, young girl looking for answers in many of the wrong places, putting eggs in many of the not-so-good baskets when it came to ‘meaningful’ friendships and career decisions that have impacted the rest of my life.
Now if I were given just a few minutes to sum up the biggest pieces of advice I’d give myself, then here it goes:
1) If it doesn’t leave you laughing and feeling good at the end of the day, it’s not worth it.
Laughter truly is the cure for everything. The night after Timothy’s funeral many of us gathered on the back patio of one of our closest friends’ houses. We told stories, laughed until we cried and then told more stories to keep the mood upbeat. But that evening, after an entire week of chaos, endless crying and sorrow, all of us came together on neutral ground to find solace in one another. Eventually our laughter did find its way into tears, but at a time when all we wanted to do was crawl into a hole and bury ourselves next to his casket, we continued to find a way to stay afloat and find humor to bring us into another day — hanging on often minute by minute, hour by hour and then eventually day by day, month by month and now year by year. Laughter really is the best medicine. Don’t ever lose your ability to laugh or at least find humor in everything because some times it will be the only way to keep your mind from going insane and keeping the rest of you afloat when all you want to do is drown.
2) Even if you only have a handful of true friends standing in your corner at the end of the day, it’s far better than a room full of people who wouldn’t even get out of their chair for you.
Throughout my life, I have found that I always want to see the good in people no matter how much the signs point the opposite direction. Like most people, I have lost people in my life. Most just because our lives went in different directions. And others because one of us decided it was better to not be friends than to stay in each other’s lives. As a person who has never dealt well with letting go of someone after a break-up of a relationship or a friendship, I never understood why. But after losing Pop and then Timothy, I came to understand that the group of friends who stood by me, holding my hand, griping my shoulders to hold me up when my strength failed me, helping my family when neither Tim or I had the mental capacity to keep moving or even the sheer compassion that continues to be shown to us on a regular basis. I would rather take those 5-6 true friends than wonder who my true friends were in a group of 15-20. Life is hard enough to have to throw in having to worry about who’s stabbing the knife into your back and who else is going to pull it out and do it again. Find true friends to stand by your side, instead of the fair-weather friends who will leave at the first sign of a struggle.
3) It may be cliche, but it’s true — Don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s really not worth it because everything will work out the way it’s suppose to in the end.
This is so true. By nature, I am a worry wart — a big giant hairy one. Ew, right? But worrying about the small stuff all the time will get you no where other than incapacitated, lying in bed with a migraine because you’ve worried yourself into a stupor. Life has this crazy way of working itself out. So worrying about all those little insignificant things are pointless. Will you continue to do it on occasion? Of course, because you’re human and you’re me. But try harder not to let everything bother you because it will get you nowhere fast. Try to see life from the 30,000-foot perspective. For me right now, I have a great job with wonderful coworkers, a loving husband, three awesome children who may or may not drive me crazy on a regular basis, a beautiful granddaughter, a great family and a good life in general. A life I know may not seem perfect from the outside, but I know it’s a life that some people wish they had themselves. Count your blessings rather than always worrying about what’s wrong and what could’ve been done differently. Life is far too precious to worry about the little stuff.
4) No matter how cheesy it sounds, if it’s true love, then it’s worth fighting for. And no one should fight harder for it than you and the person you love.
When I first started dating Tim, it was his kind heart, his hilarious sense of humor and his adorable kids that reeled me in like a fish on a line. But over the last 15 years, was everything easy as pie? Um, no. Any relationship is hard work. And the people who have made it work have most likely climbed a whole lot of mountains, reached several plateaus, made more compromises than they would like to admit, laughed, cried, cussed and found the beauty in making it work. No relationship is perfect because life is definitely not perfect. We all have our faults and our baggage that we lug around behind us. But the wonderful thing about finding true love is that other person is willing to take on your baggage while you take on theirs, and piece by piece you weed through the stuff that can be tossed, you deal with the pieces that need attention and eventually you find the common ground that make two people one.
5) Never ever lose sight of who you are because life itself is a true test of your ability to stay true to who you are through its continuous struggles, challenges and failures.
This one is really hard because throughout your life everything about who you thought you were will be tested over and over again. And it won’t be pleasant most of the time. Sorry, that’s just the truth. But because you are you, you have to be willing to hold fast. There will be times when you will feel yourself slipping away, but those times you will need to plant your feet and just say no to the outside influences and people who want to change you and make you into what they want. So stay true to yourself because over the next 15 years, I will test your strength with new jobs in new careers, bosses who never want to listen to you, ‘friends’ who choose everything and everyone over you and a life that is sometimes busier than your brain can process. But hold on tight, dig your nails in and keep your feet on the ground because you can do this. And always remember, it will still be you when you come out on the other side.
6) Take chances. Jump at every opportunity.
When you’re young, you don’t realize that your life is truly an open book with empty pages to be filled with adventures, whether they are in your own backyard or in far off places. Do as much as you can while you’re young. And no, I’m not telling you to be a slut and sleep with every guy who looks your direction. I’m saying if an unbelievable job opportunity lands in your lap in another city – take a leap of faith and try new things. If you get the chance to backpack though Europe with your best friend, do it. If you have the money and the option to buy that cute little house that you’ve been wanting, then throw caution to the wind and follow your heart. Because unfortunately as you get older, those opportunities take different shapes and forms and backpacking through Europe isn’t usually one of the options when there is a husband and kids in the picture.
7) Never be afraid to fail. It will help you grow and figure out even who you truly want to be when you grow up.
Failure isn’t a dirty word. It was said perfectly in Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, “From failing you learn. From success…not so much!” By making mistakes and actually learning from them, you will figure out the right direction you want to go. Even 15 years later, you will still be making mistakes and failing along the way, but the key is not letting every one of those weigh on you like a boulder. Rather you need to learn how to file them away for the days when something similar happens in your life and you will know how to react, respond and make less mistakes with smaller margin of error.
Over the next 15 years, your life will change in so many ways while in other ways it will stay completely the same. You will lose Pop to a horrible cancer. You’ll meet the love of your life and his two kids. You will travel to other cities including the exotic lake city of Bull Shoals Lake, Arkansas. You will leave the newsroom in exchange for an office in Wood River, an office overlooking the quad and then finally a desk in an architecture studio that actually feels more like home than any of the others. You will lose a part of your heart when you say good-bye to your incredible stepson the same month that you welcome your beautiful baby boy into the world. Then two years later, you will welcome another gorgeous baby boy into your life. And then most recently, you will take on the name of grandma when you hold your stepdaughter’s daughter in your arms for the first time.
So many people have endured their own different kinds of trials and tribulations. Everyone has a story to tell and advice to give. I wish I would’ve had someone, maybe even myself to give me advice when I was often times the youngest person in the room. But I guess I did alright since I’m still here, ready and waiting to see what tomorrow brings.