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Jaimee Ratliff Headshot

26 Things I've Learned About the 'Real World' in 26 years

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It's been almost three years since I packed everything I owned into my car and drove hundreds of miles away from my family and closest friends to begin a new journey in a new city. I remember driving on the open road, all four windows down, singing at the top of my lungs trying to stay on tune while tuning out the anxiety of the unknown that lie ahead.

I always knew I would move away from the comfort of the place that I grew up in. For me, it was never a matter of "would I?" but always about "when?" It's funny how opportunities land in your lap when you least expect it and after experiencing a not so great internship experience that didn't exactly land me a full-time job, the opportunity to move away and start anew came right on time.

Now, three years later as I stand on the brink of turning 27 in a few short months, I must say stepping out of my comfort zone into an unfamiliar place has matured me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. From navigating my way through career challenges as a young professional, building new relationships and working toward discovering my true passion, here are 26 valuable lessons I've learned along this incredible journey called "the real world":

  1. Happiness is non-negotiable. If whatever you're doing doesn't bring you joy, make you smile or laugh until your abs hurt, it has no real value.
  2. The best way to discover your true passion is to try different things and experiment. If you realize you hate something you thought you loved, it's better to learn that early on than to always wonder "what if?"
  3. There is no such thing as job security. Even if it's wrapped around a 401K and health insurance in a pretty little bow.
  4. Waiting on an opportunity to be handed to you is like watching paint dry -- you could be waiting forever. You'll be a lot happier and better off creating your own.
  5. Always stand up for yourself. No one else will have your back better than you.
  6. You don't have to agree with the majority to look cool. Being cool is being different.
  7. Since there's no such thing as #3, it's wise to have multiple streams of income from various side hustles. So, get your hustle on.
  8. If you're not happy with your current situation, you can always change it, you powerful human being you.
  9. Doing things alone helps you learn more about yourself, builds your strength and increases your self-confidence.
  10. Traveling every chance you get expands your awareness and makes you a well-rounded person. Who doesn't love getting their passport stamped?
  11. Life isn't a competition. There's no such thing as being ahead or behind someone else. Keep your eyes on your own life.
  12. Making genuine friends is challenging. But quality always trumps quantity.
  13. "No" doesn't always mean never. Sometimes it simply means not right now. Even if it does mean not right now, remember #4.
  14. If you really want to do something, you will find a way to get it done. This separates the dreamers from the doers.
  15. The way someone treats you is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves -- and that's never a problem of yours.
  16. You can never get too old to ask for mom's opinion about anything. In fact, you begin to value it more when you're out on your own.
  17. Not worrying about the future is quite the challenge. But somehow, someway finding joy in the moment is what will keep you sane.
  18. Quitting isn't always a sign of weakness. Sometimes it's best to resign from a job or relationship so you can get on to what's meant for you and find your happy.
  19. Having no plans can be the best plans to have. Spontaneity is often needed.
  20. You don't have to be married or have kids just because it seems like everyone is doing it.
  21. Being constantly connected is overrated. It's not always necessary to know what everyone is up to on social media.
  22. Your experience takes precedence over your degree or alma mater. Employers will always want to know what you've done in the past and how your skills will increase their bottom line. Period.
  23. Becoming skilled at something takes time and patience. Overnight success stories take years to develop.
  24. Everyone won't always agree with your decisions. Go with your gut instinct anyway because at the end of the day, you're the one who has to live with the outcome -- not them.
  25. Be cautious of who you take advice from. It's impossible to learn about investing from someone who's never done it.
  26. It really is about who you know. Never be afraid to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself.

This post originally appeared on Jaimee's blog, This Way North.