10 Year High School Reunion: Advice to Myself

This weekend, I’m heading back down to Tampa for my 10-year high school reunion. In so many ways, high school feels like yesterday. There’s no way an entire decade has passed since I graduated! But in other ways, so much has happened over ten years that high school feels like eons ago.

I graduated from high school in 2008 and it was a pretty monumental year so it’s hard for me to separate everything mentally. I graduated high school, went to college, hit a pretty bad rock bottom during that first semester… and started my blog all within six months. Yes, this December is the ten year anniversary of this blog. In a lot of ways, that seems like a much more significant moment in my life than walking across a stage to get a piece of paper.

I’ll be back in December sharing more reflections about that 10-year moment, but for now, I thought I’d share some things I wish I could tell myself back when I was graduating high school. It’s impossible to know what you don’t know, and I’m sure there are things my 38-year-old self will want to tell my 28-year-old self. But the only way to know is to live through it all…

High School Reunion


Of everything, I’d say that this is the hardest to come to terms with but something that will ultimately be the most liberating. Our society places a huge emphasis on age and what’s “age-appropriate” and what you should do by a certain age. Personally, I think it’s a trap that you should try to avoid.

First of all, consider yourself lucky every time you make it to another year. I don’t know why people are so terrified of getting older when it’s something that is truly a gift. That alone is enough to make me feel grateful for my age rather than afraid of getting older. (Plus, in my experience, every year has been better than the last just from being a little bit wiser!)

Don’t feel limited or #blessed by your age. By that I mean, don’t feel like you can’t do something just because you’re a freshman or just because you’re 23 and a “baby” in NYC. But also don’t feel cooler than someone just because you’re a senior or because you’re 25 and “cool” in NYC. Or whatever.

Everyone is going to go through those stages in life so it’s really not that unique. Instead, focus on who you are at your core and what you’re learning. The age part is fleeting and constantly changing, but you are who you are through it all (however evolving).


If I could scream this from a rooftop, I would. Friendships outside of school, particularly high school, can be hard. They don’t come as easily and they’re a little harder to maintain. But they’re so worth it when you do it right. I think the word “invest” is the absolute right one here. You can’t just assume that friendships will last through time. You have to put in the time and energy. But don’t just throw yourself into friendships that aren’t quality.

It’s a bit of a cliche at this point, but I believe that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Take stock of who those five people are and make sure they’re aligned with your personal beliefs and values. It’s not to say that you can’t be friends with everyone, you can, just be conscious of where you’re investing yourself.

One thing that you may not realize is that if you’re surrounding yourself with people who work hard and are healthy, there’s a high correlation that you’re working just as hard and are living a healthy lifestyle too. I’ve seen too many people surround themselves with people making poor decisions and just kind of skating through life. Of course, in relation to that, you might feel on top of the world, when in reality everyone else is making huge strides in life, you’re just not aware of it.

Quality friendships are what life is really about. You may not get to choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Good ones are worth keeping around. My friendships over the years have brought me joy, happiness, support. You will make new friends, cultivate old ones, lose some, and make amends with others.

Finding good friends is a challenge, but one worth pursuing.


Probably one of my biggest challenges when I graduated college was learning how to set boundaries. I would pour my full self into anything I was doing. I get the sentiment and, looking back, I realize my mistake. I had confused enthusiasm and dedication with committing my whole self into something. You can still be an excellent employee with a great rapport and reputation without losing yourself in the process. In fact, setting boundaries will allow you to be a happier person and an even better employee in the long run.

I wish I had learned this a lot earlier. Even after a big burn out, I didn’t learn my lesson. The simplest of things like answering email can be an exercise of setting boundaries. If you’re known as the girl who answers her emails 24/7 (including weekends/holidays), guess who gets the most emails on weekends and holidays?

Setting boundaries is not a sign of weakness and it does not take away from your efficiency. Try to remind yourself that you can do in eight hours what I can’t in twelve. A little distance is healthy.

(And if your job is requiring a lot more than was initially outlined or expected… ask for the raise.)


Mistakes are going to happen. Despite your perfectionism, you will mess up, you will choose incorrectly, you will have regrets. It’s life and it’s okay. But once you realize your mistake, course correct ASAP. Don’t linger in your mistakes as it only makes things worse in the long run. As soon as you realize what’s happening, make the necessary changes, even if it’s just a first step.

You’ll outgrow a job. You’ll date the wrong guys. You’ll partner with the wrong people. And so on and so on.

And it’s all okay!

