Welcome to the conclusion of my blog-to-book project: Life After High School: Secrets To A Successful Life By Those Who Have Had Twenty Years To Think About It (or) What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. This chapter is the Life Lessons Recap and Analysis. If you missed the last post, click here, otherwise, you can start at the beginning here.
After interviewing these forty classmates and four of my teachers, I am amazed at how many similarities there are in the ultimate conclusions people have about life after thinking about it for twenty years (or longer).
Yes, there are plenty of differences, including contrasting life philosophies and differences of perspective, and yet there are some commonalities that most people in my study found themselves aligning with like a magnet pointing true north.
When I read these lessons, I see various themes. Many of them seem to relate to the importance of family and relationships, being true to yourself, finding your calling, and having gratitude for life and health.
No one seemed to dwell on the traditional symbols of “success”, like money or accolades, other than to say that you should work hard at your passions, set and achieve goals, and never give up (and having enough money to avoid the debt collectors is probably a good idea too).
To create this highlight real of wisdom, I pulled a few of my favorite quotes, combined what appeared to be common principles and distilled it into a summary list. As tempting as it is to simply rely on a few bullet points, I encourage you to read all of the lessons and draw your own conclusions. Finally, at the end of this section, you can read what the teachers had to say, as well as read the opinions of the author.
Here is my list of my favorite ideas and themes that seem to be repeated through many of the interviews and may represent more or less a pattern:
- The right relationships are precious and take work to maintain and should not be taken for granted
- Set goals and have patience
- Boldly go: Assume you are invited to do the thing
- You can do just about anything if you set your mind to it
- Don’t sell yourself short
- Never say never as life is unpredictable—some things in life are not in our control
- Have faith
- It’s only when we give up that we fail
- Family is incredibly important and valuable
- Find your purpose, life work, wealth, and health
- Trust your gut
- Go big or go home
- Do the right thing
- Live your adventure
- Be true to yourself—be the best YOU that you can be
- Become truly interested in others
- Explore and learn!
- Be able to say ‘no’
- Be respectful
- Work hard
- True happiness comes from within
- Keep trying new things until you find where your soul belongs
- Grow, adapt, love
- Obedience is only the fullness of obedience, and by itself is its own reward
- Many times the rewards are greater than we imagine
- Do what truly makes you happy
- Remember how fortunate we are to be alive
- Take what others say with a grain of salt
- It’s okay to be the smartest person in the room. It’s not okay to tell everyone
- Look forward to the future, but enjoy the present
- Do what you are good at
- Never give up
- Do well in school
- Simply love
- Everything happens for a reason and it serves you
- Smart people know when to quit
- You can’t control anything, but you can have control in things
- Listen to the little voice inside that whispers
Cherish memories. Life is precious, relationships with others are gold and the key to happiness.
Life isn’t easy! Always be respectful to other people’s opinions, even if you totally disagree. Don’t let bad people hold you back. However, I think the biggest lesson is to have patience when it comes to achieving your goals—if you work hard they will come in time.
Time heals all wounds, it’s hard to be a single parent, and there is someone out there for everyone.
The best-laid plans ya-da, ya-da…
The faithfulness of God is stronger than any adversary.
Boldly going on adventures creates as much energy as any failure extracts.
It’s difficult for me to think of my life as successes and failures, or to sum up any useful lessons. I think my default mode is more “go with the flow”-y. Everything seems to blur into the next thing, all inseparable and necessary, the good and bad. Sorry to get Yoda-ish.
Maybe that’s my lesson? Zoom out and accept the bad shit because good is also coming inevitably.
Also, I think I might have been raised with a built-in assumption that I can do what I want, or that I am not excluded, even though these things might not be true. This inherent confidence has served me well I think, letting me plunge into places and projects I maybe would have been hesitant about. I don’t know if this is a lesson, but I often tell younger people to try to assume that they’re invited to do the thing and to not get hung up on their own insecurities. Of course, it’s easier said than done.
With an introverted personality, one of my biggest struggles in life has been making and keeping friends. Throughout my life, I have seen many friends come and go and I have always wished I had been better at fostering those friendships and keeping those people in my life. This life lesson has taught me the value of relationships and that keeping those relationships going takes a lot of work. I’ve tried to tell myself that I’m okay with it, not having many friends or lasting relationships, and to a degree I am. I love my solitude, my me time, and if I don’t get that time to myself I really struggle. I need that alone time to recharge. So in my adult years, I have worked to find that balance for myself. I still grieve for those lost friendships and I really envy people who have them.
