Two years ago today, a 17-year-old me packed up the most important fraction of my belongings into two bags and left alone on a train to Montreal. Three days prior, I’d been wearing a red gown and walking across the stage at my graduation. 17 hours later, I’d be dropped alone in the centre of one of the largest cities in the country.
Being on your own gives you a fresh slate, free of influence and free of bias, but also free of guidance. My experiences over the last two years have molded who I am as a person, and the lessons I’ve learned will continue to influence me as I grow as independent adult.
Being financially independent at 17 is f**king hard. Finding a job without work experience or connections, juggling two jobs and school, balancing debt and credit, and living off less than any person should have to is hard. I was better off than many, but I felt disadvantaged next to my peers. It was something I’d have to deal with in order to survive independently.
I was forced to quickly learn about resourcefulness and to live within my means. I worked a lot and cut out luxuries. I’m able to deal with not getting what I want - I have to earn and value everything.
Sometimes that wasn’t enough. I dove into debt on multiple occasions and had to deal with the consequences of relying on resources I didn’t have.
I also learned a lot about the generosity of people. In my darkest moments, I found help from others without asking. Somehow, subconsciously, kind people are able to identify struggle and provide aid that, while trivial to them, is life-changing for someone else. It’s a lesson I’ll carry with me: as I become more stable, I become more able to help others.
I left home with the intention of attending university for four years on scholarship, getting a degree, and getting a job. I’m still not sure what my full educational path looks like, but let’s just say that’s not the case anymore.
Traditional education isn’t for everyone, but never in my 17 years had I thought it wasn’t for me. I did well in school, enjoyed my classes, and learned effectively by memorization and testing. That all ground to a halt when I was thrown into the whirlwind of jobs and obligations and needs that accompany the university life. In order to keep myself afloat, I had to learn and grow at my own pace and on my own schedule. Throughout the last two years, I’ve done huge amounts of learning through projects, jobs, competitions, and mentorship. I learned that “education”, in the typical sense of the word, does not encompass the broad spectrum of learning.
Mentorship has played a huge role in my alternative education. In every community I’m a part of, I’ve found my best source of knowledge, support, and motivation to be my peers and community leaders. Each mentor brings a new set of experiences that bend and carve my sphere of knowledge. Then, by mentoring others, I’m able to reinforce skills and inspire others. I’m so passionate about mentorship that I wrote a post about it.
Before leaving, I wouldn’t have classified myself as a happy person. There were things I enjoyed, and things I despised, but I couldn’t draw a complete picture of “me”.
I think part of becoming an adult means understanding yourself as a whole: what ticks you off, what keeps you up all night, what challenges you, what connects with you emotionally… Learning who this “you” is and learning to love them lets you be happy.
Taking it a step further, after understanding and becoming one with the ever-changing “you”, you can find your fit in the landscape of nodes, networks, niches, and nuances. Drawing foundational connections between your “you” and the rest of the world can fuel your ongoing sense of purpose, belonging, and happiness.
Being independent allowed me to explore interests without bias or restriction. I threw myself into the things I was passionate about and formed a strong sense of self with direction and purpose. My self is always evolving and growing, but my understanding of it makes it a source of happiness. The connections I’ve made as a result of this understanding have opened doors to even more new and exciting passions.
The past two years were incredibly rough. However, in reflecting today, the only lasting memories are those of lessons and valuable experiences. 17-year-old me: it’s worth it.
Here’s to two years of lessons, and decades of more to come.