Five Things I Did at 18 That I’m Going to Start Doing Again

I was driving down the road the other day when a snippet of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls came on the radio. I sang along with all the gusto a person who can’t hit a single note in the song can give. I was transported back to the first time I saw the play: 18 years old, tucked high in the balcony of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta with my also theatre-obsessed girlfriend, and completely broke because I had spent my entire paycheck and then some on the ticket to the play.

This wasn’t a special event for me. At 18, I was constantly broke. I had a part-time job but as soon as I got paid, I cashed my paycheck and spent the whole thing on plays, concerts, live music, meals out, and clothes (or at least as much of those things as you could get on $45 a week). Eventually, I decided it was smarter to start saving for the future and starting spending my money more “wisely”, but, looking back now, I’m not so sure it was all that smart to give up the things that made me happy. In fact, I can think of five ways that 18-year old Katy was smarter than I am now as a “grown-up”. 

1. I spent my money on experiences

As a grown-up, I started saving my money so I could buy substantial things: a house, furniture, a lawnmower, a really nice grill. Eighteen-year-old Katy cared not for these things. I spent my money on experiences: a night at a play, a concert I wanted to see, a great live band, a meal with friends. I knew intuitively then what studies have since shown: experiences make us happier than possessions. The TV armoire I wanted desperately and saved for as a grown-up got kicked to the curb a few years later when styles changed and I couldn’t even give it away. The time I saw Dreamgirls at 18 is still making me smile some 30-plus years later.

2. I read. Anything and Everything. All. The. Time.

I must say, in full disclosure, that a large chunk of my reading came as part of the great southern tradition of “laying out” where I would slather myself in various baby oil concoctions and lie on a lawn chair in my backyard for hours at a time. This, I will admit, was not smart. But I read so much while doing it. I also read in bed, in the bathtub, on the sofa, and in the car (not while driving). If I was really into a book, I’d spend the whole day reading it.

I read a lot of total crap, like all of the Flowers in the Attic series. (Note: I just discovered the series actually continued even after I lost interest. How many books do we really need to cover this issue?) But I also fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald and read everything he wrote as well as Mark Twain and John Irving. Even now, with the kids out of the house, I don’t have the time or the inclination to spend a full day just reading like I would do then and I miss that.

3. I spent a lot of time with my friends

Those experiences I was having? I was having them with my friends, often every night of the week. Let’s contrast that to a time in my 30s when I suddenly realized that I couldn’t think of a single time in the previous three months when I had hung out with anyone who wasn’t a relative. You need your friends, even when — especially when — you’re in the thick of the kid-raising part of your life.

4. I ate what I wanted when I wanted and I enjoyed the hell out of everything I ate

Sure, even at 18, I sometimes dieted and thought I was “too fat”, but when I had the pizza with everything or the amazing steak, I ate with guilt-free enjoyment and gusto. I’m sitting here now thinking fondly of loaded nachos with sour cream. When did we stop being friends, nachos? I miss having you in my life. This is one aspect of my 18-year old self that I’m not sure I can get back. My middle-aged body seems to require constant vigilance just to maintain the status quo and when I do indulge it’s so hard to turn off the voice in my heading telling me I’m going to pay.

Jamie Lee knows what I’m talking about.

5. I took care of me first

If I was sleepy, I took a nap. If I tried something and didn’t like it, I  quit. If I didn’t feel like doing anything, I unapologetically sat around doing nothing. We so often hear the advice to put your own oxygen mask on first, but how many of us really follow it? I sure didn’t when I was raising my kids. And I was frequently grumpy and irritable with them. Even worse, I can look back now and see times when I mishandled situations because I was too busy or tired to see what was really going on. If I had taken better care of myself, I could have been a better parent.

 

I’m going to learn from my younger self and add more of these activities back into my life. Memorable experiences, time with friends, and reading all day bring me pleasure even now and I plan to start prioritizing time for these things. These are very hygge activities, so totally in keeping with my word for the year.

