This one’s for the girls who don’t have it all figured out
Writer’s Note: I wrote this piece in 2014, and couldn’t sell it. Anywhere. Finally, nearly three years later, it ended up on Khloe Kardashian’s app. I still need this advice today as a 32-year-old as much as I did when I wrote it as a 27-year-old five years ago. I hope it means something to you, too.
This one’s for the girls who don’t have it all figured out By Rachel Burchfield
Okay, so you graduated from college. Congratulations! And, um, you don’t have it all figured out yet. That’s okay – despite outward appearances, no one does. Here’s nine tips for you girls – ahem, women – who didn’t trade your cap and gown in for immediate diamond rings, 401ks, and a seemingly perfect life.
Stop poring over Facebook I heard once that a Facebook feed is a young adult’s highlight reel. It’s the place where we put our best moments, our triumphs, our successes, much like ESPN pulls together an athlete’s best moments in a game. What you don’t see in the highlight reel is all of the blood, sweat, and tears from an athlete’s countless hours of practice – or the backstory behind your seemingly perfect friend’s Facebook. Sometimes those who are going through the most challenges outwardly project “happiness” to not only fool others but themselves too. And even if the pendulum of fortune is swinging heavily in your Facebook friends’ direction, it is impossible to tell the whole story over Facebook. So stop obsessing over it. The sooner you stop comparing yourself to others, the happier you will be enjoying your own journey.
Realize how blessed you are My grandmother used to say “if we all put our problems in a pile, you’d end up picking yours right back up.” I agree. The grass may look greener on the other side of the fence, but, in truth, the grass is greener where you water it. Instead of focusing on other people’s lives, turn that attention to your own life and see what changes and strides you can make. There will always be someone with more, but there will always be someone with less – keep in mind that you are the gold standard to someone out there, so work on bettering yourself on your own terms rather than competing with someone else.
Appreciate the little things
Life is hard. Really hard. Sometimes the most courageous thing I do on a given day is get out of bed and face the day head on. When I was in high school and college, I was constantly advancing – every year I got a promotion up! If I worked hard, I got an A! If I went above and beyond the call of duty, I got recognized and applauded! Well, it’s really not that way anymore. Stop and smell the proverbial roses. The other day, a gorgeous sunset was the highlight of my day. I stopped walking and stared at it, thankful to see such beauty on such an otherwise dreary day. Take your blinders off and be mindful of the small miracles around you every day. Too often we live our lives in tunnel vision – only able to see what is ahead of us, while missing the beauty of life in our peripheral vision. I’ve recently started a gratitude journal where I list at least three things I am thankful for every day. The sunset was one of them the other day. It’s the little things.
Nothing has an end date anymore I used to know exactly when college would end – May 17, 2009. It was a date that – if I worked hard enough – I knew would eventually come, despite any struggle I was going through. The next phase of my life would begin on May 17, 2009. Well, life’s not like that anymore. I would love to know my wedding date, the date my first child would be born, or the date when I’ll get my promotion into six-figure status. (God knows that’s a long way off.) There is some excitement in the mystery – embrace it. The great thing about not having it all together is anything can change on any given day – and the not knowing makes it exciting (and, yes, a little nerve-wracking).
Trust your struggle I don’t want to be the one to tell you this, but your 20s are very, very challenging times. You are an adult, but you’re not fully self-actualized yet, and you’re still figuring it out. Like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, there’s some struggling that happens before you emerge into your fully developed self. Trust your struggle. In the moment this is very difficult to do, but ask yourself – what am I learning from this moment that can take me to a higher level? How can I educate myself so that I can do better next time so I never have to feel this way again? Knowledge is the gift of struggle. I am almost 28, and I have to say, with every struggle I’ve ever had – from minor to major – I can look back and see why things happened the way they did. It tends to make sense in hindsight. Every test has a testimony and every mess has a message. While you trust your struggle, make a commitment to yourself to learn from the struggle. Come out from the struggle a better person than you came in. If it’s not a blessing, it’s a lesson. Learn, grow, and move on to the next challenge.
