I realized this week that my 10 year anniversary from high school is this May. And I’m not sure I’d want my classmates to see me as I am. Luckily facebook keeps us more connected than in the past, but the Amber of today is not as successful as the Amber of 2015. 2016 started out rough, with my husband and I both losing our jobs within one business day of each other.
So now I’m 6 days away from my 27th birthday. I’m unemployed for the first time since I was 16. I have 4 dogs to care for and a husband who I love more than life, which is great since half the time I want to kill him. All of my plans for the new year (buying a house, having a child) feel hopeless today, because in the blink of an eye I lost the financial security that would have made them possible. And through all of this, I’ve been thinking about how things are not what I ever expected them to be.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, to be honest. We all know that some of our choices in life will set us on a path that could be entirely different with another choice. For example, which college will you go to? For me it was Purdue or Michigan State. If I had gone to Purdue, things would have turned out quite differently. For better or the worse, I’ll never know, but they would have been different.
There are tons of lists out there about how to be an adult or what to expect as an adult. This isn’t one of those lists. This is a list that uses real talk to tell you the things your mom didn’t warn you about. The things that you just expect to go a certain way, because that’s how they’ve always gone. But the secret is that things don’t go that way. Not at all.
I’ll probably write full posts on some of these items as time goes on, but I wanted to start with an entire list. So, in honor of my 10 year high school graduation anniversary, my 27th birthday, and my unemployment, here’s a top 10 list of the things I know now that I wish I had known then.
- Your career might only not start immediately after college, it might not start at all.
No matter how many times people tell you that you might not work in the field you expect after school, I don’t think it ever sinks in. You pick a degree, you work hard for that diploma, and you want to use it. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that unless you become something specific, like a pharmacist, teacher, doctor, or lawyer, you’re probably going to be like me, working in an office, doing a job you didn’t even know existed as a college student. And that doesn’t mean it’s going to be boring or miserable (see #7).
I worked in fast food and retail for 2 years after my college graduation, progressed to serving in a restaurant for another 2 years, then finally got a job with my husband’s cousin doing SEO and social media work (see #6). Then I got a job as a Content Strategist. Now I’m applying for positions as proposal writers, project managers, technical writers, and even tutors. Will I ever have an actual career path? Who knows. I sure as hell still don’t.
- College is way more important than even your parents insist.
My husband doesn’t have a college degree and it has kicked his butt. Back when my parents were graduating high school, or better yet, their parents, you could get a job out of high school that would pay the bills. I’m not looking to go full liberal in this post, but that isn’t a thing anymore. It simply isn’t. Unless you want to work in an auto shop or waiting tables, you need to go to school.
Just pretend that you’re expected to go to school until you’re 22. It sucks, it does, but it’s necessary. Do not make a choice that you’ll regret for the rest of your life, because once you spend a year or two out of school, you’ll find you have bills to pay, 40 hours of work (or more) to do, and getting back into school is a LOT harder to do.
- That big decision your considering? A puppy dog or having a baby before you’re ready — and trust me, you’re nowhere near ready — don’t do it.
A puppy is cute now, and sure, you’ll bond and have an amazing 14 years with him. You probably won’t even regret it, not really. But you will constrict your life in ways you’re not even thinking about.
Forget traveling the world, unless you plan to dump the dog at a pound when you’re bored of it — in which case don’t ever get a pet, period. You don’t deserve one. They’re a family member once you accept them into your life.
Forget going out after work. You’ve been gone 8 hours and now plan to leave him alone another 8 so you can drink and sing karaoke? Nope.
I have 4 dogs, so I’m speaking from the heart on this one. I love each dog like my child, but I’ve spent about 10K on them in the last 4 years, between emergency room visits, regular vaccines, registration fees, food, etc. We never took a honeymoon, for a number of reasons, but one reason is because what do you do with 4 dogs for two entire weeks? Boarding them costs money. Quite a bit of it. You can’t pawn them off on family every time, and shouldn’t expect to.
Adopting an animal or having a child is a lifetime commitment. It’s not just for funsies. Visit a shelter and volunteer if you just want to be around a dog or cat for a while. Do not jump into the decision of owning one.
- Marriage is hard.
I don’t care if you’ve known each other 3 months — dear God, do not get married after 3 months, I have stories up the ass about those couples — or lived together 5 years. It’s fucking hard.
I know that it’s been said before and it’ll be said again, but it’s something you don’t understand until you’re dealing with it. We were living together for 5 years before we got married and the entire first year has been more stressful than any other time in my life. Nothing changed in how we treat each other, but the finality of being married — the knowledge, when you fight, that you signed up for 50+ more years of this — it’s not a feeling you can shake. It clings to you like plastic wrap and sticks to everything you do with each other.