My academic and professional accomplishments have taught me that I can do pretty much anything if I put my mind to it. It has also taught me that I can be very competitive and a bit of a perfectionist. Once I started school I never gave much thought to graduate studies, I think I might have even said I’d never do it. My goal was to get my bachelor’s in nursing since that is what the profession is looking towards increasingly. Now that I’m getting a master’s degree I’m thinking I could go for a Ph.D. Why not? So we’ll see. The lesson learned was: Don’t sell yourself short and never say never. If you want to do it, make up your mind to get it done and go for it.
I said I’d never move away from home and here I am half a world away.
I said I’d never go back to school and here I am contemplating a Ph.D.
I said many things I’d never do and I can’t count how many times I’ve eaten my words. So I never say never anymore because once I do that is usually the next thing I’m doing.
So many events along the way have taught me to trust my gut. As a nurse, we are taught to trust our intuition and I’ve come to rely on this in all areas of my life. If you aren’t sure about something ask yourself how does it feel?
My adult life has also taught me patience and faith. When I thought about starting a family I wanted to do it much earlier than my mid-thirties. Once I reached the end of my twenties I was very down about it and found it hard to be happy for others around me that were getting married and having kids. My best friend bought me a refrigerator magnet that said, “Whether it is clear to you or not the universe is unfolding exactly as it should’ I stuck it on my fridge and looked at it daily. It helped to have that reminder to just put faith in the universe. Eventually, it happened I found my partner in life and we have two amazing little people that call us mom and dad (well one of them can’t talk yet, but you get the idea).
Life is what you make of it. You have to strive to achieve what hopes and dreams you have. If you fail, keep trying. It is only when we give up that we fail.
—William H. Mosley
I’m still searching for the best way to have the Good Life. I know it involves the usual suspects:
- Strong family and friendships
- A sense of purpose, and (probably) a life’s “work” that reflects this
- Sufficient wealth (which means not fearing a phone call from a collection agency … being able to take a vacation now and then …. and buy good food.)
Staying healthy, good friends are very important
Trust your gut….always.
In my family, we live by a few simple phrases, and something I like to instill in my kids. Our children are going to grow up and work in a very unfriendly world. It will be much more difficult to get ahead in that world than like anything we have seen. There will be opportunities for the haves, but there will be more of the have not’s.
Phrase 1: Go big or go home. If you are going to do something make it spectacular, either a massive failure or a massive success either is fine.
Phrase 2: When the lion wakes up in the morning it has to run faster than the slowest gazelle or it starves. When the gazelle wakes up in the morning it has to run faster than the fastest lion or it gets eaten. The point is when you wake up, you have to start running or you will starve, or get eaten yourself.
Phrase 3: Compassion above all. Striving to be great means helping those along the way. You do not need accolades, or thank you’s. You do it because it is the right thing to do.
- You gotta do things right the first time, or you will revisit your work, and you’ll have to fix it. That’s just karma and luck.
- You will only appreciate things you work for. Work can mean any labor; physical, emotional or just torture.
- Real friends are the only currency we should worry about in life. It’s the only thing you’ll worry about later if you’re where you should be.
- Learning things the hard way is the best way if you can afford the time.
- Be humble. You only learn when you’re humble.
- You need all of your emotions. That’s why they are there.
- Guidelines are better than rules.
- Listen to your bartender. They’re always soberer than you are.
- When you’re in a rut, you should travel. I’ve been half way around the world both ways and I’ve seen a lot of life and it keeps me in the right perspective most of the time.
- You never know better.
Don’t take the people in your life for granted, even though they may irritate you! You never know when they will be gone, and you’ll have things left unsaid. Times in the future when you would have wanted them to be there, and they won’t. Don’t put off building a relationship with them. Also, be an important part of someone else’s life. You can make a difference just by caring about and for others. They will be touched, but so will you. Every time you make the choice to set aside your own wants to provide for the needs of others, it gets easier to think about doing it again. It feels good to see how even the little things you do can brighten someone’s life!
Not to let fear stop me from trying.
Sometimes not fighting is the strongest thing one can do. Life isn’t always fun but there is beauty to be seen daily. And at the end of the day, one must live with oneself so be true to yourself and love those around you.
To live your adventures.
I decided at one point to stop playing video games and live the adventures so I have stories to tell my grandkids about. I have become reborn several times in this one lifetime and every 3 years feels like a different lifetime.
In the last 20 some years, I’ve learned that when you’re young, you mostly focus on yourself, your feelings and concerns. The sooner we can grasp that everyone else goes through that too and instead become truly interested in others, that’s when your life will become fulfilling and interesting.
