From the moment you step foot into high school, you’re taught to think about your future. What do you want to do for the rest of your life? Where do you want to live? Do you want to move away? When you’re barely able to drive, all of these questions can seem completely irrelevant.

When I was 17, I made a decision to move eight hours away from home. I have lived in the same house my entire life, and have never experienced the process of moving away. My small town was everything I had ever known. I grew up around the same people, always had the same friends, and drove the same country roads every single day. I’ve always been a very elaborate planner of my future, even from a young age.

When I was 13, I wrote a letter to my future self that said if I don’t achieve my goal of playing college golf, I’d be really disappointed in myself. I had some pretty high expectations as a young teenager as you can tell. Thankfully, 13-year-old Monica would be pretty proud of my decisions so far. Before one enters college, they're obviously given lots of advice from all different types of people. Such as "Don't procrastinate", "This is the best time of your life", and "You're going to miss home so much."

Let me tell you, all of those things are true. For being eight hours away from my home, parents, and friends, I would say I'm doing pretty well. However, being separated from a lot of things that I love has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to adjust to. I've compiled a list of things that stepping out of my comfort zone has taught me. No matter how far from home you are, I'm sure you can relate to at least a couple of these things.

Always be proud of where you come from.

Whenever I tell someone I'm from Illinois, they immediately ask if I'm from Chicago. I always proceed with "no, I'm from a small town close to the Iowa border", and the conversation usually ends there. However, this being my first fall away from that small town, I've realized how much I miss it. The Friday night football games, the peace of mind when driving down a country road, and especially the friendly waves as you drive through town. No matter where you're from, it's ok to admit that you miss it.

You realize how important the little things are.

When you move away and start a new adventure, it's easy to be swept away by all of the new people you're meeting, and all of the new experiences you're having. I will admit that my first month of college, I didn't miss much of anyone or anything. But this is normal for any new college student. As time progressed, the little things that I thought were irrelevant slowly started creeping into the back of my mind. Whether it be Sunday lunch dates with my mom, or drives with my best friend, I began to realize how many little things I had in my life that I was forgetting to miss.

Life isn't a competition and the sooner you realize that, the better.

If you have any recollection of high school or anything before that, you will recall that a lot of things had a competitive atmosphere. Whether it be test scores, sports, or homecoming court, there's competition all around you. It's easy to view life as a competition when from the day we're born, we're taught to rise to the top. This is an extremely effective way to get children and young adults to go after their goals and aspirations. I was/still am a very competitive person. However, I'm starting to view things in a different light. Once you're surrounded by a vast amount of different people and personalities, you realize just how hard it is to truly compare yourself to someone else. It's easy to say we want to be as successful as the next person, but the truth is that there's no way you'll ever accomplish something if you're always trying to outshine someone else. Being proud of what you've done, and still have yet to do, is the only way you'll stay positive about your life and the way you're approaching it.

Your family is always there for you when no one else is.

No matter what age you are, there will always be times in your life when you forget to appreciate your parents. Whether you're 14, 30, or 55, we can all remember a time where we didn't appreciate our family enough. A week ago my wallet was stolen, and I was without money or an ID. The first people I called was obviously my parents. I resented making that call because I assumed they would think I was irresponsible and incapable of living on my own. However, they made sure to remind me that it wasn't my fault and everything could be replaced. We all live in fear of disappointing our parents. It's the root of a lot of our problems. However, we all seem to forget that we've messed up before, and yet they still love us unconditionally. In fact, if there's anyone that will always forgive you, it's your family. Never forget them, especially on the good days.

It's not going to be easy.

If moving far away from home was easy, more people would do it. When I made the decision to move states away, I wasn't even old enough to be considered a legal adult. If that's not frightening, I don't know what is. However, even moving an hour away can be scary, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. What I'm trying to say, is it's ok to be frustrated, sad, and to feel lost sometimes. I can personally admit that I've had a tough time adjusting to certain things in my life. I could have given up and gone home to my safety net. Although that would be nice, it would be too easy. Now, I'm thankful that I was brave enough to step outside of my comfort zone in order to make myself a better person.

Whether you moved states away, or just a short drive away, I want you to know I'm proud of you. It's hard and it's scary, but in the end, all of the things you will experience will be so worth it. There will always be people for you to run to when you feel lost, and never forget that. Life is hard and it's frustrating, but if you're brave enough to face it head on, you'll learn so much more about this crazy life. And as my dad always says to me, it's not about the destination, it's about the journey.