Earlier this evening, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across an article that one of my high school classmates shared.
It was written by a gentleman who was now in his 40s and wanting to offer words of wisdom to his twenty year old self.
I thought to myself, what five pieces of advice would I give to my 20-year-old self, now that I am almost turning 40?
Having been on God’s green Earth for over 38 years, I have learned a thing or two and hope you young ones are listening carefully.
It is hard to believe in less than two years I will be turning the big 4-0. Life goes by so fast. If felt like just yesterday, I was 19 years old, moving from my small southern town to attend university in New England. Now I am a single mother, living all the way in Hawaii.
You never know where life will take you.
Geographically, my journey took me to Boston, Miami, Texas, Hawaii, Australia, Italy, France, Japan and Indonesia. With another good 40 years, knock on wood, I plan to pin many more places on my world map.
Life also took me to some unexpected adventures like going away to college, marriage, military, teaching, parenthood, divorce and becoming a single woman again.
Wouldn’t life be easier if it came with guidelines? Do this or don’t do this. Maybe I would have saved myself from unnecessary stress, frustration or even heartache.
Ah, but life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes the only way to learn is through the school of hard knocks. If it is the latter, then I sure as hell should have earned a PhD in real life.
When I was 20, I thought I knew everything, just ask my parents. Now that I am almost 40, I realize I didn’t know squat.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw is offering her young assistant a few words of advice about life.
“Enjoy yourself. That’s what your 20s are for. Your 30s are to learn the lessons and your 40s are to pay for the drinks.”
Here are a few life lessons I have learned along the way:
Avoid Student Loans At All Costs
Unless you want to be paying off your loans well into retirement, don’t take out massive student loans. Do you really want to be paying off a debt you signed for until your kids go off to college or until you die?
If I could turn back time, I would have listened to my parents and attended a public university. When I was younger, I felt entitled to go to a big, expensive, private university. All I had to do was sign a promissory note and “free money.” Nothing in life is free.
Little did I understand the long term impact it would have on my life. Unless you are studying to become a doctor or lawyer, it is really important to consider how much you should invest in your education.
I didn’t need to attend an expensive, private university to become an underpaid public school teacher.
Learn How To Budget
As a special needs life skills teacher, the most important lesson I teach my students is about money management (i.e. creating budgets, balancing a checkbook, paying bills and understanding credit cards).
Before anyone graduates from high school, I think it should be mandatory to take a personal finance class. Yet, with education so focused on common core standards, we have let common sense go to the way side.
Let me be honest, this has been one of my hardest life lessons to learn, which I still struggle with. By not understanding and applying responsible money management, I made some really dumb*ss financial choices in my life (i.e. credit cards, student loans and savings).
Maybe if I was wiser with my money, I wouldn’t be struggling and I’d be in a better financial position in my life now. I am working on it.
Sadly, no one taught me anything about money. Not that it was my parents fault, you just didn’t talk about that kind of stuff. All I remember was my daddy doing the bills once a month at the kitchen table. I figured that was the man’s role in the family. When I got married I still had the same blissfully ignorant mindset.
Having been through marriage, divorce and becoming a single mother, I learned three things about money: 1) romance without finance equals a nuisance, 2) a man is not a financial plan and 3) get your money straight, girl.
Your Self Worth Isn’t Your Waist Size
I have literally “wasted” so much of my time and energy worrying about my “waist” size. Your value is not tied to the size of your hips, waist and bust. So stop it with the crash diets, corsets and starving yourself to be “skinny.”
If you are a woman in America, you will be constantly bombarded with images of the ideal woman. Whether it started off with playing Barbies or buying into Cosmopolitan Photoshopped covers, we are told we aren’t good enough, so instead buy this product to feel better about ourselves.
It is bullsh*t, don’t buy into it. You will be much better off learning this now.
For so long I struggled to remain a size zero to appeal to men, but I was miserable and hungry as hell. Whether you are a size two or 20, you are beautiful human being. Work with what the Good Lord gave ya, sisters!
Date a Variety of People
When I was younger, I thought it was romantic that I married my high school sweetheart. We went from puppy love to married in less than 10 years. During that time, neither of us really had the opportunity to date other people.
In hindsight, I wished I actually dated other boys in college and even more men in my 20s. Maybe I would have had a better picture of what I really wanted and didn’t want in a partner, before even thinking about marriage.
Now that I am single again, I haven’t wasted any time and have dated a wide variety of men. It has been like my own Sex and the City, but with a lot less sex, more mai thais and rubber slippahs instead of Manolos.
Despite a few disappointing dating experiences, I have enjoyed meeting different men and having a lot of fun dates.
Marriage is meant to be forever—don’t feel you need to be in a rush to get to the altar. Eventually you will get there. In the mean time, enjoy kissing cute boys or girls and being free for now.
Each experience has taught me a lot about myself and what traits I am looking for in someone to share my life with.
Have the “Sex Talk” Before You Actually Have Sex With Someone
I don’t care if you have only slept with one person or 50 people, your “number” is your own damn business.
If you date me, I truly don’t give a rat’s *ss how many people you have slept with before, because they came before me. Anyone prying you for details is being insecure and, I assure you, won’t be happy with whatever number you share. What matters most is this very moment now.
However, if I have learned anything from this life, is that it can take one moment to change the rest of your life. After discovering I was diagnosed with herpes five years ago, I look at sex with a whole new set of eyes.
Let’s face it. Most people don’t ever have the “sex talk” before they become intimate with a new partner.
If you do have a sex talk, it usually looks like this:
Him/Her: Do you have anything? I am clean.
You: Okay…let’s get it on like bunnies.
This my friends is why sexually transmitted infections are so common. Everyone assumes they are “clean” and have been tested, so blindly trust the other person with their sexual health.
I will never forget my boyfriend’s famous last words, before we became intimate. “Do you have anything? I just got tested and I am clean.”
Guess who got herpes right after that? You guessed right. Me.
Have the sex talk, get a blood specific blood test (herpes is never on the standard STD board panel) and then be free to have lots of great sex.
For those who may be curious, I also discovered you can still have an amazing sex life, despite being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection.
Well informed people, who care about your health, know their sexual status and understand how to lessen transmission, are much safer than any other person you may be dating who doesn’t know their current health status.
With the hook up culture in our society, you have likely been exposed to someone with a STI, who either didn’t tell you or didn’t even realize they have the virus because they show now visible symptoms.
Life is full of many lessons, either you let it defeat you or use it to help you grow into a better person.
Life is hard…and we all need a little help sometimes:
Author: Cicily Bilecki
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own