When I was younger I used to wish I didn’t have such a strict upbringing. Now I am so grateful and appreciate that I had parents who actually helped me avoid many of the pitfalls life can present to teens. I’ve learned too, that if you don’t like what your life is, you are completely able to change it at any time—it’s up to you.
—Elicia De Leon
I have learned that it’s very difficult to practice self-compassion, but that is an important part of being able to emit positive energy towards others. I have learned that family and friends are very important to me and that strengthening community is one of my top priorities.
I have learned that no matter how much you might wish it to be so, some things in life are not in our control… This is a hard lesson and relates to how much I value relationships and family, but how hard it has been for me to find my life partner.
I have also learned that exploring, living in new places, traveling, having outdoor adventures, feeling satisfied with my work, and meeting new people are all things that make me feel like my life has been a success.
Developed an ability to say no, which I did not have and a realization that on the death-bed you won’t regret the day you did not go into the office but will probably regret the birthday or event you did not spend with your family.
Treat people with respect, you can be successful and a good person at the same time. Hard work pays off if you don’t take any shortcuts.
—Christopher Richard Gillman
Set goals you’re passionate about and they’ll be achieved. True happiness comes from within. When you’re happy people will be drawn to you. Your energy, positive or negative is felt by others around you and it’s your choice which to radiate.
The major life lesson I have learned is to not take life for granted. None of us are promised tomorrow. I spent so much of my high school life caring about what people thought of me, trying to be what everyone wanted me to be. I wouldn’t put myself in any category with others, (popular, nerds, etc.). I am me and always have been. I tried to fit in with everyone and not judge others for their faults because let’s be honest we all have our faults. I am who I am and I am ok with that. In high school, I didn’t go to parties or even get invited. I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I am ok with that because looking back I think I would have given in to peer pressure just to fit in. What I have learned and what I have tried to teach my children is to be themselves; don’t change for anyone.
Set goals and follow through with those goals. Don’t get caught up in personal and political bullshit. Be honest and a hard worker and you can accomplish all your goals.
— Zach Rue
Take care of the people who matter the most to you; you never know when they’ll be gone. Take care of your own body and your mental health. Money isn’t so important; happiness is found within yourself and the people you care about. Don’t be afraid to keep trying things until you find where your soul belongs. Don’t be afraid to change your way of thinking and who you are. Grow, adapt, love!
— Suzanne Earles
My greatest success in my life over that past 20 years I would have to say is the life that I live today and the family that I have created. My only failures that I would really call failures would be some of the years I spent partying a little too hard.
I don’t want to necessarily call it a failing time in my life, but there are definitely some times in those years that I would have to say I learned some lessons the hard way and were just going to leave it at that.
The only other mistake that I feel I have made is that I have lost many friendships that I had in High School, which I know happens often, but I wish I could reconnect with those people because so many of them were so inspirational to me and went through some great years of my life with me.
—Stacie Lea Quatsoe
- Don’t be afraid of trying things. Things can be fixed or replaced—It is a matter of inconvenience and cost involved in a mistake, but the world hasn’t yet ended due to someone’s mistake, and more frequently is made better because of them.
- Remember, The best way around is through. (A lesson I learned from life and from watching Pro-football where it is uncommon to see them run the ball around the outside… When this is done it is usually a last resort.)
- Consistently doing a good job is better than inconsistently doing a slightly better one.
…But remember batter made with inconsistent butter is still consistently good, (You don’t have to worry as much when the right ingredients are there).
- ‘Obedience’ and ‘Disobedience’ are not opposites as you may think. Consider partial obedience, this is still being disobedient. However, partial disobedience does not become obedience. Obedience is only the fullness of obedience, and by itself is its own reward. Many, many times though the reward ends up being greater.
- I would be remiss not to share my faith in Jesus with my words of wisdom so I close with this:
- I firmly believe God is real and that he allows us to be nearly godlike in our own way (“Made in His image”). In our desire to be our own person there is plenty that we do that doesn’t measure up. Faith in Jesus is trusting that He became the substitute for our shortfalls, the sacrifice for our sin. More than that it is trusting that when we pursue His way of life, when we pursue Him, that such a life is the one ultimately best suited for us.
—Scott Andrew Bjerk
Do what makes you happy. Whether it’s family and children, traveling and living life outside in foreign lands, or just have a genuine smile each day.
Enjoy your coffee or tea each morning and just remember how lucky we are to have grown up in a great place, live in a great place and be able to enjoy the great parts of life.
