Just experienced a major rite of passage.
My 20-year high school reunion.
Yes, it’s been 20 years since the seniors of New Smyrna Beach High School in New Smyrna Beach, Florida walked across that graduation stage.
The whole experience is still crystallizing for me, but I want to process it today and share some lessons learned with you.
1. People get older, but the core of who we are stays the same.
I hadn’t seen some of these classmates in 20 years, some in 10 years (since our last reunion), some a few months ago.
I was particularly excited to reconnect with some of my dearest friends who I had lost touch with, especially some of my buddies from my middle school gifted class. It was fascinating to see what these guys had done with their lives – and frankly, none of it was surprising.
My friend Wes used to wear combat boots to school and draw military-esque pictures in class. Unbeknownst to me, he joined the military while a senior in high school and has been involved in some pretty interesting strategic military assignments all around the world.
Andy was one of my dearest friends. We had some pretty deep philosophical discussions about every subject under the sun. And we went through several years of Spanish class together. I was Lilia in Spanish class. His name was Osvaldo (we got to choose our own Spanish names!) although we often called him Handee. At the reunion, I had the good fortune of meeting his wife and seeing pictures of his children! He recited the lines of our award-winning Spanish skits (his memory is scary strong!). He works in construction management and told me his Spanish skills have come in quite handy on job sites.
Of all of the other conversations I had during our reunion weekend, no one surprised me with what they were doing in their lives or who they had become. Everyone was simply more of who they were deep down inside.
2. Teachers are angels. Appreciate them.
I invited my all-time favorite teacher Ms. Isabel McLaughlin to come as our guest to the reunion. We were the first class to ever invite her to a reunion. We reconnected on Facebook a few years ago but hadn’t seen each other since I was in college. It was AMAZING to see her, give her a long hug and thank her for her guidance. She’s also been representing my family during Honors Night when the scholarship in my sister’s name is given to the winners. I’ll always be grateful to her for that!
She was my yearbook teacher so I had her as a teacher for all 4 years of school. Creating the yearbook was one of my fondest memories of high school. She helped me through the death of my sister Julie when I was 16. She didn’t know it, but she did. She actually told me at the reunion she wished she would have done more to help once I started publicly writing about how much hell I went through after Julie died.
That’s why teachers are so RAD!!! They CARE!!! And often they are the most underappreciated people. Let’s change that. Tell your most influential teachers how much you appreciate them. I recently recorded a Periscope video on this.
(If you haven’t downloaded Periscope app to your phone, do it! And follow me at @jennyfenig. I’m totally getting into Periscope and will be doing lots more live broadcasts.)
3. You don’t have to drink alcohol to have a good time.
Back in May, I realized it was time to release alcohol from my life. Perhaps because my reunion was coming up and I was thinking about just how much alcohol had a HUGE affect on my life since I was about 14 years old. It was time to let it go so I can make space for what’s coming.
Honestly, it’s been a lot easier than I thought it would be. My body doesn’t crave it. Instead I crave green juices and green smoothies and tea and sparkling water!
(And I finally – for the first time EVER! – went to our health food store in my hometown. Now that I shop in healthy grocery stores and co-ops, I felt like I was coming home when I smelled the hummus and kale and tofu!)
The hardest part is being in an environment where it seems like everyone else is drinking except you, which is pretty much what a high school reunion feels like.
But I had my drink of choice – sparkling water with lime! – and my commitment to embrace sobriety no matter what.
And then I connected with my friend Tommy who has been sober for about 3 years now. I’m so happy for him! He shared some powerful insight with me about spirituality and sobriety.
I feel good. And I remember everything I did and said (which wasn’t always the case when I was drinking!).
I’m happy for my friends who can drink and still feel good. I’m simply not in that camp anymore so I had to face the facts and not be afraid of change.
4. Deep conversation is where it’s at.
I have no desire for idle chit-chat. I like going DEEP. It’s where I COME ALIVE. I think that’s why I’m so effective as a coach to my clients and students. I want to get to the heart of the matter, ask empowering questions and make a TRUE CONNECTION.
I made it my mission to have as many of those conversations as I could, surround myself with others who have the ability to go DEEP, and enjoy myself.
