May 22, 2016 Leave your thoughts
I remember thinking about this day from the time I was small. Eighteen seemed so big, so distant, something I would never touch with my chubby little hands. But as I’ve gotten older, time seems to have only gone by faster and faster, and now here I am, turning eighteen tomorrow.
It’s so strange to be so aware of your transition, to sense the shifts unfolding in the people and environment around you. In the past year especially, I’ve seen and felt so much change, both in myself and in my peers. I’ve seen friends reveal pieces of themselves they guarded fiercely in the past; friends pick directions for their futures then rotate them 180 degrees three times in three days; friends shutting doors to their hearts while others throwing the windows to their souls wide open. I suppose all times in one’s life are turbulent and fuzzy on occasion, but I think late adolescence is one of the first moments when you’re conscious of the change and able to process it with some level of meaningful contemplation.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last twelve months I’ve changed my mind about where I want to go and who I want to be. There have been solid weeks or months where I’ve remained fairly consistent and confident; there have been solid weeks or months where I’ve felt as if I was trying to paint a self-portrait and only yielding a blank canvas with a speck of red in one corner. There have been days where I’ve been on top of the world, my curls bouncing with every step I took; there have been days where I’ve remained buried beneath chunky scarves, catching tears I kept to myself.
But through it all, I’ve learned, I’ve stretched, I’ve grown. Though there were times I was swallowed by doubt, hatred, and apathy, there were times I was embraced by assurance, love, and passion, and I’d argue that both were critical to my development as a young adult. With every experience you take away a tool, a skill, a lesson you’ll need or apply one day.
Since I enjoyed doing this so much last year, I’m going to share eighteen more lessons I’ve picked up in not just the past twelve months, but my eighteen years hanging out on this planet, breathing and feeling and observing and learning and sharing within myself and with others. I hope you pick something up along the way, too.
- Say yes.
Some of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life have been because I said “yes” to things I was hesitant about, or things I was initially afraid to do. I made the leap to spend a month abroad with a homestay family in France, even though I had never been away from home for that long before and was nervous about how comfortable I’d be communicating. I packed up my things and made the three and a half hour long journey out to the East End of Long Island to volunteer on a farm last summer. Despite having a previously horrible experience with AP social studies classes, I decided at the last moment to take AP Government and Politics, even though it meant more work for an already jam-packed senior year. The fear and jitters I pushed aside led to near-fluency in French, a new passion for agriculture, and one of my favorite classes and teachers of all time, things and memories I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Even though doubt may cloud your mind, if you know something could yield a positive benefit, just do it. You won’t regret it 99% of the time, and regardless, you’ll have learned something along the way that will enrich your human experience, which in my mind is always an asset.
2. Say no.
Just as there are times to say “yes,” there are times to say “no.” Life is not a skew in one direction; rather, it’s a balancing act between extremes and what lies in the middle. In your life, there are going to be times when your plate is full, when you’re exhausted or uncomfortable, when whatever is being presented to you isn’t a productive use of your energy. In those situations, do yourself a favor and say no. There will be infinite opportunities in your life (if you are open to them), and if you said “yes” to all, you’d have no time to reflect and relax, both of which I’d argue are critical to being a healthy human being. Just as traveling the world, trying new things, and learning about new subjects are important, so are staying at home, following a routine, and revisiting the things you love. It’s not something you have to beat yourself up over, either: accept that saying no is all part of the holistic package that is you. So get some sleep, take a bath, be lazy, because sometimes, you need to give yourself a break.
