Dear 21-Year-Old Me… Advice for the Journey Ahead
Dear 21-year-old me,
First of all, congrats on just graduating! I know these four years have been a rocky road. You have already been through what most people your age haven’t been, but by now I’m sure you’re thankful for how far you’ve made it. You should be so proud of yourself, and I am so excited for you! You are at such a pivotal point in your life and you have so much to look forward to.
In order to get the future you have now, you’re going to have to follow my advice. I know that you applied to teach in Spain, and don’t worry, you’ll get accepted to the program. I know that you have a million other questions about what’s in store for your future, but I won’t answer them here.
Why is that, you ask? Because you are about to embark on a post-grad life that you never pictured for yourself. Not one thing will go as you planned, and I don’t want to ruin it for you by revealing it here. But not to worry former self – that’s the fun part.
So to begin, stop worrying so much about the future.
You will have points where you obsess so much about what happens next, it will distract you from fully experiencing what is in the now. I promise you, things will begin to fall into place. Things that if I told you now, you’d probably laugh at me and say “never in a million years.” You may laugh, but you’ll also wonder how you could be so lucky that this life has been picked for you.
But this doesn’t mean you can be lazy Bridget! Yes, things will fall into place for you, but this doesn’t come by magic. You need to be proactive with your happiness and plant the seeds to get you to the next step. Apply to jobs you’ve always wanted, don’t be afraid to use your connections, and keep all of your options open because, again, nothing is going to go as you planned.
I can tell you that your post-grad life will be filled with many adventures and lots of travels. In your travels, you are going to meet a lot of people. These people will challenge you and your Midwestern-American, somewhat sheltered perspective.
You’re not going to agree with every opinion, but listen to them because you need to hear it.
By meeting these people, you’re going to be able to form new perspective that you’ll appreciate and pass on to others.
These people will come from backgrounds polar-opposite to yours, with stories that will make you laugh and cry. You will be so incredibly humbled to have met them. These people are going to change your life, you will love them, and they will soon become your favorite part of this whole experience.
As for boys? I knew you’d want to ask! To answer, you’ll meet a fair few and you’ll replay interactions in your head over and over again of why it didn’t work out, but stop! Prince charming will get here when he gets here, so until then just have fun. There’s so much beauty in being single during these years, and you’ll really appreciate having to grow without being dependent on a significant other for your happiness.
And your friends from home? They’ll still be there.
You will come home, run into each other’s arms, immediately drive to your former hangouts, and it will be as if no time has passed at all. I will tell you though, you are going to lose a few in the process that you never expected to lose. It will be hard, but the one’s that really matter will surprise you. In this, you will form a newfound appreciation for them and these summers home will be filled with some of the best memories you could ask for. You will always love each other and you will still be able to grow up together, even after being worlds apart.
New friends, old friends, and boys aside, you’ll come to realize that family is everything. You will call mom and dad a lot, and when you do, make sure to truly thank them. They are two of the best people in this world and they have literally given you the world. You will also be surprised to watch your sister grow without you there to help her, and you’ll be so proud of her. You will then be shocked at how much stronger of a relationship you will have with your family and your extended family even after being thousands of miles away. I know you know this already, but you really are so blessed to have them.
Now, you are going to face plenty of alone time since you will be spending most of your post-grad life living abroad. You will be stripped of your day-to-day outlets in some situations, and stripped of what you thought was your identity in others. You’re going to end up in a lot of different countries with a lot of cultural differences. Don’t take these differences personally.
You will get SO frustrated at some of the cultural differences you are about to experience that even going to the post office will seem like rocket science, but that’s okay. It gets better. In this time, it’s okay to cry. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your loved ones and new friends during these periods in your life. They’re there for you, always.
And finally, stop worrying about when you have to “go back to the real world.” You’re in it.
You’re in a world more real than most people will ever experience in their lifetime. Go with the flow, follow your gut, and don’t go home until you’re ready. Home will always be home, and your loved ones will support your dreams no matter how guilty you may feel about them. You’ll have days where you miss home so much that your heart feels broken and days where you feel so lost because you don’t know your place in the world. There will also be days where you are so blissfully happy to be where you are and days where you are so proud of yourself to the point where you can’t even begin to describe the feeling.
This life you’ve chosen for yourself is not going to be easy, but it is going to be beautiful and so, so worth it. A friend is going to give you an important piece of advice one day, and I’ll reveal it to you now:
Follow your dreams, and the rest will follow.
Love always and forever,
Bridget Shrode is a native Chicagoan who has a serious problem with actually staying in Chicago! This is her first year teaching in Thailand, and she can already tell it might be the best one yet. Bridget has also taught for two years in Spain. Even though Europe has her heart, Bridget enjoys exploring all Asia has to offer. You can follow more of Bridget’s (mis)adventures on her blog – Finding Bridget.