It’s June, which is making me nostalgic. Graduation month!
In the six years since college graduation, I’ve learned a few things — not including how to roast vegetables or that New York City post offices are to be avoided at all costs.
Consider them more … hard truths about life.
I’m not for a moment saying I know close to everything, or even most things. In fact, I probably don’t even know what I don’t know. (Wait for my follow-up post a decade from now: “Everything I thought I’d learned by age 28 was completely wrong.”)
But along the way, a few things have become clear to me.
There's no such thing as 'shy'
Growing up, I wouldn't ever raise my hand in class because everyone would look at me. I was that kid who covered her ears when people sang 'happy birthday.' I blushed at the drop of the hat (I still do) and I never accepted anything adults offered me because I was desperate not to inconvenience them.
I was shy.
But one day -- I can't put my finger on when -- I realised that 'shy' is not an excuse that carries into adulthood. Think back to the last time you saw an acquaintance who didn't say hi or you hung out with someone who didn't say more than two sentences in a group. Remember the person who wouldn't meet your eyes or mumbled or gave you one of those awful limp-wrist handshakes.
Did you think, 'Oh that poor person, he/she must be shy!' No, you didn't. You thought something along the lines of 'What a jerk.'
Eventually, no matter how hard it is, you have to consider how your shyness makes the people around you feel and how it makes them view you. It isn't good. At some point, you just have to get over it.
(I understand it's a different issue for people with severe and diagnosed social anxiety, and I can't begin to imagine how that feels. This insight is for those with garden-variety anxiety, of the ducking-down-grocery-store-aisles-to-not-say-hi type.)
Nothing will change if you don't change anything
I tell myself this whenever there's an opportunity on the horizon: a new project, a new job, a new date, a new apartment.
If you want something different, it's up to you to go out and seek it. You can wait for a change to fall in your lap, but you're probably going to be waiting a long time -- and frankly, the type of changes that fall in your lap are rarely good.
Everything is temporary
On a similar note, everything is temporary. You will only be this age, living here, with this job, with this team, in this state of health, in this state of mental health, for so long.
You could choose to see this as a bad thing (Happiness is fleeting! Things will never be this good again!), but I consider it reassuring in two ways. Firstly, knowing that your life won't always be this good forever inspires gratitude for the things that are going right now. Secondly, if things aren't good, you can take comfort in knowing that things won't always be so bad.
Have you ever read a book or seen a movie? Don't lie. The truth always comes out.
If you don't go, people will stop inviting you
The hardest part of working is getting up and going every day without fail. The second hardest part is trying to muster any leftover energy to be social.
I kid, a little. But the truth is that, to keep your social life, you have to resist the gravitational pull of your post-work couch (at least sometimes). People are simple. They reach out to the people who are top of mind. And if you want to be invited to things, you have to be on their minds. If you never go when you're invited, eventually, people will stop inviting you.
You have to ask for what you want
It's terrible, I know. You could have yelled this at my childhood self every day for a year and I still wouldn't have done it. What if they say no? What if you don't get it? What if they hate you forever because you tried to sub a salad for fries?!
That's ridiculous (10-year-old self!). If you don't ask, there is almost no chance at all that you'll get whatever it is you want.
This lesson was driven home to me a few years back while I was reading 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This,' by former Cosmo editor-in-chief Kate White in preparation for an interview. The example is work-related, but it's more broadly applicable than that. I told my colleague Jacquelyn Smith about it when she was compiling a list of life-changing business books:
White recounts a time she was hiring to fill a position on her team. After she filled it, she heard through the grapevine that one of the existing editors was upset she hadn't been considered for the job. Kate wondered: 'How was I supposed to know she wanted it? She never told me.'
Hearing that genuine, confused perspective had a huge effect on me, someone who has never, ever liked to ask for anything. Just keeping your head down and working hard isn't enough -- if you want something at work, you have to ask for it. Otherwise, how will your boss, who might be well-meaning but definitely isn't psychic, ever know?
People aren't watching as closely as you think they are
Again, an anecdote:
A colleague and desk neighbour at a previous job was doing a life experiment where she wore the same six main pieces of clothing for a month. Around the 25th, I saw her in the morning and genuinely complimented her pretty red dress.
'Are you kidding me?' she asked. 'I have worn this 10 times in the last month.'
I hadn't noticed.
And that experience rings pretty true, most of the time. Everyone is wrapped up their own lives. For the most part, they're glossing right over the details of yours.
Many of the things you 'are' are actually things you choose to be
If you are always late, or you're bad at geography, or you're addicted to your phone, I have news for you: These aren't inherent character traits. These are things you choose to be.
A lot of the time it's easier to accept things about yourselves as truths rather than choices. For instance, I'm 'bad at maths.' Ask me about all the one-on-one help I never requested from my teachers. But I could have had tutoring. You can leave the house 15 minutes earlier. You can study maps. You can turn off your phone during dinner.
If there's something about yourself that you aren't proud of, it's not written in stone. You can change it.
You have to take care of yourself
I learned this when I studied abroad during college. After two straight months of eating pretty much only Cadbury and Diet Coke, I just couldn't figure out why I felt so terrible all the time.
Eventually, I realised I hadn't eaten a vegetable since I arrived and started seeking out bags of lettuce and clementines in the grocery store ('Nutrients!' I'd announce proudly to my very uninterested and notably better-nourished friends).
It was my first hint that I was going to start having to take care of myself. No one was going to feed me. No one was going to make sure I exercised. No one would make my doctor or dentist appointments. If I didn't do it, no one would. And in the years since, that hasn't changed.
(If you're interested, here are my 14 best mental tricks to fool myself into going to the gym.)
Do what you say you're going to do
Be there when you say you're going to be there. Meet the deadline you said you would. Make the reservation you promised to make.
If you aren't going to do it, don't say you will. There's nothing worse than someone who doesn't follow through.
Friendships take work
There's a reason TV shows are so often about teenagers in high school: It's a forced social circle that determines your friends. You'll probably never experience that again. Colleges are big. If everyone at your job is awful, you can leave. Neighbourhood block parties are few and far between.
If you want to maintain a friendship, you have to put in the effort. You have to send the texts and the emails. You have to show up at the parties. You have to set the coffee dates. Especially when your friends don't live across campus or down the street -- a situation that gets increasingly common as people's lives take them elsewhere -- you have to put in the effort to keep (or make) friends.
Action begets action.
Gym-going begets gym-going. Travel begets travel. Vegetables beget vegetables. Saving money begets saving money.
The hardest part of any good (or even just fun) habit is starting. It's all easier from there.
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