I’m 21! How exciting! 21 years of living this life. 21 years of smiling and laughing and crying and hurting and growing and learning. I always find myself feeling very introspective and reflective around my birthday. I think back to where I was the last time I celebrated my amount of time in this life, what has changed since then, and how thankful I am for everything I’ve learned since then.
This past year has been full of lessons and love for me. Just like every year passed, this year was home to my highest highs and my lowest lows. This year I had the hardest experiences with mental health that I’ve ever had. I’ve also felt the most love and support that I ever have in my life. I experienced some of the hardest experiences but also experienced some of my biggest successes.
C’est la vie, I guess.
I wanted to write these 21 things that I’ve learned in my 21 years of life as advice to myself. They are things that I often repeat to myself in my day to day life. Some, I have mastered and implemented into my life completely. Others, I have learned the significant importance of but am still working on implementing as habitual thinking/doing.
1. Putting yourself first is not selfish
You are yours first and foremost. You wake up with yourself, you go to bed with yourself, and you’re with yourself every single minute in between. Investing the time and effort to take care of your mind, body, and soul is more important and essential than you may know. Put yourself first, invest in yourself, take care of yourself, and you will watch yourself become a better friend, lover, employee, and so on. Choosing to remove yourself from situations or distance yourself from people in order to help better yourself is not mean or selfish.
2. Life is about loving imperfect people and imperfect things
Nothing and nobody is perfect. Accept it. But these imperfect people and imperfect things are still perfectly worth loving. And, when you accept that and embrace that and love imperfect people and things with your imperfect love, you will find immense beauty and fulfillment in life.
3. Love is the most incredible and beautiful thing in the world
If someone has told you fairytale love doesn’t exist, they are lying. Euphoric, fulfilling, perfect love does exist and it is one of the most incredible things to experience in this life. It is indescribably beautiful and feels like home. It feels safe and warm and incredible and exciting. Don’t give up on it. Believe it in and look forward to it or revel in it when you get a chance to experience it.
4. Things don’t have to be forever to be amazing
People, opportunities, and things come in and out of your life when and how they are supposed to come in and out of your life. Something or someone can be perfect and amazing for a time and then no longer be for you or in your life. These people or things or opportunities no longer being in your life does not mitigate or eradicate the good that came when they were. It just means it’s no longer time for them. And that is okay.
5. Learning to be financially responsible is so worth it
Money is hard and unfortunately very easy to make improper choices with. Taking the time to learn about budgeting and saving and smart financial decisions will make a massive positive impact in your life now and in the future. Being restricted in what you spend now is incredibly worth it to make sure you don’t end up in a bad financial circumstance later.
6. Be in nature and in sunshine as often as possible
Need to feel present? Need to ground yourself? Need to remind yourself what really matters? Need to cheer up? Need to feel at peace? Turn off your phone and go outside. Feel the air and the sun or the rain or the cold. Sit with your thoughts and listen to the wind in the trees, the flowing water, and the birds chirping. Feel the sun on your face. Feel your presence and enjoy the quiet solitude.
7. Feelings are not logical and can’t be comforted by logic
Emotion and logic are separate. We have logical minds and emotional minds. The reason emotions are hard and uncomfortable is because they cannot be fixed or managed with logic because they simply are not logical. When people come to you with emotion, start with emotion, rather than logic – understand them and validate them. Then, proceed with logic.
8. Grief is really f*cking hard
It just is. Nothing can prepare you for it or when it arises or how bad it hurts. It just f*cking sucks. Be kind and patient and empathetic with those going through it. Losing someone you love is painful. Knowing that they can’t and won’t come back is painful; there is no fix for it or way to reverse it. Love with your whole heart and make sure your loved ones know how much you appreciate them.
9. Take time to realign with who you are and what matters with you
Life is a whirlwind. It’s busy and full and incredibly easy to get swept up in. Don’t forget to take time to stop and realign. Ask yourself: who am I? what matters most to me? am I proud of who I am? am I doing things that make me happy? am I aligned with my core values? This exercise is not only an opportunity for grounding introspection but also helps you to live up to your fullest potential.