3. Get comfortable with yourself.
Newsflash: you’re stuck with yourself for the rest of your life. Deal with it. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be a glamourous six-foot blonde when you’re a nerdy five-foot brunette in reality. And you know what? It’s okay. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: and you aren’t broke, I swear. Instead of trying so hard to change yourself, take what you’ve got and own it. It’s counterproductive to be one more force against yourself when there’s already so much out there taking swings at your head and heart. Alleviate yourself of that unnecessary burden and love yourself. Figure out who you are and what you like. Know your flaws and embrace them. Take your mistakes and use them to fertilize the soil of the garden you’re blossoming into. No, you aren’t perfect–no one is–but you’re perfectly you, and that’s all you need to be. There are going to be times when you’ll be surrounded by a crowd cheering your name, but there are going to times when you’ll be standing alone on a precipice of despair, and in those times, you’re going to need self-support more than anything. Learn it, preach it, do it now and always so you’ll be able to hold yourself with some sense of security when you find yourself deserted in solitary struggle.
4. Life is a practice.
Anyone who tells you that there’s a be-all, end-all solution for your life and its dilemmas is spouting bullshit. In our capitalist society, we want to believe that buying something will somehow fix everything, but in fact the opposite is true. Putting all of your reliance in one external solution only makes the matter worse, for you’re avoiding all of the minute details that need to be addressed in order to eradicate your burden. You don’t scale a mountain by dragging yourself up in one go; you scale it–and surmount it–by taking it a little at a time, so that when you reach the summit, you’ll have the strength and energy to enjoy your surroundings instead of passing out from exhaustion. Life is the same. Take your problems step by step. Be patient, because impatience only hinders you further. Breathe. Recognize that there will be days when you take five steps forward, and days when you fall six steps behind. There will be consistency and inconsistency, progress and regression, success and failure: but it’s all part of the practice that gives your life meaning. And trust me, practice is rewarding.
5. Don’t be embarrassed.
Let’s be honest: we’re all idiots bumbling around blindly on this roughly spherical chunk of rock. We’ve all asked where the butter is when its dish is right before our eyes. We’ve all said something completely stupid to someone we secretly (or not so secretly) worship. We’ve all burped loudly in a room filled with attractive people, tripped over our own clumsy feet, farted at the least-convenient time in the history of ever. Even though there will be times when this embarrassment makes the sneaky transformation into self-depreciation, you don’t have to be ashamed. I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, not even Beyoncé is perfect. We all make mistakes, we all say things we don’t mean, we all screw up. At times, it’s hard not to beat yourself up over even the most petty of matters, but you don’t have to rip yourself to shreds over every little “oops.” Instead, take that humiliation and make it into something. Turn it into a joke that makes your friends laugh. Use it as a reference point for when you’re making a decision in the future. Hell, channel your shame into pottery: mold a “yikes” bowl and fill it with hard candies, so every time you feel that embarrassment, you can take one and say, “Well, this sucks.” Flip the switch from shame on to game on.
6. Tame those monsters.
We all have a monster hiding in our closet, beneath our bed, or both. The monsters come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s always one there. You know that monster. It comes out at night when you’re tired and vulnerable; it chants, “You’re a failure, you’re a fool. You’re ugly. People don’t like you. You will never be successful. This, that, and the other thing is wrong with you. You don’t deserve love. You’re going to die alone with 10,000 cats.” That’s what my monster says. I don’t know what yours utters to you in those moments just past midnight, but I’d imagine he repeats lines similar to mine. Unfortunately, the monster’s probably going to always be there, but that doesn’t mean you can’t gag him, tie him up in ropes, and make him beg for mercy from the awesomeness that is you. Remember this: you are stronger, bigger, and better than that monster, and you can defeat him. He is wrong. He is the fool, not you. He’s the one stuck inside; you’re the one who can go out into the world and drink up the sunshine. Don’t let him take that away from you. Yes, there are going to be times when the monster wins and terrible feelings will creep into your heart, but be resilient. You’re going to win next time, and you gotta keep going.
