One day after my 22nd birthday, I stood under grotesque lights, center stage, gasping for air. The final kumbaya… four years of all-nighters, internships, and social networking culminating into a grand graduation called adulthood. I envisioned the future I desired to be a part of and made clear, methodological steps to get there.
I had it all figured out. Except—surprise—I didn’t.
College helped me detail the plans for my professional future. I tinkered in every subject until I discovered which science thrilled me, upon which I learned that I loved the field of education. I decided that, for now, I wanted to be a teacher.
Lo and behold, I dove into my day job, believing that it would live up to everything I had hoped for. But surely, somewhere in that nine-to-five, between the mindless morning and evening commute, I had never felt more lost.
Adulthood was handed on a silver platter to me, in the form of two diplomas, beaming recommendation letters, and crying parents when I stepped down from center stage.
My surroundings assured that I was heading in the right direction, but was everything I passed by supposed to be so blurry? Upon graduation, I realized that I still had a lot left to learn about myself.
I had no clue who I was. So, I took the past six months to master “Kathy Tran.” I hope that I can impart these little lessons upon you so that you know you’re not alone if you’re struggling, or have a laugh at all my BS.
Lesson 1: YOU’RE NOT AS OLD AS YOU THINK YOU ARE.
Most of us are 21 or 22 when we graduate, and that is nothing in the sphere of life! After graduation, I decided to take a gap year so I could work and build experience, but honestly, my year has not been a gap at all. A few months after nine-to-five employment—which is 1000x more exhausting than school, don’t even argue with me because I worked 20+ hours per week while I was enrolled full-time—I started studying for entrance exams and applying to graduate schools.
Life moves even faster when you don’t have time to yourself, and I somehow got it in my head that I had to keep acting. Before I knew it, six months zoomed by. I didn’t take charge of my time as I should have. I was competitive and had to keep up with my peers. As 23 looms before me, I realize that it’s not all that daunting.
I wish that I had taken two gap years, maybe more, to fool around and have a genuine relationship with myself. The importance of this struck me recently, so I’m taking 2018 to really hone in on the strengths of my personality and improving myself—to become the person I want to be. The person who motivates me most is my future self, in ten years, twenty, thirty… For now, I will take small steps to become her.
I’m young, I’ve changed, and I’m changing still.
In short, there’s no rush. Time is not your enemy.
Lesson 2: HIT “SEND.”
Not unusual to me or my peers, we fell into routine. We would wake up each morning, go to work, then come home. Nothing extraordinary happened for a while.
At work, I felt so consumed by crossing Ts and dotting Is that I neglected connecting with my coworkers. We are a small company of less than 20 people who see each other daily, yet I knew a solid five.
Whatever profession you choose or don’t choose, life is about human connection. My intellectual vitality was no longer challenged when I failed to keep up with my friends. The hearty debates, the silly gossip, the comfortable silences; I missed it all.
I put up a front: I was building my independence. But life is not about independence. We coexist with one another, and we grow by sharing our strengths. Life is about interdependence.
My next lesson is check up with someone via a simple text message. “How are you doing?” You never know what relationships might rekindle.
Lesson 3: A DAY FOR ME.
So what happened after I sent those messages? I caught up with friends over coffee, dinner, and a good night out every once in a while. My Friday nights turned into shots of Jack Daniels (god, I have no idea why they liked this shit… you know who you are if you’re reading this), and my Saturday mornings turned into dry heaves of stomach acid. It was terrible.
Despite the four years of undergraduate binge drinking, my alcohol tolerance did not increase. Then, because of full-time work, it decreased further. I shit you not: after one shot of anything, I will either pass out or think I’m Usain Bolt, dashing 50mph in no particular direction.
Ok, so what’s the point? Am I telling you to stop drinking? HELL NO. As I spent Saturdays agonizing over the black hole I put myself in, I knew the next best thing was coming. When my energy returned and I uncurled myself from that pitiful ball, it felt like clouds parted in the sky and I’m Judy Garland singing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
I used Sundays to read my favorite books and meditate. I was in my own mind; I fantasized, created, and zoned out. I took up drawing. I made endless lists of pointless things. It didn’t matter what I did, because Sundays were entirely for me.
Nothing productive comes from a preoccupied mind. Set aside a day to detox yourself from the hells of life.
Lesson 4: BE WEIRD.
I receive mixed reactions whenever I tell people I want to be a teacher: 1) they commend me for taking on such a brutal job and/or 2) they droop their lids and give me sympathy eyes because I’ll never be rich on a teacher’s salary.
Ok, suckers, guess what: I learned to care less of what you think. I used to be so aware of what others thought of me; their opinions shaped my mindset. This train of thought became detrimental. There was nothing wrong with me, but it sure felt like so.
Taking one step backwards, I analyzed the nauseating question which usually precipitated into this answer: “What do you want to be?”
One Sunday morning, I made a list of all the things I wanted to be. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to be a singer, dancer, artist. I wanted to be a knowledgeable politician, environmentalist, lobbyist. I wanted to be so many things but this damn, stupid question confined me to one thing.
We are multi-dimensional humans, free to roam and explore our interests. Not a single person in the world can tell me what I can or can’t do (except you Mom). Not a single person will define me in one word.
Be weird. Do all the things you ever wanted to do.
Lesson 5: EMBRACE THE PLOT TWISTS.
Two months after starting full-time, my supervisors asked me to create and teach a brand-new program at the learning center. What the fuck… I was barely a college graduate with mediocre confidence, yet they tasked me with developing curriculum, managing parent-teacher relations, and the actual get-up-in-front-of-kids-and-pretend-you-know-what-you’re-talking-about.
I scrambled to put the pieces together and managed to pull it all off. It was the most stressful three months of my life: juggling graduate applications, exams, and lesson planning.
I wondered, was this all worth it? If it’s this hard to do, then perhaps it’s not meant to be. I was imploding. I lost confidence in my skills and began drafting plans for a change of professions. When one of my students ripped the homework I assigned then proceeded to eat the paper in front of the entire class, I fucking lost my shit!
But then, on another day, a student named Owen said to me, “Ms. Kathy, this class is the highlight of my week. Thank you so much!”
All I needed was a simple “thank you” to realize that my inputs mattered. My supervisors trusted my abilities before I did. I came out of this experience stronger and even more assured of what I wanted for my future.
So just go with the flow, my friends. Get through the low tides and swim in the river that is life, because at the end of that river is the beautiful, open ocean of opportunity.
Lesson 6: CHEERS!
As I’m writing this blog post, my drink of choice is tequila, though I will drink almost anything (except Peach Amsterdam or Fireball).
I find myself gravitating towards this devil’s nectar on major and minor holidays, as soon as I complete another set of lesson plans, after submitting my graduate school applications, and more recently, when I finished my last CSET.
Pair the tequila with “Bodak Yellow” and BAM. Fun night. Sometimes. But it’s not always tequila, and it’s not always Cardi B. I also reward myself to dinner with friends or a movie with family. I’ve set small, tangible goals to reach and when I get there, I celebrate appropriately.
Don’t be so lost in the hustle that you forget to revel in the mini victories.
Well, there’s six lessons and I apologize if they made no sense. If you’re even still reading at this point, thank ya. Thanks to my friends, family, and biggest fans. Vote me into the California Senate in the 2040 election.
I also realize that I sound like an alcoholic.