I wasn’t a complete genius at 18, though. Check out some things I wish I would tell my 18-year old self if I could talk to her now.

 

16 Comments

  1. September 29, 2015 / 10:26 am

    I love this perspective, and my 18-year-old former self shares some of these philosophies. In some ways I’m starting to take them up again now, particularly the part about experiences over possessions. So much more valuable for memory-making!

    • Katy
      September 29, 2015 / 10:32 am

      I absolutely agree – experiences definitely trump possessions. My husband and I agreed to not exchange Christmas presents this year after last year’s gifts just felt too much. Instead we’re going to take so money and either go to a play or a really special meal out. Hopefully that will be more memorable and special.

  2. September 29, 2015 / 10:28 am

    This is really great! At first I thought, ‘Wow, I wish I was wiser at 18 than I am now.’ but after reading your 5 points, I guess I was, too!

    • Katy
      September 29, 2015 / 10:34 am

      Oh I’m planning a follow-up post of things I wish I’d known then! That one could be much, much longer! But it’s good to remember what we got right too.

  3. September 29, 2015 / 11:22 am

    Hi Katy! Well I don’t normally think of myself as “SMARTer” at 18 than I am by now, but this was a cute way to make your points. But the good news is that four of them (with the exception of #4) are all not only doable, but something I do even better in my life now that I’m 60. And when I think about it, I even enjoy #4 as much — I just limit the amount of all that stuff a lot more. Now even just a bite or two of something satisfies and allows me to “enjoy” the hell out of it. I’m looking forward to your follow-up when you list all the things you wish you’d know then. I’ll bet you’ll find that they far outweigh anything any of us have given up. ~Kathy

    • Katy
      September 29, 2015 / 11:40 am

      I absolutely agree Kathy. The older I get, the more I get back to the things I did at 18, particularly prioritizing experiences and hanging out with friends. I’ve been craving nachos ever since I wrote this – I’ll have to break down at some point and have a few guilt-free bites.

  4. September 29, 2015 / 2:45 pm

    I think after 50 I’m finally beginning to listen to the younger me, like putting me first and enjoy every damn taste of that forbidden chocolate I’m going to snarf down anyway despite common sense and the nutrition pyramid. I don’t know which age is smarter, but I sure as hell want to enjoy things more now that our son is grown and more or less on his own. As Sammy sang, “I gotta be me.” Great post Katy!!

    • Katy
      September 29, 2015 / 2:51 pm

      Thanks Cathy. I’m also becoming more like my 18-year-old self as I get older. My kids don’t need me as much and it’s my time to hang out and have fun again. A very enjoyable time of life.

  5. September 29, 2015 / 4:59 pm

    I have to admit when I read your title, I thought, ya right, I knew nothing then, what’s she talking about. But wow Katy! Everything you said was true for me too. Obviously life experience and wisdom has taken away some of our carefree abandon to “live” in the moment, for the moment. Thank you for the reminder.

  6. Helene Cohen Bludman
    September 30, 2015 / 8:09 am

    I adore this post, Katy, and can completely relate (even the “laying out” part). You are so right about all of these. Wish we had known at the time how smart we were!

    • Katy
      September 30, 2015 / 8:52 am

      Thanks Helene! My daughter still “lays out” now and then but she cracks me up when she does it because she doesn’t understand the concept. She gets her book and her drink and goes and sits in the shade because she doesn’t like the sun. I think she’s probably still getting all the best parts of it though. 🙂

  7. September 30, 2015 / 1:26 pm

    Katy…all those points are exactly what I did at 18…and it’s exactly what I’ve recently started doing again. Except #4. No matter how hard I try…#4 will never work for me anymore. But that’s kind of a good thing.

    • Katy
      September 30, 2015 / 1:30 pm

      I know you mean Karen. Even when I do indulge now, my body rebels and tells me I’m not a kid anymore. I ate a lot of rich food over the weekend and I’m still paying the price! Nachos may have to be a fond memory for me.

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