It’s been 10 years since my high school graduation. Yup, Class of ‘08 right here! There’s an area of my photography business that I have been excited to focus more time on and that’s senior photography. And ironically, the class of 2018 was the official start/biggest year of my senior photography services!
As I was spending more time photographing seniors and my own senior class was in the process of planning our 10 year reunion, I started to reminisce. As we pass graduation season each May, I feel so excited for my senior clients! I see their celebrations on instagram and facebook of their graduation day and pictures in their college t-shirts. It reminds me what it felt like to be in their shoes. Or in this case, in their graduation cap. And I started to see my life from one point to another…graduation day to now and everything that has happened in between. More specifically, the lessons I have learned along the way.
Since the day I threw my cap up in there and headed out into a bigger world, I have gone to college, studied abroad, made new friends, experienced grief, got my first job, started a business, won awards, made mistakes, traveled, fell in love, got engaged, got married, bought a house and so much more. The beauty of life is that it has no one direct path. It’s a journey that is uniquely yours. One of the reasons I love working with seniors so much is that this time in your life is so special. It’s a similar feeling I have when photographing weddings. It’s a time worth capturing and remembering. Rising seniors, you have so much life ahead of you and you can do and be anything you want! I can’t wait to see how you make your mark in the world. But, time flies. One day, you’ll be a decade away from this time and you’ll have your own new experiences. As Jack from Titanic says, make it count. (I”m sorry, but I still love that movie!)
So, before we say goodbye to 2018, I’d love to share with you the 10 lessons I’ve learned since high school in 2008.
1. Your Comfort Zone: Leave It
Have you ever heard that saying? “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone?” Wow, is that true. This means something different for everyone. For me, it was study abroad. Not only that, it was deciding to study abroad for one whole school year rather than one semester.
I attended the University of North Georgia, I went home to see my parents often because it was only 30 minutes away and I lived in an apartment on campus with my best friend from middle school. Everything about my life was comfortable and familiar, in such a blessed way. Studying in England for one year, where everyone looked at you funny after you said, “y’all”, was way out of my comfort zone. When I was eleven years old, my parents and I moved to France for three years. So, when I decided to move to England, I thought I knew what to expect..culture shock, new surroundings, different accents. But no, this time I was on a journey by myself and I felt out of place,
I called my parents after a couple of months and told them I wanted to come home. I wanted to give up. I decided that it was okay that I tried and it was okay that it wasn’t working out. I later learned that the Center for Global Engagement at North Georgia advised my parents to let me work it out. I know that wasn’t easy for my mom and dad, but they did the best thing they ever could have done for me. They didn’t “rescue me.” They let me figure it out. And you know what happened? I finished my full year, became a better photographer, witnessed the royal wedding of William and Kate in person and made lifelong friendships. My parents knew I would regret that decision of giving up and they were right.
Last year, during my own wedding, my best friend from England was one of my bridesmaids, her parents came to the wedding, as well as eight more of my British friends. Imagine all that I would have missed if I had given up. I do regret not signing up for fencing in England. It was one of the clubs and I wondered what that would have been like. This is the time to try something new! Just go for it, do something out of your comfort zone, as long as it’s safe and healthy.
2. Study Abroad: It Will Change Your Life
Since we’re on the topic. I often hear from people that did not study abroad that they wish they would have. And if you can, I’m here tell you, it’s an experience that will change your life.
Exploring a new culture, learning new traditions, traveling, making new friends are just a few of the amazing things you can expect when studying abroad. It truly is something that you will never forget.
And when I returned, those experiences gave me so many lessons/topics to talk about in my job interviews. I gained independence, lifelong friends, and a new perspective on my own culture. I learned to appreciate my own traditions and cultures at home. Things that felt so “normal” to me were fascinating to my British friends and I helped them to see positive things about their culture too. My favorite British saying (and my husband even says is now too) is “risky biscuit” AKA, you’re being a daredevil.
3. Friends: Take Care of Them and Keep in Touch
When I studied abroad, my friends, my family and I wrote each other letters. Yes, pen to paper, mail the letter with a stamp kind of mail. When I came back, my group of best friends from high school welcomed me with open arms. And I needed them. I was settling into a new space all over again. And those friends I made studying abroad? Yup, wrote them letters, mailed birthday gifts and made skype dates.
Invest in your friendships, it takes time and effort and it’s so worth it. Don’t be the person that’s horrible at texting back. My friends from my high school? They’re still my very best friends today. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Those study abroad friends I made eight years ago? Let’s just say, I always have a place to stay in London! We make an effort to schedule visits, phone calls, do lunch, grab coffee, send texts, celebrate our successes and be there when something doesn’t go well. I don’t know what I’d do without my group of girlfriends. Having a support system is so important. We’ve helped each other through a lot of ups and downs.
4. Quality Over Quantity
I’ve always believed that a few REALLY great friends are better than a lot of acquaintances. I mean, I had four girlfriends from England travel to my wedding for me. Four girls that I knew for one school year. But, because I had invested my time in our friendship, it allowed me to get to know to them well. So well, that they would travel over an ocean to see me marry the man of my dreams. It meant more to me than they will ever know.
This rule also applies to STUFF. Your spaces during and after college will most likely be small. Be careful of what you hang on to because that pile will only grow as the years go by. Keep up with it now. I am a nostalgic person when it comes to notes, letters, ticket stubs, etc. I keep all of those memories in a shoe box (or two…or more). The point is, it’s organized.
My mom also told me that quality over quantity matters when it comes to clothes which is very true! Ever buy a cheap shirt that doesn’t last long and gets a hole in it? Ever get a skirt those cost a little more that last you years?! Buy better quality clothes and make sure those outfit can mix and match with one another. I believe you save money in the long run.
