My timeline is not yours – navigating life after high school

Graduated from the class of 2011 in the Marketing & Hospitality Program.

I feel as if this should go without saying, but in a world that celebrates vanity metrics and external indicators of success, it can be difficult to recognize some of the most important changes happening in our lives. I’m not talking about big career achievements or life milestones. The transformations that I’m referring to don’t earn us badges of honor on the outside. AKA, not the flashy stuff we ALL are guilty of sharing on social media. Prime examples of this highlight reel behavior I’m talking about (“I got a raise!” “I bought a house!” “We are engaged!” “We are Pregnant!” “We are at Disneyland for the 12th time this year!”) Sometimes these changes cannot be seen by anyone at all… they reside within us.

This kind of deeply personal growth my look like; healing from past trauma, building your confidence, trusting enough to be vulnerable, making time for rest, learning to love again, forgiving others, investing more into relationships, and having the courage to simply believe that you are capable and deserving of your dreams. Let me say that one more time for the people in the back.. YOU ARE CAPABLE AND DESERVING OF YOUR DREAMS.

And oftentimes, it takes baby steps to move us forward. We aren’t going to see transformational change overnight. It takes time to slowly and incrementally grow as a human being.

As you think about all the ways that you are changing in this season and seasons to come, I want to remind you of a few things I’ve picked up along the way:


This is life, and this is how it was designed to be. No one is magically rich, famous, or deserving of overnight success. Often times, the success we see celebrated outwardly has been fought for behind closed doors for years in silence, until it’s not, and everyone else sees what you have envisioned for so long.

I struggled with number one for a long time. After I graduated, I just wanted to be constantly achieving. But the “real world” doesn’t necessarily function that way. Oh boy did I learn that the hard way! Two semesters away from graduating with my associate’s degree I decided to pack up my life and move to Southern California. I knew one person in the town I moved to. I had no other friends or family members there, but I really just wanted to escape Vegas and everything that came with it. The people, partying, casinos, etc. I moved to a smaller town where everything closed by 11 PM. I was in complete culture shock. I was constantly frustrated by getting lost, not knowing anyone and having zero connections. Especially in a smaller town setting, it seemed impossible to make any of it work, but I had too. My family gave me 6 months max, they thought I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in California alone and would get homesick come home. All of which I considered multiple times but I was far more focused on proving them wrong as a motivator.

So, I took whatever jobs I could in order to pay my rent and out of state tuition and I hardly slept because of it. I saw everyone else enjoying themselves at their out of state universities with tons of new friends, living on campus and that just wasn’t my life. Part of me was envious that they could just focus on school without the burden of working. I sucked it up and finally saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Two weeks before graduating from the local community college I was told that my credits weren’t going to transfer due to “new curriculum requirements” from California. I was enraged, to say the least, and completely heartbroken. At this point, I was watching everyone else get their degrees and I wasn’t. I had this unrealistic vision in my head of a “5-year plan” probably put on me by those social expectations I mentioned above. College wasn’t in the cards for me so I stopped fighting the process and I moved on. IT’S OK! Sometimes whatever higher power you believe in has another plan for you and you just need to let go of control and listen.

Yes, I didn’t get a degree right away and I still managed to maintained high-level jobs based on real-world experience after the fact. Those experiences in most cases outweigh anything I could have ever learned in a book and most employers in our day and age understand this. College wasn’t the end all be all for me and it doesn’t need to be for you either. Funny enough, I actually landed what I thought was my “dream job” before starting my business without a degree. I was traveling all over the country and getting paid a hefty salary to do so. But after a while I was un-fulfilled, it was no longer fun living out of a suitcase, I was becoming bored and complacent. I wanted and craved more for my life, even though many would have killed to be in my position. If this sounds familiar, here is your permission to leave a job you dislike even if the money is great. Even if it is something you always thought you wanted and your friends and family think you are a nut job for even considering stepping down or quitting to pursue a new goal. We can expand more on that later. If you needed to hear that, let me tell you it’s scary but it’s possible.


Starting over is hard and quite honestly terrifying. I went from having a routine and being told what was expected of me/having some type of structure to being a one-woman show who was sitting at her desk all day still in her PJ’s just trying to figure it out and quickly. I had been running my photography business on the side for 4 years before I decided to go full-time but.. I quickly realized I was the new IT department, social media manager, accountant, receptionist, etc on a daily basis, not every now and then. I didn’t know where to start but I did know if I didn’t get a handle on the overwhelm and anxiety that came along with being my own boss I would drown before I could even get to the surface. Whether you own your own business, want to start a side hustle. Or just want to be an amazing employee, I think all of these things that personally helped transform my productivity and mindset can help you too.

