Dear young Crystal,
Here’s some really important things you need to know:
#1 You don’t have to have it all figured out. Your education is more than a degree or even multiple degrees. Your education grows every day based on the experiences you embrace and the challenges you face. Your education grows every day based on the unique people you meet and the world you explore. Your education won’t stop if you aren’t perfect and fail. In fact, through those failures you will become smarter and stronger. Your education won’t stop if you put a book down and take a break from studying. Your education won’t stop if you change degree programs or career paths. Your education does NOT stop. It grows every single day and that is an amazing gift. You don’t have to have it all figured out because you are constantly learning and growing as a professional, as a human. Based on this, doesn’t it seem crazy to think 4 years of college will define who you are and what you can be for the rest of your life? That’s a delusional notion!
#2 There’s nothing wrong with a plan but allow yourself some diversions. Over and over, you will convince yourself that you need a 5 year plan. You’ll be asked about your plan during interviews and performance appraisals. It seems like such an important question. You may think that not having a plan seems like failure, lack of focus and/or irresponsible. Create a basic plan for the next 3-5 years but give yourself permission to change that plan as you learn and grow. If you don’t grant yourself that permission, you will be blinded by the end point of the plan and miss out on really learning and growing from the experiences along the way. Worse still? You’ll link reaching that end point with personal and professional happiness. Guess what? The end point is not what brings happiness. The best example is a road trip. If you had the opportunity to drive cross country, would you stay on one route the entire way? Think about it. If you drove from North Carolina to southern California over the course of a couple weeks, would you stay on I-40 and only stop at rest areas and Holiday Inns within a half mile of the exit? If your focus is 100% on getting to Los Angeles in 3 days, you might take that approach. However, you’d miss the opportunity to take a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, see a show at the Grand Ole Opry, dig for diamonds in Arkansas, consume 72oz of steak at the Big Texan in Amarillo, go sand sledding at White Sands National Monument or breathe in the expanse of the Grand Canyon. If you’re only focused on the end point, Los Angeles, you will miss these grand adventures. Happiness is found in the journey, not the destination.
#3 Be present. You will perpetually have a to-do list. You will always find ways to be busy. There will always be things you regret and epic failures you wish you could rewrite. You don’t get a do-over. There will always be things you wish you had or you’re working toward. You don’t get a fast-pass. Dwelling constantly on what “was” or what “might be” doesn’t allow you to experience what is “now.” Listen, really listen, to the nonsense coming out of your kids’ mouths. Look around and find beauty in the common, even the unique angle of the stacks of paper about to fall off your desk. Ask “how was your day?” because you’re interested, not obligated. Make time to love and don’t take it for granted. Chose to play in the sand rather than worrying about cleaning it up. Experience silence. Close your eyes and breathe.
Your older, wiser self
P.S. I will try to avoid sharing more pictures of you as a teenager at aerospace camp. You did build some badass rockets, though.