10. Take care of your mental health
Therapy is good. Talking to your trusted loved ones about your mental health is good. Get comfortable with those hard conversations. Doing things or not doing things to take care of your mental health is important. Your mental health journey will not be one of exponential growth. I can almost guarantee that. It is not all uphill. You may have moments, weeks, months, or even years of uphill. But then you may come crashing down for a while. That’s okay. It’s not weird. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn anything or that you lose your progress.
11. Learn to love being by yourself
Being alone is healing. It’s hard, at first, when you aren’t comfortable with yourself but, it forces you to become so. Loving time alone means you are comfortable with your thoughts and your company. It means you are independent and grounded. It means you truly love yourself and love hanging out with yourself. And it eventually becomes so enjoyable and fulfilling, trust me.
12. Overthinking doesn’t serve you
It is exhausting and crazy-making. Instead, try the following: accept that the worst case scenario is possible and could happen to you. Accept that you’d make it through that and be able to handle the repercussions. Then, remind yourself that if you can handle the worst possible outcome, you can handle literally anything else. Separate your overthinking, emotional mind from your logical mind and allow yourself to acknowledge the overthinking mind but reside in the logical mind. Things are not nearly as bad as your anxiety tells you they are.
13. You don’t need to have everything sorted out right now
Give yourself grace and do not force your timeline to reflect others’ timelines. Your timeline is your own. Things don’t have to be perfectly figured out right now. Things that come to other people now do not have to come to you now. Things that have come to you do not have to come to others now. You have time. You will make it. You will find what is meant for you.
14. Be present
Spending time in your past or in your future is such a waste. Learn from past things and move forward back to the present. Prepare for future things and then forget about them until they are the present. If you notice yourself spending time in your past, simply thank the old you for who they were, learn from what they did, and be someone they would look up to in the future. If you notice yourself spending too much time in the future, remind yourself that once you are prepared for the future, you can peacefully return to the present and reside there until the future becomes the present.
15. Yes-men are not friends
Your closest loved ones should push you and challenge you, not agree with everything you think/do/say. Surround yourself with people who challenge you and push you and hold you accountable and want you to grow and not remain stagnant. Surround yourself with people that are different than you in aspects of life, who you can learn from and grow with. Do not surround yourself with people who do not challenge you.
16. Spend time with people who fulfill you and make you want to be your best/truest self
Ensure that you surround yourself with people who you look up to and want to be more like. Do not spend time with people who make you feel small, make you want to try less, or make you want to be someone you’re not. Surround yourself with people who feel like sunshine on a cloudy day. Surround yourself with people who encourage you, lift you up, and are proud of your successes and accomplishments, rather than intimidated by or jealous of them.
17. Ignoring pain and hurt will not make it go away
The idea that time heals everything is simply not true. Time does not heal everything. Pain and hurt don’t go away because the earth has gone around the sun for a certain amount of time. You will get more used to the pain and hurt and learn how to deal with it, but time does not heal all. ‘Getting over’ pain is not always possible. Instead, sometimes, we must simply learn to live with it.
18. Admit when you’re wrong and do everything you can to make it right
Reread number 2. Imperfection. That includes you. You are imperfect. You will make mistakes. You will fail. You will hurt people. You will do things wrong. Accept that. Be accountable for when you are imperfect. Saying ‘wow, I messed that one up’ or ‘wow, I really hurt you’ and being able to follow that with ‘I’m sorry and I want to make this right’ makes this imperfection acceptable… lovable, actually.
19. You have complete and total control over your life
Write your own story! Although not everything in your life is your choice, even when things happen to you, you choose your response. Control everything you can control and control your response to what you can’t control. You can either let hard things be roadblocks, or you can let them be lessons. You can let life happen to you or you can live your life. It is your choice. (p.s… choose living)
20. Movement, fitness, & exercise are medicine to your soul
Working out is not just for your body. It is for your mind and your soul. It gives you the opportunity to spend time physically working on yourself which, in turn, teaches your brain how important self care really is. Movement/fitness/exercise teach you that your mind is in more control of your body. When your legs ache and your lungs hurt, you can keep going. Mind over matter, mind over muscle.
21. Things are not always as they seem
Don’t make assumptions about people and their lives. It’s hard to not assume things. But, it’s worth it. You really don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors or open doors, smiling eyes or furrowed brows. Be patient and give people the benefit of the doubt. It is rare that people will truly have bad intentions. If they do, that is a reflection of them, not of you.
So, there it is. 21 years of learning. Here’s to 21 more!