I figured out that no one cares as much as I do. Very few on social media are paying attention to the minute details I was stressing over. I adopted the “done is better than perfect” mentality. This practically means, I was ok with putting B work into the universe on time with limited stress than doing the same task 20 times for A+ late work. This simple mindset shift, let me accomplish a lot more work.

I also realized that while earning a paycheck was important, this image being slammed down our throats right now of “hustle hard” and constantly being busy is the most unrealistic business model or lifestyle you could possibly choose for yourself. When I tried to keep up with this image of being busy and working far more in a day than I should have, I was a miserable human. It caused me to lash out at people I loved from being so sleep-deprived and stressed out of my mind. Oh and the toll all the stress took on my body completely wrecked many things to come. Do you know what your body does when it has had enough? It shuts down on you in ways you could never imagine. Guess how much work I got done from a hospital bed? NONE. Please prioritize yourself at least once a day. Self care is so important and it looks different for all of us as our lifestyles range. But doing this transformed my energy levels and ability to focus. For me, this was also put in perspective when a speaker at a conference said “People hire me 1-2 years in advance expecting me to be healthy for one of the most important days of their lives” That hit me like a ton of bricks! Those of you with children should also consider showing up in this way.

Lastly, I celebrate little victories all the time. Some days getting dressed and not working through lunch is an accomplishment. Checking things off the to-do list is therapy. Sharing online a mini milestone or journaling it out/marking it on a calendar is also a great way to keep track of how far you have come! I know I trash talked sharing milestones in the beginning, but it’s only bad if you aren’t sharing the in between moments too. You know, transparency? I reward myself for these small but needed victories by going out to a celebratory to dinner, having an extra glass of wine or even buying myself a new outfit to feel as good on the outside as I do on the inside! Find what works for you and keep it going!


If you get one thing from this whole article, please take this. We are continually told growing up (or at least I was) “You are who you hang out with” “Guilty by association” I never really understood these concepts until I was older and trying to make something of my life. You can have the best of intentions with a friend you know is a “loser” and you could just be trying to help. But not everyone can be saved and unfortunately, most of the time, by helping them you look like a “loser” too. Often times, your mindset will change, it will weaken, you will believe false things about yourself and what you can achieve if you do not see others around you achieving it. FACTS.

Well Karissa, what if no one around me is a high achiever to look up to? Well, my friend, the internet is an amazing tool when used correctly. Find someone who is doing what you want to do, is speaking or showing up how you’d like to etc and follow them. Stalk them, figure out what they are doing, listen to podcasts or audiobooks in the car instead of music. Cut down on your TV or unnecessary screen time, pick up a book. Find a mentor in your area or a life coach online who can hold you accountable! Unfollow any toxic person in your life or accounts that trigger you. Cut people out of your life that does not serve a purpose “if they aren’t adding to it, they are subtracting from it.” THIS GOES FOR FAMILY TOO. Yes I said it and I will say it again, once I started achieving after getting my professional circle in line, I lost so many “friends” and even cut off family members who just couldn’t be supportive or positive through my journey. Was it easy? No. Will it ever get easier? Probably not. But it was something I personally had to do, it wasn’t a permanent decision, but I did let them know and went on my merry way for about a year with minimal contact. It was the best decision I ever made, I now have an amazing relationship again with those individuals and they understand why it needed to happen. Break the bad cycle and lay down some boundaries. They are sexy.

Lastly, pick a good life partner. The #1 reason otherwise ambitious people stumble, fall and ultimately fail on their dreams is they attach themselves to the wrong partner in their personal relationships. Pick a partner based on their mindset in life, not the outward appearance, because that won’t matter in 30 years. If you are with someone who nags and criticizes your work ethic, drive or commitment to them, RUN. You’ll never win with someone like that. It’ll either be you “work too hard” and they leave you or “you’re a loser” and they leave you. Most people grossly underestimate what it takes and succeeding in life is hard enough and the world will beat on you don’t need more at home. A supportive partner isn’t a luxury its a necessity. It’s not just about will need the positivity. Evolve and grow together is my best advice. I let go of an 8 year relationship for lack of support and growth. That’s terrifying when someone has been by your side for a majority of your adult life. BUT, that is life. Don’t let someone talk you out of what you want for yourself. The right person will love you for being the uncompromising person you have to be.

PS – I hope you learn how to be proud of the person you are becoming; I hope you learn how to be proud of where you are even if it isn’t exactly where you want to be. I hope you learn to fall in love with the process, with the messiness of life and the confusion of it all. At the end of the day, I hope you find what you’re looking for out there. I hope your life inspires you.

With love,
Karissa Russ

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