Just don’t stay at the job too long because you’ll want to start investing your time in your own company. And don’t continue to the date the wrong guys because now you know what you want or don’t want in a relationship for another attempt. And don’t waste more money working with the wrong people. The sooner you recognize the mistake the faster you can go on to make better choices and find more success.

It’s really not about the mistake at all, in the end, it’s about what you learn and how you can apply that moving forward.


At the end of the day, you’re an adult now and the only person who can really and truly know what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, and what you need is YOU. Friends and family are great, but you’re the person you need to rely on the most. Listen to yourself and your body. Don’t wait for someone to step in to intervene or give you what you want or make sure you’re okay.

A boss, a friend, a partner, etc. might be there for you at times, but you know who will always be there for you? YOU!

I’ve made the mistake of not being good about tuning into my own needs. Don’t ignore problems hoping they’ll just go away on their own. Take ownership of what you need and want.

This is kind of subpoint here, but don’t forget that you should put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others. (Or you can’t pour from an empty cup.) Taking care of yourself means you can be there for other people.


After high school, you’ll learn a lot in college. Some of which will be interesting and of value to you and other stuff you might not care about. As much as you might think college will be an escape from high school’s busy work, it’ll still be there to a certain extent. When you graduate, it might seem like a relief to be out of the classroom and no longer responsible for homework or tests or papers. Instead of turning away from a learning mindset, lean into it. Being out of school can be a great time to invest in learning about something you are definitely interested in without the pressures of being graded or judged. Try new things and learn as much as you can. Take classes, watch videos, ask questions, explore new ideas.

Even if you’re just picking up small things, over time they add up and you’ll be surprised at just how much you can learn in ten years. I feel like I’ve learned more in the past ten years (about anything and everything!) than I did in school… or at least more things that I find useful and interesting!

One thing that might surprise you is how much you’ll grow to love reading. It’s an easy way to keep learning new things while also being a great source of both entertainment and comfort. Get a library card and put it to good use!!!


While I definitely think that you can recover from pretty much every decision and nothing is permanent if you don’t want it to be, every choice you make does carry weight. One choice (unless it’s one done with exceptionally poor thought/consideration) likely won’t derail you. But what you choose to do can slowly add up and then, bam, ten years have gone by and you’re where you are because of all those small decisions. (This is a contributing factor for why I think it’s important to fail fast.)

Ten years fly by. You’ll feel like you have all this time to do all sorts of things, but the reality is that it goes by in a blink of an eye and it’s easy to not accomplish what you thought. People are often thinking about five-year or ten-year plans. (How many times has someone asked you where you think you’ll be in five years?!) While that can be an important exercise, your everyday choices might be more important.

Your choices across the board matter: your career, your health, your finances, your relationships. Be thoughtful and forward thinking with what you do. (*To an extent, I also think it’s important to live in the moment and learn from the past… it’s a balancing act!) 

Your actions also become who you are. Do you want to deplete yourself on weekends or start to develop a healthy workout routine? Do you want to spend every dime you make or start saving for the future? And so on…

I understand that this can sound scary, especially when you’re faced with a difficult decision (like deciding between two jobs or where to live or if you should break up with someone or whatever!). Instead of thinking of this as daunting, look at it as an opportunity. It’s up to you where you go in life.


This was probably the one thing I struggled with the most and the one thing I wish I had grasped earlier. I did not live a healthy lifestyle for the better part of my twenties. You may feel invincible but you are not. You can only get away with unhealthy habits for so long before they catch up to you, so the sooner you get in the habit the better.

We all know what it takes to be healthy, it’s just that making unhealthy choices is often easier and more convenient. Trends and fads will come and go, but it’s pretty simple if you follow common sense. Find a way to be active, including working out– don’t be afraid to join a gym or go to a class. You’ll find something you love that will change your entire outlook. Avoid sugar as best you can, it’s your absolute biggest weakness. Don’t give up on meditation, it will change your life. Read more, relax more.

If I had to choose one thing to focus on, I would tell you to SLEEP. Get as much sleep as you need in a day and don’t feel guilty about it. At Georgetown, they’ll tell you that you can sleep when you’re dead and then you’ll move to the city that never sleeps. You won’t sleep, even though you need it, and it will hold you back. You’ll keep this up until you have a seizure one day and realize, FINALLY, just how much you need to sleep. Regularly and consistently every day. Once you’re well rested, every decision will be easier and your whole mindset will change. It’s the first little domino in a long line of healthy choices.