7. Build people up, not knock them down.
It’s easy to talk shit about other people. It’s entertaining, it’s easy, it distracts us from the more complicated crap going on inside our own minds. But honey, it’s a waste of time. Pushing people over doesn’t make you seem any taller. There is so much negativity in the world that we can’t control; you, however, can control the words you say and actions you take regarding others. You never know what’s going on beneath the surface: someone may be suffering from anxiety or depression, healing from devastating heartbreak, recovering from an illness she kept completely under wraps. Be one less force that’s out against that person, whoever he or she may be. Instead, take the energy you’d put into criticism and make it something healing, something beautiful. Channel your anger, your frustration, your pain into helping someone else. If someone hurts you, do something nice for a friend who loves you. That’s one of my fundamental life philosophies: go against the grain of malevolence and infuse the world with benevolence. While it’s not easy to practice that attitude at times–because, let’s face it, gossip is fun–redirecting your energy into a more compassionate pursuit will make both your life and the lives of others far better.
8. Sometimes it’s better to let go than to hold on.
Maybe you’ve seen this cartoon on this internet. If you haven’t, I’d implore you to conduct a quick Google search after reading this and find it. Basically, it’s a two-panel drawing, one with a person holding a rope and the other with a person releasing it. In the sketch with the rope, the person’s hand is red and swollen, blistered from its pull; in the one without, the hand is unscathed and free from burden. Every time I see it floating around Instagram or Facebook, I am struck by the truth the metaphor conveys. In every relationship, in every pursuit, there are positive and negative attributes, and it’s healthy to regularly check in and see where the matter in question lies on the spectrum. If you find that it lies far more frequently on the negative side than the positive, please consider letting go. Yes, if a friendship, partnership, career, (etc.) is valuable, by all means make an effort to fix it, but know that sometimes, there are things that are unmendable. Save yourself the pain and move onto something you can hang onto without the burden. Rope burns suck.
9. Boys are dumb. So are girls.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve whined to a friend over tea or massive bowls of pasta about this very subject. Abby’s top three most-commonly uttered phrases of senior year: “I am a potato,” “I just want to go to yoga already,” and, “Boys are dumb.” Holy shit boys are dumb. They break you and make you feel insecure yet have no idea they’re doing either at the same time. But you know what? Girls are dumb too. They’re dramatic and complicated yet constantly feign to be innocent cherubs who “wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Haha. I laugh. Yes, these are oversimplified stereotypes–there are some genuinely sensitive, compassionate guys and calm, sweet gals out there–but the truth is that these people are men and women, not boys and girls. Especially when you’re young, like yours truly, the realm of romantic pursuits is filled with disappointment. But when your non-platonic forays yield no positive outcome, recognize that the person for whom you are destined will come into your life when the time is right. God, I hate that statement with every fiber of my impatient eighteen year old being, but it’s so dead-on. When you’re ready–and when the world is ready–he or she will enter your life and steep your entire world in rainbows and glitter and unicorns. You have to be patient when waiting for this sparkling euphoria, but I promise, the wait will be worth it. You are worth it. Focus on yourself, your friends, your family, your pets, your passions, and one day, a surprise will come knocking at your door when you least expect.
10. Spread your love like Nutella.
Sorry if you’re allergic to nuts. (*Snorts immaturely because I’m five inside still.*) Substitute it with butter or ripe avocado or whatever other smooth condiments you enjoy. Anyway, jokes aside, put love on everything. Don’t do it lightly. In the words of my best friend Jeromy, “Go HAM.” Don’t you realize how many awesome people there are in the world? Don’t you realize how little credit they get for being the awesome duckies and potatoes they are? Show them! Let them know! Do it often! Write appreciation notes for your favorite people. Get random presents because hey, who says September 2nd or April 17th isn’t a holiday?! Bake your pals cookies. Who doesn’t love cookies? Go and see your little brother’s interpretive dance recital or your friend’s noodle art exhibition (THE PASTABILITIES ARE ENDLESS): people work hard and their work deserves to be admired, no matter what medium it is. Don’t give a rat’s ass what “society” thinks about your affection: society is a judgy bitch and you are a stunning superhero! Tell your teacher he’s the coolest person on earth, because it’s true! Tell the waitress at the restaurant her outfit is flawless! Tell the guy in the park making balloon animals that he has a wonderful smile! Filling the world with more love is never a bad thing.
