"What have you been doing since 1993?"
My high school batch is having our 25th-anniversary reunion this weekend.
Where were we in 1993? Where are we now and where are we headed? What has happened in between?
Sure, I’ve gone for higher education, gotten a career, raised a family. Most times, however, I still feel like a high school student—girly and silly and blundering and unsure. All my responsibilities notwithstanding, I find myself chuckling over corny puns or gross impersonations, or tearing up at a sappy cartoon or rom-com. Or enjoying a trip to the bookstore, stocking up on office supplies and stationery.
Was there any real change?
Outwardly, oh yes—a lot. You look in the mirror and see that how you look on the outside does not quite match how young and invincible you feel inside. Inwardly, it’s more complicated. Here are some lessons I have harvested over the last quarter of a century.
Success is defined in many ways.
Some of us lived textbook “success” stories, and everything was done according to plan. Many others did not quite follow a linear progression. Some made foolish choices, were too trusting of their own instincts which later on failed them, some were in too much of a hurry to grow up, and some did not actively choose—just allowed themselves to be carried by the circumstances.
Where we are now are direct results of those choices and non-choices. But only we can say whether we turned out to be either successes or works in progress.
It is easy to judge ourselves by the standards of others—especially with Facebook around. We get ideas that if one attained a certain level of income, or spent family vacations in certain places, or had a loving partner and good-looking children, and was able to afford regular dinners at restaurants of a certain caliber, than that would spell success.
We should know better than hold ourselves against these external measures. We are always free to define our own success and live it: For instance, in finding passion in what we do, or being kind and compassionate toward others.
“Nothing lasts” is not to be feared.
We’ve lost four teachers and two classmates in our batch.Within our respective families, we’ve lost siblings, spouses, parents and grandparents. Some of us are facing medical battles or helping loved ones face theirs. All these remind us that we are frail and that we will not be here forever.
Our memories of those who have gone ahead of us are not when they were suffering, but when they were with us and at their happiest. It’s not being morbid to occasionally wonder—how will we be remembered when it is time to go? What will be the scariest thing about passing on?
It may be not being able to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Or telling people how much you love them. Or worrying whether the people you will leave behind can get by in your absence. Whatever it is, it’s never too early to start staring at that fear in the eye. If you do it often and consciously enough, it’s fear that will blink first.
Know what is truly important.
We are all jugglers, multi-taskers. We juggle our relationships, jobs, health, and other aspects of our lives. Some have an easier time of it than others. For many, there will inevitably be conflicts, and we will be forced to choose. How you resolve the conflict will depend on your appreciation of what is truly important. There will be sacrifices, but if you choose well, the sacrifices will be worth it, and hindsight will tell you that you made the right choice. Some things, when you drop them, can bounce or can be fixed. Some will be irreparable—so know what they are.
Children are not mini-mes.
We always like to complain how times have changed—how children have changed. When we were young, we pretty much went by with what we were told. We were good students because we did our homework and answered the questions we were asked. We almost never ruffled feathers. For many girls in my batch, we were raised to be “obedient Catholic school girls.”
It could be a challenge to accept that when those of the younger generation assert themselves, they are not being rude or disrespectful. In fact, that attitude of not accepting anything they hear or read, even from their elders, could be harnessed into good.
So long as they do not feel entitled to anything, and can tell right from wrong, we should encourage children to have minds and preferences of their own. It’s our challenge to find ingenious ways to maintain ascendancy as parents and keep good communication with them. It makes for an exciting household. Ultimately, it is training them how to live on their own and stand up for themselves and others—long after we are gone.
Finally, friends are gems.
I count myself blessed for remaining close to the friends that I have had in elementary and high school. With these people, I can put on no affectations: They’ve known me since before I learned to comb my hair and be mindful of my grooming. We’ve seen each other perform crazy dance or song numbers in school. We’ve had a relationship with each other since before we all found partners. We’ve been to each other’s homes countless times and knew family members, some of which are now no longer around. You can’t give off the “I am now too important and too busy to have time for you” vibe. You’ll just find your head whacked—and the whacking can come all the way from another continent when some of your closest friends have settled.
Careers flounder and relationships could sour, but friends will be there, not every day perhaps, but when you most need them.
I find it difficult to believe that it’s been 25 years since my high school graduation, when I was exuberant and optimistic and heady and silly all at the same time. I’ve grown and been jaded, as everyone has, but life’s scars will not stop me—nor my batch mates—from making the next 25 years even more meaningful.