I told my mom that I wish she had let me see a bit of the truth behind marriage growing up. She and my stepdad kept most of their fights out of our vision, and when my husband and I got married we both thought nothing would change. It was just a piece of paper. It’s not like we’d never lived together.
But we were wrong. Something does change. And you need to be prepared for that or else you’ll be blindsided, and who knows, you might give up. I know we almost have.
- Life doesn’t get any easier. Not really.
It does get better, when it comes to people judging you based on who you like or what music you listen to, but life doesn’t get any easier. You might be able to be gay in public without being criticized, unless you live in a few specific red states, but when you turn on the news you’re still going to see those stories occur. And it’s going to tear you up inside to know that there’s little to nothing you can do to stop it from happening.
The internet has created trolls who will make you want to rip your hair out. You’ll run into people who honestly don’t see anything wrong with looking down on people who are different than them, be it by skin color or income level.
I’m writing this during a time when Donald Fucking Trump is running for president and WINNING. That’s what life is right now.
But there’s more than that.
Your family will grow apart. As your cousins and siblings have their own kids, you won’t see anyone anymore. Or, at least, not nearly as frequently.
Your best friends you might learn, are not really all that great. Maybe they’ll meet someone they pick over you, or maybe your interests will simply pull you apart.
You’ll have to work 40 hours a week to get by. You won’t have the same amount of free time that you’re used to, and relationships struggle in that sort of environment.
You might have trouble paying the bills.
You might have trouble finding a place to live.
Life simply does not ever get easier. The silver lining is that as you grow, you do find the people who make it bearable to get through.
- It’s absolutely who you know, not what you know. Sorry.
You can get straight A’s through high school and college, but if you don’t network, you’re going to be in trouble. That’s honestly the bottom line. God, I wish I had known this. I would have taken fewer classes a semester, graduated in 4 or even 5 years (instead of 3), but networked the hell out of my life.
My first office job I got through my husband’s father’s cousin. She was looking for an SEO intern, my husband saw the Facebook post, and put us in contact with each other. That job got me out of the restaurant industry and into the corporate sphere. It gave me the experience I needed to get into another corporate job later on.
If I had interned during college, I might have skipped 4 years of waitressing and unloading the merchandise truck at Kohl’s.
My husband, without a college degree, got one of the best jobs he could ask for, after years of retail work. How? The manager was an old school friend of his who knew his work ethic and was willing to give him the chance. And for over 2 years he did an amazing job, got great experience, and had the time of his life.
It’s who you know.
- A job is only as good as the people who work it.
You can have a job doing a task you hate, but enjoy coming in every day because of the people you work with. My two favorite jobs had this sort of culture. I got along with the people I worked with to the point that I wanted to hang out with them outside of the “office”.
The jobs I hated? I never once hung out with someone outside of the office. I barely talked to the people during work hours.
Who you work with is probably more important than the work you do when it comes to enjoying your time there. If you get a job and you find after a few weeks that the culture does not agree with you, that you are not finding any commonalities with coworkers and having a hard time making friends, I would highly recommend that you start looking for another place. There’s no shame in admitting a job just wasn’t for you.
- That credit card that you’re only going to use for emergency purposes? Cut. It. Up. Now.
I got one after college. It was supposed to be for emergencies only. Then it turned into a source of income for things I didn’t want to tell my parents I needed more money for. $4,000 in a year didn’t seem like a lot, but when I was barely making more than minimum wage for the next 5 years, it turned out it was a lot more than expected.
I estimate now that the $4,000 I spent on new bedding, decorations for my room, going out with friends, groceries, etc. probably cost me upwards of 7,000 too actually pay off. Simply wasn’t worth it.
- Your parents, quite frankly, owe you nothing.
One of my biggest frustrations in life is listening to 20somethings convinced that their parents are either the worst people on the planet, or that they owe them the world.
Here’s the facts. They fed and clothed you for 18 years? They did their job. You’re an adult now and while you might love to think that they should still help you pay rent and gas and babysit your kid whenever you ask — they owe you nothing.
I honestly could go on about this for ages, but I think it speaks for itself. Anything your parents do for you, as an adult, is a favor between adults. And if they do something for you, you better pay them back in kind. If you use your parents for free babysitting, but balk at the idea of coming over to help them move, you’re an asshole. If you use your parents for food whenever you stop by, but refuse to pay for yourself when you go out to eat, you’re an asshole.
And you need to grow up.
- Finally: Ask for help.
I can’t stress this one enough. There is never shame in asking for help. Regardless of if it’s food stamps when you’re struggling financially, therapy when you’re struggling emotionally, or mentorship when you’re struggling at work. Ask for help every time.