In 2001, I was 18 years old and had just moved almost five thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean from my tiny tropical island of Saipan to the Pacific Northwest. I made it to the green, glittery city of Seattle. I had a one-bedroom apartment, few pieces of furniture and a boyfriend who spent more time playing video games than going on job interviews.
Oh Mona, age 18, what life you have ahead of you. As your 30-year-old future self, let’s have some words, young grasshopper.
1. You are valuable.
Girlfriend, you are worth more than the life you are settling for, one with a jobless boyfriend and a plastic, inflatable couch. A couch that you had to blow up yourself! Carry this attitude with you whenever you apply for a job or eventually land the ones that don’t fit. You are not entitled to anything without working hard for it, but that should not keep you from trying and asking, “Mona, is this front desk/dark van/back alley where you belong?” You will have a series of jobs that will test you, thrill you and teach you that you deserve more. Don’t forget that you are worth the work.
2. What do you love to do? Well do it, then!
What you love to do as a child will be what you love to do as an adult. You loved to be creative and to be funny. You loved to make people laugh, to talk, and to be the center of attention. You will find later that you love to perform comedy, something you aren’t thinking of now. But it brings together everything you love and everything you have excelled at in your 18 years. For now, whenever you find a stage, own it, even if it’s student council or your professor’s office hours. You will learn to value people’s time when they are listening.
3. Become well rounded.
Get offline once in a while. Learn about food, how to host a party, how to pronounce “coxswain.” Pluck the fascinating bits out of the world, whether it is in music or movies or food. It arms you with the cleverness that attracts people and gives you what coworkers, bosses, customers, and clients will enjoy—someone interesting to be around.
4. You are not Superwoman. Learn to set boundaries.
You are 18 years old, and the intense eagerness to please that was instilled in you will stay long after it’s useful. You were at the top of your class. You don’t need to be valedictorian of the workplace. People will take advantage of it. You will lose yourself in the desire to please your boss, your co-workers, your boyfriend who tells you he loves technology more than you. Learn to say no. It’s empowering.
Say no to your crazy boss. She will eventually let you go, then call you up on your honeymoon because she needs you to come over and work on some Excel files. Stick around crazy people like her long enough to learn what to avoid, and not a minute longer.
Say yes when people offer you help. It’s okay. You’ll be a better employee if you work with others and know when your bandwidth and boundaries are being stretched.
5. It gets better.
Even if you do not take any of this advice, even if you do suffer the heartache and rejection, the torment and delight that is your twenties, it will eventually all work out. You will turn 30 and the world will not fold into itself like George Jetson’s car-briefcase. You will find what you want to do and love it. It will be a bumpy ride, but you’ll get there. Good luck.
This post is part of BlogHer’s Success Tips For My Younger Self editorial series, made possible by Kaplan.