Do not seek, but prepare to receive One of my friends in graduate school told me this quote over dinner multiple times – except she said it in Italian and it sounded much fancier. I am a planner, a micromanager, and, okay, a control freak. I loved knowing my end date in college and I don’t love not knowing when my ducks will fall in a row now. After a breakup, I would immediately start looking at every guy, asking myself “is he my next boyfriend? Is he my husband? Is he my soul mate?” It was getting to be too much. So, instead of looking around every corner for my next great moment, I started taking Emily’s advice and making myself the best person that I could be so that when it was time to receive, I was fully ready. I kept an open mind every day that today could be the day everything turns around for me. I stopped trying so hard and just let life happen. It is a very freeing feeling when you resign from being the general manager of the universe and just let life come to you.
You learn more in the valley than on the mountaintop The mountaintop is for celebrating and rejoicing, for champagne toasts and for that old Facebook feed. But I’ll tell you what I’ve learned – no learning happens on the mountaintop. We want to be on the mountaintop every day – it just feels good to be there. But no learning happens there. It is in the valley, amidst your struggle, that you learn how to live. I have learned to embrace the valley, because that is where my growth happens. If my life was a continual celebration, I would never appreciate the good times. My time in the valley makes me very grateful for my time on the mountaintop, and when I get to the mountaintop, I am smarter, wiser, and better.
Be the best version of yourself I realized a long time ago, after slathering myself in baby oil and enduring horrendous sunburns, that I was never going to be the most tan of my friends. I realized a long time ago that my skills in sorority recruitment are not of the singing and dancing variety, but in talking to potential new members and making them feel comfortable. I realized a long time ago that my metabolism is, um, less than desirable and I can’t eat whatever I want and expect to look like some of my friends, who eat like preteen boys and wear a size 00. (Not even a 0, but yes, the dreaded 00.) I am not perfect, and I used to really beat myself up over that. I used to trade in my strengths pool – writing, making friends, being able to make conversation, empathizing – for my weaknesses all the time. Over time I have realized that I’m never going to be tan, never going to be a singer or a dancer, and never going to be rail thin. And that is okay. I have adopted a new policy of trying to make my strengths extraordinary rather than trying to make my weaknesses adequate. Rather than giving myself skin cancer by the pool, I’ve started putting on the highest SPF I can find and embracing my porcelain skin. Rather than waste my time taking voice lessons – it’s just really not happening for me in that area – I’ve instead started spending my time freelance writing. The pressure’s off and I am much happier being a first rate version of myself rather than a second rate version of someone else.
Wait for your moment The law of averages says that if it’s pretty bad right now, it will eventually get better. If you want to get married and you’re putting forth the best effort you can, you’ll probably make that happen. Hard work pays off, and eventually someone in your job will notice – or move on to another job that will. It’s hard, but wait on your moment. Facebook is full of everyone’s moments – engagements, weddings, births, promotions, moves, additional degrees. It can be difficult to walk the fine line between being genuinely happy for your friends and being seriously jealous that you haven’t had a “moment” since college graduation. Wait for it. It’s coming. Whatever it is, it’s en route – maybe not on your timetable, but nonetheless, it’s out there. And while you’re waiting for it, don’t forget to work for it. Your husband isn’t going to fall from your chimney into your living room. Go out and meet people. Your Ph.D. isn’t going to complete itself, nor is your corner office promotion. Get off of Facebook and get into the blood, sweat, and tears zone. You’ll be so busy working that when your moment comes, it’ll feel even sweeter. And as for those women whose lives fall together piece after piece after piece? I feel a little sorry for them. I am glad that my college graduation, marriage, first child, and dream job didn’t all happen within the first five years of my college graduation. What would I have the rest of my 20s – and heck, the rest of my life – to look forward to? My whole life is ahead of me – as imperfect as it may be. And I can’t wait.
© Rachel Burchfield, 2014