If this resonates with you, know that these types of connections are totally possible. Just stop reading the trashy tabloid magazines and watching the cheesy reality shows that boil everything down to gossip and scandal and a dumbing down of women. Don’t gossip! There’s a bigger world out there. Engage in real conversations that matter. Fill your head with powerful messages that will help you live better.
5. Everyone has a story.
I LOVE STORIES!!! I heard so many life-affirming stories at the reunion. One of my faves was by a gal named Jennifer who I played the flute with in 6th and 7th grade. She told me she is over the moon at having become a mother a year ago after 19 years of trying to conceive.
I about fell down with joy when she shared that with me. I told her she needs to share that story. She told me she’s not a good writer like I am. I told her that if writing isn’t her thing then she needs to SPEAK that story to anyone who will listen because that’s a story worth spreading. It will give people HOPE and FAITH.
You have a story. An inspiring story. SHARE IT.
6. Honor your energy levels.
When engaging in deep connection at a reunion, workshop, event, festival, whatever, HONOR YOUR ENERGY LEVELS.
Know how much gas you have in the tank and don’t run yourself down.
On Saturday, I had a full day: breakfast with my late sister’s best friend Sandra (hadn’t seen her in 20 years!) and her daughter Chloe; lunch with girlfriends, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years; dinner with aunt and cousin and her kids (meeting them for the first time!); then reunion with classmates.
An entire crew was going out to Flagler Avenue around 11 p.m. to continue the party. A part of me wanted to go and not miss out on the fun. A larger part of me said, “you’re complete.” I listened to that voice, especially because I was waking up early the next morning to get my daughter from my aunt’s house where she had spent the night.
I felt good in the morning even though I knew I could have made more memories if I went out. I picked up my daughter, took her to the hotel for a nap, then spent time at the beach with one my best friends in the world and her family, plus some of my other classmates.
I’m glad I was feeling good because it took all my energy to play with her in the waves. Mother Ocean is quite powerful and I hadn’t been swimming in her waters in a few years!
Especially in my work I’ve had to learn how to manage my energy levels or else I BURN OUT and it’s not good.
Listen to your body. She’s always telling you something.
7. What do you need?
As I was preparing for this trip, I realized it was best if my daughter and I stayed in a hotel instead of at my mom’s condo. There are many reasons for this, but at the core it’s so I can call the shots on my schedule and surroundings. I love my mom, but staying together isn’t always the wisest choice. I need space. So I gave it to myself although it kind of made me feel sad to come to this realization.
But you know what? My daughter and I had the BEST time at our hotel. It was in a great location, we could walk just about everywhere, and I could simply be ME there. Sure, I had extra expenses due to this decision, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
It’s important to not only look at FINANCIAL COSTS, but EMOTIONAL COSTS due to every decision you make.
As a parent, a good question to ask yourself: “What’s best for the children?”
Honor your truth, your desires and needs and you’ll be in good shape.
8. That’s what leaders do.
My one regret from the reunion is that we didn’t have some kind of “ice breaker” activity to encourage connection and give us all a chance to update the group on what we’ve been up to these last 20 years. Honestly, I only got a chance to get that info from about 15 people of the 70 or so who were there and I was making my rounds! This is the fascinating part of the entire reunion. I want to know where people live, what makes them tick, what they’ve learned.
Perhaps there is a chance to collect this info from peeps after the fact and pass it around? There are so many stories in our group to be spread! So many ways we can support one another. If you have any ideas, please post them below. I’m all ears!
I wish I would have advocated for more connection at the reunion, but lesson learned! When you’re a leader, you need to feel into the needs of the group and give them opportunities that they may not be aware that they need. Sometimes this makes people uncomfortable, but stepping out of your comfort zone is the key to GROWTH.
What I am proud of creating are memory books for our deceased classmates and speaking on behalf of these angel classmates in front of the group. Our classmates at the reunion wrote messages to them, and I will be sending these books to their parents. As a mother of 3 children, this makes my heart feel good.
Why do you go to a reunion?
So you can reconnect with where you came from, and recommit to where you’re going.
Thanks for the memories, New Smyrna Beach High School Class of 1995. Proud to be connected to you for LIFE. #nsbhs1995
P.S. My ONLINE WRITING + MEDITATION RETREAT is tomorrow.
Last chance to join us to write some powerful material for your BOOK, SALES PAGE, IFO, BIO. Whatever your heart desires!
Click here to reserve your ticket.