We continue my ongoing 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 with an interview featuring Jill Testerman. If you missed the last post, click here, otherwise, you can start at the beginning here.
My Life In High School
Who were you in High School and how did you feel about it?
I was overall a good kid—good student, did well in track and cross-country, played the violin, didn’t get into trouble. I was shy and really wanted to fit in. Looking back, my time in high school seems pretty normal and unremarkable, but I remember it being kind of an emotional roller coaster for me because socially I didn’t quite feel comfortable in my own skin.
What did you think your life would become when you graduated?
I thought I would study English, History, or Art History and probably become a professor.
My Life After High School
What happened in your life to you, for you, and by you in the last twenty years (how have you used your time and who have you become)?
I am still the same person I was in high school, but my perception of myself and the world around me has changed so much. After high school, I went to a liberal arts women’s college (Smith), which was amazing for my self-confidence. I met so many other smart and amazing and quirky women and felt like I really fit in…and I think my social anxiety really lessened. I had thought I was only interested in humanities but took a chemistry class and surprised myself by loving it. Pretty soon I was taking lots of science classes and decided to major in biology.
I went to Kenya for a semester to study wildlife ecology, and this was really pivotal for me. It was the first time I can remember when I felt so immersed in my present experience that I wanted to just be. It was a time when I realized the importance of living in the moment. I also started to feel more adventurous and decided I wanted an outdoor biology job so when I graduated from college I volunteered to do water quality work at Mt Rainier, which led to working there seasonally for many years, doing biology work and later becoming a backcountry ranger.
I discovered that I LOVED the outdoors…hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, everything. It all just felt like my natural environment. I got to travel a lot in the off seasons, to South America, Central America, back to east Africa, visiting friends who were working in Pakistan. I just felt like the world was so big and I wanted to explore it, and I felt so much freedom to explore.
I had a very serious long-term relationship with a guy who also worked at Mt Rainier, who is still very dear to me, but in the end, our personalities were too different… He instilled in me that life is meant to be lived to the fullest, though.
After doing lots of seasonal jobs (park service and outdoor education), I decided that it was time to put my abilities to use in a more practical way (that’s how I thought of it at the time), so I moved to Portland, became a nurse, worked as an ER nurse, and a few years later became a nurse practitioner… And here I am, having just finished my first year out of NP school, doing a year-long residency at a community health clinic in Yakima.
Last year after graduating from NP school I hiked the northern half of the Pacific Crest Trail, and this year after finishing a year-long residency I am finishing the southern half. Hiking the PCT has been a dream of mine and I’m so happy to be on the trail! Living with good energy, purpose, and compassion, and making the most of the moments we have in this life…this describes the person I try to be.
My Life Lessons
What were the major life lessons and wisdom that you gained during your journey over the last 20 years?
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.
Letter To My High School Self
If you could write your 18-year-old self (or however old you were when you graduated) a letter, and send it back in time, what would you say? What lessons, wisdom, encouragement, or warnings would you give yourself?
I would say… Don’t be afraid of new experiences! If you think you’d like to try something, set it as a goal and go for it. Know that you are the only “you” you’ve got, so appreciate yourself and love who you are and what you can accomplish!
Don’t worry what others think of you, or that you are living life in a way that seems unconventional to others. Remember that you will be happiest when you are doing what you love, surrounded by loved ones.
Next time we get to hear from fellow classmate Nathan Wolfe.
Are you from Generation X? I want to hear what you think! Please comment below and participate in the conversation about What They Didn’t Teach Us Gen Xers In High School. What do you wish someone told you when you were eighteen?