Oh boy….do not spend too much of your time and energy worrying about boys. Have sleepovers with your girlfriends, dance the night away, focus on school, go out on dates, but don’t ever let your energy get taken away by drama or a situation that isn’t going to make you a better person. I believe that you are the sum of the five people who hang around most. Make room in your life to surround yourself with people who will bring you up and not down. And when you do find the one, you’ll know. It will feel effortless and you will be a better person because of them. They’re worth the wait.
6. Money: Saaavveeee It
The greatest advantage when it comes to how to save money is time. Time is something that we cannot get back, so we must use it wisely. And I believe one of the ways you can use it wisely is by saving money. When I got my first real job after college, I remember feeling so proud when I held that first check. It had a number by my name that I had never seen before when working odd jobs in high school. And at first, having a four digit number in your account is going to feel great, as it should. You worked hard for that! But, it’s not as much as you think. Life is expensive and you need to prepare for the things that haven’t yet happened. When you’re young it’s easy to stay in the here and now, but start thinking ahead and you’ll be glad you did.
7. Stand Up For Yourself
I am a people pleaser. It took me a long time to learn that I can say no as strongly as the person who is is trying to make me say yes. Just because I don’t want the situation to be awkward doesn’t mean I should do something I don’t want to do. The person pressuring you is the one making it awkward, not you. Just say no. And remember, “no” is a full sentence. You don’t always have to offer an explanation.
Once you enter your career and join a company, there will be many different personalities under one roof. The free personality tests online are so helpful in understanding who you are and what kind of team member you are. I learned a lot about myself during those first few years of working my big girl job. And more often than not, when you stick up to the person who is treating you unfairly, they will respect you more.
You can be the juiciest peach on a tree, but there’s always someone who is not going to like peaches. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay….a lesson I didn’t accept until recently. My favorite personality tests: Meyer-Briggs 16 personalities and the Enneagram test. Both can be found online.
8. Take Care of Your Mind and Your Body
Everyone’s journey in this area will look completely different. But, I didn’t realize the effort I had to put into my diet and body until after high school. As you get older, your body will continue to develop and you may not digest things as easily as you used to. And in my case, I developed IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, in my early 20s as most young women in this situation do. Which means, I have to be extra careful about what I eat. It takes a lot of work, but I stick to a diet that fuels my body with energy and care. You have to take care of yourself in order to show up well in life. Exercise 30 minutes of day (that’s just great for your heart and health anyways no matter what your goals are) and eat food that will nourish your body. Also, the meaning of “tired” gets more intense as the years go by!
Comparison is the thief of all joy. Your self worth doesn’t come from the validation of someone else’s opinion of you. In fact, their opinion of you is none of your business. One of my favorite quotes from Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face. Only compare yourself to the person you were yesterday. You. Are. Beautiful.
There was a time in both high school and college (during finals) were I suffered from panic attacks. Like, on the bathroom floor, passed out, feeling like I wanted to vomit type of panic attacks. I didn’t understand it at a young age and those feelings were terrifying, but my mom did and she helped me get through it. Be sure to talk to someone if you’re going through a herd time and seek help from someone you trust. You can get through it, but don’t try to do it alone. Whatever it may be.
9. Dream Big! And Then Make Actionable Goals to Get There
If you are creative and you do decide to take the path to college, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to take businesses classes! Seriously. I don’t care what kind of art you do, if you want to make money, you have to do business to sell that art. It wasn’t until my second year of college that I finally worked up the courage to admit to myself that my passion is photography and that’s what I wanted to do in life. That day, I changed my major from Visual Arts to Art Marketing so I could get into some business classes. If you’re having a hard time figuring out what you want to do in life, that’s okay. But don’t make it too hard. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? What sets your heart on fire? For me, it was being creative and that creativity turned into photography. From there, I had to figure what kind of photography and how would I earn a living. College is the time to try anything and everything. I tried wedding photography, fashion photography, product photography, street photography. Reach out to people who are where you want to be and learn how they got there.
One of the best resources at my university was our career service center. There was a woman who helped me develop a resumé and practiced interviewing me. Those services are FREE (or a part of the expensive tuition) Either way you look at it, just take advantage of it! It was very helpful.
10. The Best Lessons in Life are Outside of the Classroom
None of us know what we are doing, but we are doing the best we can. That’s a lesson I’ve recently learned and it’s totally normal! So, if you ever feel that way you are not alone. This lesson goes all the way back to when you learned to walk. You didn’t go to school for it, you didn’t google it or look it up on youtube. You just went for it and then you fell. You got back up and tried again until you took your first few steps in a row. Baby steps are giant leaps forward.
For our senior year field trip in high school, we took a trip to Six Flags and rode roller coasters all day. It felt fun and carefree. But, what I didn’t understand that day is that the ups and downs and twists and turns that we took on those rides would be a glimpse into what our lives would look like after high school. The dips could be heartbreak, grief, anxiety, panic attacks. The ups could be graduating, falling in love, getting married, buying a home, having a child, getting promoted. Life isn’t always an easy ride, but it’s a gift and I hope you always recognize that by living each day to the fullest. Take too many pictures, be kind, work hard and take care of yourself.
“Now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for you being here. Make good art.” —Neil Gaiman
“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” —Vincent Van Gogh
Engagement, House to Marriage. I went to high school with my husband. Even had the same homeroom. We met a year and half after graduation for our first date! Life can take you places you never imagined with people you never expected.
Abby Byrd is a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Atlanta specializing in joyful film photography