What I Know Now...

With my 10 year high school reunion fast approaching, I have been forced to reflect on this past decade of life. As expected, there have been numerous highs and lows, but here is what I have gained from life thus far.

First and foremost, I wish I would have listened to my mother more often. Yes, mom, you read that correctly. The advice that I so often rebelled against was exactly what I should have been doing all along. The problem is, we are deemed adults at the ripe young of age of 18, so we think the days of being lectured or advised are beneath us. I was fortunate enough to have parents that spoke their peace on matters, but did not force opinions or decisions upon me. They let me make my own mistakes and -- I assure you -- that I made plenty. Some, if not most, could have been avoided. If only I didn't have that chip on my shoulder and actually listened. But alas, the adolescent that I was had no interest in subscribing to my mother's way of thinking. Naturally, I knew more about MY life than she did. Boy, was I wrong.

Second -- education. When leaving high school, you are left at a crossroads. What you choose to do will ultimately affect your path in life. I chose to stay close to home. I worked full time while attending school, did as much as I could online and stayed within my comfort zone. I lived at home, kept the same friends, rarely participated in school activities and basically lived life as I always had before. Looking back, I wish I would have gone away to school and embraced the experience. I don't know what it's like to live in a dorm room, I do not have any 'college friends', and I don't exactly have any school spirit as I transferred several times. If a graduating senior were to ask my advice, I would tell them it doesn't matter where your friends are going or how far away your parents will be, go away to school. It will be scary and unfamiliar, but so will life and this experience will better prepare you for the days to come.

Now onto the real life things I wish I would have known ten years ago. Credit cards are a necessary evil. At 28, I still have an internal battle every time I see a cute pair of shoes. When I was 18, there was no hesitation; wants and needs were the same thing. Financial responsibility is not something that is taught in your everyday classes. It is really not something that anyone can force upon you. So, when given the freedom to swipe a piece of plastic and gain instant gratification with delayed consequence, many teenagers will jump at that opportunity. Unfortunately, credit is something that rules our world. You must have good credit in order to obtain all the things in the 'American Dream.'  And so, my advice is buy what you can afford and nothing more. Many people drown themselves in debt by trying to compete. The newest car, phone, purse etc., is not worth the stress if you can not afford it and it will hinder you later in life.

Life has no grading scale. Sometimes you will work from dusk until dawn with no praise, recognition or compensation. You will not always get a pat on the back or an award for your efforts. People will not always stop to tell you that you are doing a wonderful job. And yet, you will push forward. You will continue to exhaust your efforts and finish the tasks at hand. Not for the grade or the accolades, but simply because it needs to be done. And, when you are finally at your wits end, someone will lean in to tell you they appreciate all that you have done. This will recharge you and carry you over the drudgery of the next few mountains. I imagine this is what parenting is like, but I had this revelation recently within my own career.

Along those same lines, this world does not owe you anything. I repeat you are owed NOTHING. The electric company does not care that you had the flu and missed a few days of work. Nor does the landlord care that your car needed new brakes this month so you're a little short on rent. Bills have to get paid and your excuses make no difference on when. And it's not just companies. Do not enter the adult world with a chip on your shoulder or the notion that you have a leg up on anyone else. No matter what it may be (life, relationships, career, etc.),if you're lucky, you will get what you put in.

One of the most important things I have learned in the last decade, is to cultivate friendships with any and everybody you can. In my opinion, people are your greatest resource. They do not have to be rocket scientists, CEOs, doctors or lawyers. In fact, the people you encounter in your everyday life may have more to offer you than you think. If you invest in the human race, I promise you will be rewarded. But first, you must truly open your mind to listening to others, their stories and their perspective. A good conversation can change so much.

I have learned to take people for who they are. Throughout adolescence, we are constantly trying to 'fit in' or pressure one another to fit a certain mold. I have found, however, that life is much easier if you embrace others and their flaws, quirks or nuances. When you allow yourself to accept people for who they are, you can eliminate a lot of disappointment and/or frustration in your life. You may never love their defects, but it will help you appreciate them for what they bring to your life.

Now onto personal perception. That's a whole different story for me. In all honesty, body image has always been a struggle for me. I have a thin frame but have always had a little padding in my belly. Until very recently, I had always felt overweight because of it. When I glimpsed in the mirror, I saw chicken legs with a little chunk in the middle and a top that was too heavy. My face is elongated, which I viewed as pointy to match my big ears. Of course, no one else sees me this way because it is my own obscure outlook. Each year, I get older and my body changes. Ironically though, the more time that passes, the more I love my body. I am slowly welcoming the pocks on my skin and the shape of my figure. I am beginning to see the beauty in my sharp features and working on building the chicken legs.

In order to change the harsh judgments on my physical appearance, I had to work on a lot of things internally. Just like my former advice of taking people for who they are, that includes yourself. It is hard to scrutinize your own personality, but it is also necessary. I, for instance, have to admit that I have a hard time telling people “no.” I am a complete pushover. I also have a tendency to prioritize everyone else's needs before my own. But, in order to work on or build from those flaws, I have to recognize them and face them head on. Moral of the story; love your body and love your soul. View yourself realistically, don't be too hard on yourself and take the good with the bad. Sometimes all those sappy cliches are true.

Lastly, and this is most important, continue to learn new things every single day. And I don't mean formal learning. Immerse yourself in books, music, art, movies, or whatever your creative vice may be. Ask questions. Find the answers. Understand that there is something to gain from each day and if you are not actively seeking knowledge, your life will become stagnant and boring.

Mackenzie Smith is the Assistant Director and Pre K teacher in western Shawnee. Born and raised in Mission, Ks she is a true Kansas City girl. If she is not at home curled up with a book you can find her out and about amongst friends sharing appetizers, cocktails and stories! She would love to devote more time to writing and more creative projects in the future. 

Mackenzie Smith is the Assistant Director and Pre K teacher in western Shawnee. Born and raised in Mission, Ks she is a true Kansas City girl. If she is not at home curled up with a book you can find her out and about amongst friends sharing appetizers, cocktails and stories! She would love to devote more time to writing and more creative projects in the future.