Reunited & It Feels So Good
A few weeks ago I attended my five-year high school reunion. I couldn’t believe that all of those years flew by so quickly. I was excited by the prospect of seeing what my peers had been up to since graduation and more importantly, I was eager to use the reunion as a learning experience.
My biggest takeaways from the night were so affirming to all of the growing as an adult I’ve done in those five years.
I realized that I can successfully hold my alcohol in awkward situations (even a small win counts!), I have become a lot better at making an effort to get to know people, and my confidence has grown so much from my days as a shy, slunched highschooler.
I arrived with three friends to the destination—an upbeat bar/restaurant in our hometown. The fact that everyone was now of legal drinking age somehow made the night more relaxed. If you were feeling nervous, you could have a drink and (hopefully) initiate some meaningful conversations.
The smallest victory of that night was keeping it cool in the face of all those tempting mixed drinks.
I realize that it could have been so easy for me to alleviate my anxiety about seeing and making small talk with former classmates by pounding down as many margaritas as my wallet would allow. And I’m still not fully in love with the idea of small talk in general—let’s blame my painfully awkward INFJ/Virgo combination for that one.
But ever since I’ve moved to Philadelphia, I’ve met so many great people at the local bars and, well, I’ve tried to not make a fool out of myself by getting too tipsy. So all of that practice really came in handy at the reunion. I stuck to one kind of drink—gin and tonic—and paced myself so I would have a good time the whole night without ever feeling out of control or sick. It worked out well for the conversations that ensued too.
The second takeaway from the night was branching out to talk to people I wouldn’t have had the gall to five years ago.
I’m really proud of this one. When I was in high school, I was perfectly ok with being in the background. I stuck to talking with my friends and didn’t dare to go out of the way to get to know people outside of my circle. I think a lot of that mindset can be attributed to the “politics” of high school. Everyone kind of has their people they associate with and unless you’re forced to work in a group with others on an assignment, you don’t necessarily go out of your way to change that.
What helped me with this reluctance/fear of getting to know different people are the networking events my co-workers and I go to every month through Ellevate. If you’re never heard of Ellevate, it’s an organization developed to help women connect and create communities in a professional kind of way. They have events like brunches or cocktail hours every month and going to those as part of my job has been a learning experience in itself.
I was thrown into these events not feeling so confident about talking to others, or even talking about myself for that matter. But the key to building confidence in anything is practice.
Eventually, you’ll learn how to stop treating every interaction like an interview or networking opportunity, and just connect with the other person. Taking that knowledge to the reunion gave me the confidence to float around the room and initiate conversations with people who weren’t my friends in high school. It was genuinely interesting to see what everyone had been doing and, let’s face it, the mixed drinks did help break that ice!
My last and favorite takeaway from the reunion was feeling that I had gained more confidence in those five years than I ever would have imagined.
There was a small part of me that dreaded going back to my hometown and facing my peers again. What if I didn’t stack up? What if I had nothing to show for myself? What if I wasted all that time caring about other people’s opinions versus building and shaping my own?
But that fear washed away as the night flowed on. I talked to people that I never would have and had some damn great conversations too. And the thing about it all was, I didn’t brag about how far I’ve come or that I’ve grown so much. I think that’s a real sign of growth itself, knowing that you’ve done good things and not feeling the need to shout them out to the whole world. It’s a sort of quiet humility that I think shows true adulthood.
That’s not to say that I don’t feel proud of how far I’ve come since 2013—from graduating college with honors to moving to Philadelphia to start my career—it’s been a whirlwind of changes.
But I left my reunion that night feeling proud for other reasons. I think I needed something as small and unassuming as this reunion to put it all together in my mind. The affirmation of truly growing into myself as an adult and an individual was the best learning experience I’ve had all year.
Who would have thought that I’d still be getting an education this long after graduation? I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what other tests life throws my way.