- Happiness is eating a donut, satisfaction is looking in the mirror and admiring the way you look/feel because you didn’t eat the donut. I’d rather pursue satisfaction than happiness.
- When people give you advice or judge you, it is them seeing your life through the lens of theirs. Always take that with a grain of salt as you’re the only one that knows what make sense to you.
- Do no harm. Then do whatever you enjoy most as often as you can.
- I once misread an airline ticket I had when I needed to fly from Bremen, Germany to Alesund, Norway and that flight is only once a day. I was able to get there 2 hours later. Sure, it cost me 1300 euros, but there’s ALWAYS another flight. Don’t stress too much.
- The key to preventing jet lag: Drink until you’re tired, sleep until you’re thirsty.
- If someone asks if you’re a god, say “yes”.
- It’s okay to be the smartest person in the room. It’s not okay to tell everyone.
Getting out of your comfort zone and/or taking some risks is a good thing (learned moving to Anacortes in high school and taking my current job). Look forward to the future, but enjoy the present (my goal as a dad, but sometimes a challenge).
- Do what you’re good at, and learn from your experiences to become better at what you do.
- I’ve also learned to respect elders and others in general, to be generous and forgiving, to be a part of the community, and that you should never be afraid to ask for advice.
- Never give up.
—Kwok Yang (Jack) Ng
- To be humble, kind and assume goodwill – you never know what someone else is going through
- Nothing in life is permanent so enjoy the ups but also know that the downs won’t last forever
- Laughter can cure all and don’t take yourself too seriously
- Live every day to the fullest – travel, learn another language, take risks
- Love hard
— Sarah Henry
- The first thing I will pass on to my daughter, school matters. It matters a lot! You can’t escape it, don’t even try.
- It took me a long time to catch up to what I could have accomplished in high school and directly after. That is probably the biggest lesson.
- And family first…always. They are the ones that will be there. Don’t break those bonds.
- Be yourself, but keep yourself forward moving…always.
It’s hard to know what you want to do with your life when you are 18! What is important to you at that time probably will not be important to you in 20 years. My biggest failure it not listening to myself and getting my teaching degree. 20 years later—business degree in hand—I’m wondering if I should go back and get my teaching certificate and Masters.
I would say to not make excuses, and to not worry about what other people think.
— Carly Murdock
Don’t put all of your efforts into one thing, one passion or desire until you are sure that’s where you belong, or you will end up like me: almost 40 and still confused.
My biggest success was overcoming an illness you are not supposed to be healed from. ?
I learned what it truly meant to be treated right and have a mutually respectful relationship. I’ve experienced heartbreak and lived—though I don’t think I’ll ever heal 100%—and I’ve come to appreciate and realize how important family is and how truly lucky I am to have such dedicated and loving parents
—Polly Ann Anderson
Simply to love. Live a life of kindness, and compassion for others. It’s so very important. Simply love.
Nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned:
- Mom was right.
- Work hard, and be a good person and good things will happen to you.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- Even if we don’t understand it at the time, I have to believe there is some reason/bigger/grander plan.
- Old clichés you hear as kids are true, the older you get the faster it goes! People weren’t kidding about that! Eh, what do the grown-ups know? Clearly a lot more than any kid ever thinks.
- Don’t work for husband/wife companies unless you are family. As my co-worker told me, this is a family business and you ain’t family.
- It’s not lonely at the top. Screw the asshole who said that (Jody).
- The former president at Salem Five shared this golden nugget with me. One day when talking to him about character flaws, he said, “Karen, a person’s biggest flaw is often their greatest attribute.” I will never forget that.
—Karen Marie Chase
I think the biggest lesson that I have learned is that everything happens for a reason. I try not to dwell on the past or worry about things that I can’t control.
Plans change! Life is unpredictable.
- Run for president while you know everything
- Life only goes faster
- Smart people know when to quit
- You can’t make someone love you and you can’t bring someone worthy into your life until you love yourself
- There are three voices inside of us—listen to the one that whispers
- While you can’t control anything you can have control in things
- All you really have in this life is yourself and your shared experiences
- It’s not about waiting out the storm but dancing in the rain
- Everybody gets put in the barrel so have some compassion
Lessons From The Educators
What do you wish you could tell all graduating seniors about life after high school?
Trust yourself, don’t just go to college because they have a big football team, find your niche, please be open to change, maintain an open mind, develop self-confidence.
—Kevin Miller, Retired Educator
Nothing ever stays the same. The highest moment and the lowest moments aren’t going to last. Change is a natural part of it and they have to find the center in themselves that doesn’t change. Relationships, jobs, physical health all change.
