It’s not easy to grow, and it’s not easy to let yourself grow.
As people, we find comfort in familiarity and habit, but that is no excuse. People need to allow themselves to go through good times and bad times in order to see what really matters.
To say this past year has been the greatest time of growth for me as an individual would be an understatement. I overcame a very depressing period of my life, went back away to college and took on every opportunity in school and work that would help me become the truest version of myself.
After all of that, I turned 21 and had the greatest birthday yet.
My parents threw me a beer-becue filled with tons of food, family and friends from near and far. Being surrounded by so much love and realizing everyone was there for me was like a bright light of hope.
As a 21-year-old who is not even out of college, I realize the world is full of opportunity and wonder. I hope to share the greatest lessons I’ve learned to date, which will hopefully be a bright light of hope for someone else, too.
Here are 21 life lessons that took me 21 years to learn:
1. You’re allowed to be wrong, and when you are, make sure to say so.
Swallowing your pride and owning up to your mistakes is the single most liberating thing you will ever do for yourself.
No one is perfect. Use that to your advantage.
2. Don’t settle for the answer you don’t understand.
This is where “why” becomes your friend.
Didn’t get that internship? Didn’t understand why your boyfriend broke up with you?
Your roommate doesn’t want to live with you again?
Ask why, and use the answer to make your next move a better one.
3. Lying is the most fun you can have, until you get caught.
I’m speaking from experience.
There’s nothing more exhilarating than holding a dirty little secret or telling a fabricated truth.
You have to realize this is the only fun part, and the only one who is feeling the fun is you.
Once you’re outed (which usually will happen), you’re done for.
That cloud you were floating on vanishes, and so does the respect of those around you.
4. If someone does or does not trust you, realize what that means.
Trust doesn’t come around easily.
If someone confides in you, that’s an honor. Hold on to that.
If someone doesn’t, think to yourself, “Do I want this person to trust me again, and if so, what do I do to earn that trust back? If I can live with this, what lessons can I take from losing the trust?”
5. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
If you really want to do that thing — like pierce your nose or move to a new place that could perhaps offend your parents, boyfriend or loved one — just do it.
As much as these people contribute to your life, you’re the one living it.
Do what you want, and literally ask them to forgive you when the so-called “damage” has been done.
6. Your parents are people, too.
Say it again.
Repeat that until you understand they are not only your support system, but real people who feel real things and go through life with your best interests in mind.
They’ve had to make sacrifices. They’ve loved, and they’ve lost.
Most importantly, they’ve been where you are.
Give them the chance to shed some light on whatever you’re going through.
7. All people hate something about themselves.
I hate my thighs.
It just so happens my sister hates her nose, and my best friend hates her “armpit fat.”
Physicalities are just physicalities.
They will never define you.
8. Loss will teach you value.
When I lost my grandfather (the man who raised me while my parents were hustling at work and trying to provide for a family in their early 20s), I realized he shaped me more than I could ever imagine.
I started looking at the world and realizing everything around me held value in my life.
For that reason, loss will teach us the greatest lesson about life: appreciate what you have.
9. Taking a risk will always be scary. Don’t hold back.
Think back to something that makes you realize, “If I hadn’t done that, everything would be different.”
Chances start with risks.
Change is good, and being scared means you don’t have all the answers to life’s questions.
Never be ashamed about that.
10. Believe everything happens for a good reason.
Whether it’s not getting that job or having to move to a new town away from all your friends, all these things will shape you in one way or another.
Although the answers don’t always make sense in the moment, they will in good time.
11. Your best friend might hurt you.
I dumped my childhood best friend (for the third and final time) during our senior year of high school.
Although it was hard, and I sometimes feel nostalgic when a memory of her comes back to my mind, I realize it was for the better because she held me back from being who I wanted to be.
Everyone is going to hurt you.
We can’t be loyal to everyone every day, all the time.
Some friendships come to an end, and that’s okay.
12. Dye your hair and change your style.
Do whatever it is that makes you feel empowered and confident. It’s your life and it’s your style.
Do you, boo.
13. Understand that some days, it’s okay to not get out of bed.
You don’t have to bring your A game every day.
Some days, you need that little time to gather your thoughts, get over your cold or just catch up on your Netflix episodes.
14. Sex is what you make of it.
By that, I mean it’s 2015. You don’t need to save yourself for Prince Charming.
But if you do, that’s cool, too.
The value of sex is relative to you and your own values.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
15. You can plan to win a Nobel Prize, but it doesn’t have to be tomorrow.
Chances are, your dreams are big and seem unattainable at times.
A professor said these words to me once. They made me realize no matter what I want to accomplish in life, it will take dedication and time.
That goes for finding the cure to cancer or running a 5k.
16. Every step is a step.
It’s the little things that add up to the big things.
17. Forgiving doesn’t make you weak, and cutting someone out doesn’t make you cold.
Forgiving someone means your strength was greater than your ego.
Sure, there are a few situations where forgiving seems impossible. But, it takes more effort to stay angry than it does to let things go and let bygones be bygones.
On the other hand, some people just don’t deserve another breath, word or effort out of you.
Let them realize it for themselves, and understand the difference between the two.
18. You should spend your money on that trip.
Yeah, you might have to sacrifice a few outfits or Sunday brunches.
But, you’ll never regret it when you’re sitting on an island with your best friend in an Airbnb villa, sipping on wine and talking about the rest of your lives.
19. Who you want to be is totally up to you.
No one will hold your hand and walk you through life.
You are on your own journey, and every path is your decision.
Don’t let your past dictate your future, and don’t let your present prevent you from making a change.
20. What others think about you will never be your business.
Your shoes are being walked in by you, and the opinions of others will never be more than opinions.
They won’t define you, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t matter.
21. Falling in love with yourself is the prerequisite to loving someone else.
This is the greatest lesson of all.
To love yourself is to accept who you are, flaws and all.
See yourself for the collection of quirks and habits that make you you.
Accept that person and be thankful for that person.
When it comes to loving someone else, you’ll be loving him or her to lift you higher, not define you as a person.