What starts as your mantra for your freshman year will become a lifelong mantra. Don’t forget it. Be openminded. As long as you’re openminded, you will have endless opportunities. You’ll learn things, make friends, go down unexpected and beautiful paths all from being openminded. It’s easy to have judgments about people, places, and things. It’s challenging to keep an open mind.

And while you’re being openminded about everything around you, don’t forget to have an open mind about yourself. This is another thing that took me far too long to realize. I had all these preconceived notions about who I thought I was based on faulty memories or “significant” moments in my life. I’ve come to realize that I’m so much more than the stories I’ve written in my head and believed to be concrete facts.

When you’re openminded about what is possible, especially when it’s about you, the sky is the limit.


One thing you’ll get pretty good at? Ignoring the “Supposed Tos.” I wrote that post in 2013 and I still find it to be as relevant today. It’s funny but I don’t think you had any idea what was about to come. A week after you wrote it, you’ll meet with your mentor who will plant the seed to quit your job (!!!), which you’ll do another week later. (She’ll also encourage you to use the post as a book proposal, which you still haven’t done…)

You’re just now figuring out that maybe doing what you’re supposed to do isn’t the best path, or at least it’s not the path that’s going to lead you where you want to go. Not following the Supposed Tos can be super hard, especially when people you love and respect try to persuade you back to the “right” path. It can be hard when you’re not totally sure what the end goal is beyond a little feeling in your gut. It can be challenging when it feels like you’re all alone on this unique path.

But you know a lot more than you think you do.

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Thanks, Carly! It’s like you were speaking directly to me… I definitely needed a few of these reminders today after a hectic few weeks and lots of questioning on my part!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

So much has changed in 10 years, it’s crazy when we look back! I can’t imagine going to my 10-year high school reunion (I doubt my class would even organise an event for it!), I would be so nervous, since I wasn’t the most popular in school, haha! I love your reflective post and appreciate your honesty and thoughts. Lovely read, Carly. 🙂

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

“But you know a lot more than you think you do.” That is so powerful to me right now! I feel like the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know. When I was little, I thought I knew everything and I had a clear plan. Now fresh out of college, I feel like I don’t know anything anymore! I’ve been telling myself to embrace the uncertainty rather than let it hold me back, which isn’t the worst advice, but it’s also reassuring to hear that I know a lot more than I think I do. Although I’m feeling pretty clueless right now, if I think back to how I was as a frosh and then put that self in my current situation, I can see very clearly the ways in which I’ve grown. Also loving the tip to keep learning! One of the many things I love about my college is that I was surrounded by people who were curious and loved to learn. Their motivation to succeed in school wasn’t grades but to satiate their curiosity. They are the ones who inspire me to keep learning! Have such a great time at your reunion 🙂 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

stephen harris

Thank you Carly for your wonderful advice. You have a good attitude.I love your writing style, let me know if you ever need cartoons or illustrations. You can find my work on instagram @ creeptures99. Thank you, kind regards Stephen.


Carly, I’ve been reading since day one. This is such an incredible post! Wonderful advice, and I’m excited to see where your journey takes you.

Gretchen Hershberger

Carly, this post spoke directly to me. I’ll be 26 in November, and with working full time and going to back for my Master’s degree, every single one of these points was spot on. Great advice, as always!

Shannon Mahaney

This advice is everything! I feel like a lot of it you learn as you go through those early 20s years and into the real world. I had my 10 year reunion last year and although I didn’t go I felt that I’ve evolved so much in 10 years!


I also had my 10 year high school reunion this year, it’s hard to believe how quickly an entire decade has gone by! It was so good to see everyone and catch up after all of these years. The advice you gave is great, especially the part about keeping an open mind. I think that is so important as an adult!


Carly this is so good! I’ve loved following you through the years as you figured out some of these points. 🙂 Happy 10 year reunion!!!

Vicki Hayes

Welcome home to Tampa! I cannot believe 10 years have passed already! Yay – for panther pride and the reunion!!! 🙂


My reunion is next year so this post is somewhat relevant. I’m back in school for the second time and, for a while, was panicking about the “supposed tos.” But it’s not the same for everyone so just do yo’ thang 🙂

Have fun, Carly!


These are all such wise lessons, Carly! They are all so true! The additional lesson from my almost 40 years that I wish I could tell my teenage self is that it doesn’t matter a bit what others think about you— it just matters what YOU think about you! This would have saved me so much energy, worry, and stress about “fitting in” or “looking cool”. In 20 years, it literally will not matter. What matters is that you like the life you’ve created for yourself!


I am following you for few years now, and comment for the 1st time! This article is exactly what i need. I should print it just to remind.