—Scott Burnett, Educator
Look at yourself and what brings you fulfillment because you are going to be spending a lot of your time doing something, so make sure that all the things around it match up with who you are. If where you live gives you a lot of pleasure, then that should be an important thing, not just the dollar sign. The dollars alone don’t bring fulfillment. We discussed some of this on the senior advisory board. Psychology has always been the backdoor science in terms of prestige, but it is important. The senior project became a presentation about life post high school. They either had to do a job shadow in one of those fields, or a project that dealt with a particular career they wanted to look at. One student went to investigate architecture and decided she didn’t like the artsy side, but the engineering side. Ended up getting early acceptance in engineering school.
—Ruth Backlund, Retired Educator
Be responsible for your own life. I see kids not taking responsibility. They are passing the buck and blaming others. This is especially true after high school.
—Laurie Julius-Carver, Educator
From The Author
Stop caring about trying to please everyone, since you always end up looking like a jerk and on the off-chance you are momentarily successful at it, other people get jealous.
Advice For Entrepreneurs
- Always Go Low Overhead (my dad warned me, but I had to learn the hard way)
- Pick the right partners, because breaking up is hard to do
- Handle conflict with care. It’s like a seriously inflamed hemorrhoid
- The only way out of the business that continues to profit is to go from true business owner to investor (or a “B” to an “I”, as Robert Kiyosaki suggests in Rich Dad, Poor Dad). Become the financier and get a replacement who has skin in the game with ownership. Otherwise, sell or just cut your losses since that ship is eventually going to go down like the Titanic!
- There always is a way to exit and get to make lemonade out of lemons (E.g. I created a consulting practice and wrote a book).
- Businesses without high overhead and debt are easy to change or get out of.
- “Strictly Business” is a misnomer, and “It’s not personal” is a lie. It’s always personal, so you have to be prepared to handle it.
- Leadership is influence, and it requires service and a servant’s heart. The business is not there to serve you, as much as you wish it were the other way around. If you treat it that way, you end up killing the Golden Goose and choking on the feathers. If it hurts you too much to see the world as it really is, you can always go back to being a lazy consumer and working for someone else and losing your influence. Then someone can tell you what to do all day and you can choose bondage. Freedom isn’t free.
- Doing it “for the money” is a trap and a weird paradox. We must follow our dreams and passions to bring light to the world, and the light is what people pay for. Yet we feel we need money to follow our dreams, which entices us to choose careers and projects based on the lure of money, rather than the dream. We wait for the money so we can invest in the dream, but by then it’s too late… We are caught in a Catch 22.
Lessons From The Loss Of My Parents
- You can’t take it with you.
- Love your life. Life is too short to hate or be apathetic.
- Cancer is a great leveler. It forces you to face the truth.
- There is evil out there to be wary of. Defend yourself.
- The world is not fair and there are atrocities that should be defeated and injustices that should be righted. Find out where you want to go and choose your role carefully in the grand political game.
- Knowledge is not power—practical application of insight is power. Practicing insight and taking action with it leads to wisdom.
- Don’t work at the Post Office.
- Jealousy is the biggest, darkest, ugliest word in our language and a terrible force of evil.
- True love is a great thing and is to be cherished.
- Don’t do business with extended family unless you are ready for really awkward Thanksgiving dinners.
- Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me.
- You aren’t your dad. Life goes on. Move on.
- Generational curses must be destroyed.
- You usually don’t get what you want, but you do get what you need just in time.
- The stories we tell ourselves determine every action we take and every relationship we make. My dad and I fought a lot at the end because of our dissonant stories.
- Everyone must deal with grief and go through the stages. You are not immune to grief.
- Grieving doesn’t just happen when someone dies. It also happens as a result of a loss of a business, a bankruptcy, a loss of an identity, and even a minor loss as a result of a mundane setback. It may have a lower impact, but grieving still occurs and must be dealt with one way or another.
My hope is that you pass these lessons and these life stories onto young people in your life. There are countless young people who are seeking wisdom, but they sometimes need to hear it from someone other than their parents and teachers for third-party validation.
Besides, who wants to hear their mom nagging at them? Mine still is! I can hear her now: “Jesse! Drink your juice! Jesse, wear your sunscreen!”
If anything here spoke to you, I encourage you to leave a comment below and I implore you to please share this with a young adult graduating high school, a college student, or a parent who needs to give a little encouragement to their young chick who is about to leave the nest. You never know when you might get to shine a little light on this long strange trip we call our life.