The year 2005. Tony Blair was elected for a third term as prime minister. Pope Benedict XVI took over from John Paul. DisneyLand celebrated its 50th birthday. And Cruz Beckham was born.
It was also the year that I finished school and fluttered off into the big bad world of being an adult.
(Or so I thought. I’ll be honest, at 28, I still haven’t got the hang of that one.)
This month, it’ll be ten years since I finished high school. I know. I’m ancient. When I left school, iPhones didn’t even exist, Facebook was exclusively for students at certain universities and YouTube had only just emerged – and we were deeply suspicious of it. One Direction weren’t even a thing, skinny jeans were a bit dodgy and no one had even heard the word vlog, never mind heard of Zoella.
Seeing that in black and white makes me feel really, really old.
But with my advanced years comes lots of wisdom (on a good day), which I thought I’d share with you.
So here’s what I’ve learned about life since finishing high school ten years ago.
1. Being a grown up is hard
Like, really hard. There are lots of things about being an adult which no one tells you about. Like how stressful it is trying to find work after you finish with education. Work which actually pays. That work isn’t always fun and you can’t get away with dossing about all day. When you get older, you get all these responsibilities that your parents can’t sort out for you – and sometimes you won’t have your best mates on hand to help you either.
2. But also really fun
With that frightening level of responsibility comes a whole lot of fun. You’re free to do what you want, when you want, and it’s great. Doing things like finding a place to stay, hanging out with friends whenever you fancy (even on a school night), staying up way past your bedtime, decorating your student flat just the way you want and – weirdly – the first few times you go food shopping on your own is amazing.
3. You’ll find your true friends very quickly
Leaving school means you actually have to make an effort to see your friends. They won’t be there on the bench outside your form class at 9am every day – you’re going to have to make plans and coordinate schedules. And your pals will have to make that effort too. Because of all the effort required, you’ll soon find out who your real pals are from school. In all honesty, ten years on, I regularly see one person I went to school with – and she’s pretty much the best person in the world.
4. And you’ll meet lots of amazing people too
And for every pal you lose, you’ll find a bunch of other mates who are just as great, if not better. Whether you go straight into work, onto college or you’re off to uni, you’ll come across all sorts of people who share your interests, your goals and sense of humour for lasting friendships that are free of all the drama of high school. High five!
5. You should travel while you can
My number one regret in life is that I didn’t travel as much as I could have. I spent two summers in the States doing the Camp America programme, went on a couple of daft holidays with friends and that was about it. I wish I’d travelled more before adult responsibilities kicked in. So if you’re heading off to college or uni, make the most of those amazing long holidays. You don’t get half as many breaks when you’re working, and your starting salary definitely will not cover far-flung holidays quite as much as you’d like…
6. You’re not always going to like everyone you meet
In fact, some people are going to do your head in. In education, work and life, there are all sorts of characters – from the girl on your Saturday job who likes to have a snooze in the stock room to the guy who chews gum really, really loudly with his mouth wide open all the way through your history lecture, life is made up of weird, wonderful and irritating people.
7. And you have to master the art of ‘tolerance’
When you come across these annoying people, you have to become a pro at biting your tongue, smiling and acting as if everything is OK. Especially if you’re working in close quarters with them day in, day out. No one wants drama or an uncomfortable atmosphere.
8. It’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do
Leaving school not knowing what you want to do career-wise isn’t a crime – and it’s definitely OK to change your mind about six times along the way. Get as much work experience as you can, talk to people and learn everything you can about anything that interests you and it’ll all make sense in the end.
9. Good marks aren’t everything
OK, so sometimes they are. It’s an easy way for employers to narrow down applications, most graduate schemes ask for a 2.1 and a lot of postgraduate courses do too. But experience is just as important these days. It’s a total slog making tea for bored-looking professionals but work experience honestly pays off, so make the most of the long holidays. Obviously, work as hard as you can – but don’t freak out if you fail that essay.
10. There’s more than one pathway to success
I’ll put my hands up and admit I took a bit of a weird route to get to where I am. There was a dropping out of uni situation, finishing up with a pass degree rather than going to Honours level, taking a year out to do an internship and begging my way into a postgrad course I didn’t have the grades for before finding myself working full-time at Source after a work experience stint. But it goes to show that if you have a goal in mind, you can make it work. So if you don’t get the grades you want this summer, or you end up hating the course you’ve signed up for, look at other pathways to reach your dream – you could still have options.