As you’re about to head out into the “real” world, are you ready? Can you ever be prepared for life and what it will throw at you? For the 2014 school leavers – here are the essentials that I wish I’d known.

When I graduated from high school many years back, I remember feeling both joyfully excited and filled with trepidation about my unknown future. I also felt sad about not seeing my friends every day and not knowing exactly when my lunch break was going to be now.

Humans are creatures of habit and seek security and stability amongst the chaos of the every day. So what would I tell school leavers today? What advice would have helped me navigate the choppy waters of life, and were there mistakes that could be avoided with some sage advice?

In no particular order, here are some little snippets of simple wisdom gleaned through life experience and the beauty of hindsight.

Don’t worry about what others are thinking

It’s never about you. Trust me. People really only think about themselves. And as selfish and self-centred as that sounds, it also offers up an amazing amount of freedom. If no one really cares what you’re doing/thinking/feeling/looking like – doesn’t that mean you can do whatever you really want? Ditch the comparisons and let go of the proverbial greener grass and start watering your own backyard.

As Shakespeare said, ‘To thine own self be true’

But what if you don’t know yourself yet? Take the time to work out what you love doing, what lights you up and fills your energy tanks, and then follow that wherever it takes you. Because when you follow your passion, everything falls into place much faster. Don’t follow the crowd of school leavers or do what your friends are doing just because you’re unsure. Look into different options, speak to people who are living the kind of life you’d like to one day be living, get advice, read more and investigate. And then make your own mind up.

Failure to get what you want can be the best thing to happen to you

So don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted into your first (or second or third) preference at university. Detours are often the most exciting part of the journey – just make sure you think about the destination. Apply for multiple jobs, talk to industry experts, consider taking a gap year to explore the world and your options, read about how your favourite role models got to where they are today and have a little faith. Nothing is ever the way it appears on Facebook. Just remember, everyone else is just as unsure as you are. And that’s OK. Use that uncertainty as fuel to take action around your dreams.

Always drink more water than you think you need

When you’re feeling tired, stressed, emotional or ill, drink water. When you’re hungover, had too much sun, eaten too many ice creams or partied until 4am, drink even more water. Seriously.

Take care of the boring business of living

Remember to take care of all the boring practical things as these will impact your life in huge ways if left unattended. Look at your physical, emotional and financial health and take steps to get it in order. This will make your life so much easier in every way. Make sure all your legal documents are in order, that your driver’s licence is up to date, your car is registered and your medical health has been checked recently. Go to the dentist, have a skin check, know your blood type and have a general health once over. Go one step further and set up a budget and savings plan. The earlier you start, the better your financial future will be.

If it’s not on, it’s not on

Safe sex is a topic that you probably don’t want to discuss with your parents or your teachers. So let’s talk about it here. The spread of sexually-transmitted diseases is on the rise and this is alarming. As uncool as it might be, using protection should be a non-negotiable. As fun as it is in the moment, the effects of STI’s are painful and can affect you for your entire life. Value your body, respect yourself, make sure you set healthy boundaries and use condoms at all times.

Get off Facebook and go outside

Smell the fresh air, sit outside in the park, look everyone in the eye, talk to the people you interact with at the shops, or the petrol station or the café. Remember that the online world is only one version of someone’s life and usually it’s an enhanced one. So don’t judge your success by their newsfeed. Stop comparing and go take some action. As real as it seems, it’s not, and the easiest way to remember this is to get off the social media wheel and start connecting with the real world.

Relax and have fun

And make sure you call your mum. She worries.

What advice do you wish you’d heard when you left school, or would love to pass on to school leavers today?