11. Don’t like it? Don’t eat it!
This comes from one of my most profound childhood memories. It was a Sunday night when I was seven, maybe eight, and I was watching Food Network Challenge with my dad on our couch downstairs. That day, the show brought together two Italian families (chefs and their parents) to duke it out in the kitchen.The father on one of the teams was quite sassy. During the appetizer round, his culinary school-trained son suggested that he adjust the seasoning on his soup for the judges’ taste. To this, the father replied–verbatim, yes, I memorized this line–”I make the soup my taste. They like it, they like it. Don’t like it? Don’t eat it!” I thought this was absolutely the funniest thing on Earth–so funny to the point where we DVRed the episode and I’d watch it over and over again, erupting with giggles every time. I guess the message got implanted in my head, because today, I consider this line another one of my fundamental life philosophies. You gotta make the soup your way; you gotta be you. Some people will love your soup. Some people won’t. That’s just how it is. Don’t exert so much energy into getting people to like it: own your soup, because your soup slays. People are picky. People are close-minded. People are snotty. That doesn’t mean your soup stinks, though.
12. Be a renaissance woman (or man!).
My teachers have frequently called me a renaissance woman. (I always laugh a bit when they say it because it just makes me picture myself as a stern woman in an oil painting.) The reason why I suppose is that I’m interested in basically everything. To me, the world is such a fascinating place filled with so many wonderful things to learn. I’ve been a bass clarinetist, a doodler, a poet, a baker, a photographer, and everything in between. I love talking with people about politics and philosophy. I love reading, and I’m down for pretty much anything. Memoirs. Historical fiction. Fluffy romances. Words are awesome. I’m always looking for new things to try, and though I know I’ll never try everything, that doesn’t stop me from constantly looking to expand my horizons. I think this life is much more exciting when you’re open to culture, when you see art and seize it. Don’t be that person who spends his or her free time playing games on an iPhone. Be that person who reads the newspaper. Visits the obscure modern art museum. Plays the banjo. Cooks authentic Chinese food. Goes on nature walks and dries the flowers for souvenirs. Enrich yourself in the gifts this life has to offer.
13. Define your own version of success.
Most people you’re going to meet in your life will define “success” as this: undergraduate and graduate education at a prestigious university, steady, high-paying job (preferably in a field of medicine, law, or business), attractive yet financially competent partner, large group of demographically-similar peers, vacations to the usual places, perfect model children who are conceived at some socially-acceptable age. I’m not saying any of those things are bad or wrong, but me? I say bullshit to that definition of success. To me, success is doing what you love and believing what you believe regardless of what everybody else says and thinks. That’s the only way you’re going to feel satisfied from the core, not just on the surface. The happiest people aren’t the ones who have the most money, the ones who fit in, the ones who got what they wanted right away. The happiest people are the ones who follow their passions, the ones who stand out, the ones who worked hard and earned their success. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or hedge fund manager, by all means do it. But if you want to be a teacher, artist, or writer–or anything else, really–go for it. Some people may not understand why you’ve chosen your path, but screw ‘em. The people who love you–the people who matter–will support you through and through, even if they might not understand. The world needs all different types of people in order to be whole, and if you follow your heart, it will all fall into place. You will be successful; it’s up to you how you want to characterize it.
14. Be a child.
I have a task for you. On the next nice day, go to the park–preferably one with a playground–and watch children play. Don’t be creepy, just be an observer of this life and the beautiful people in it. You learn a lot by watching kids. Yeah, they get upset over trains and haven’t read chapter books yet, but kids are smart, and they know how to live. Children don’t care if they’re loudly singing the wrong lyrics off-key. They don’t care what their playmates look like. They don’t care if they’ve already had two desserts today: if there’s a chocolate cake in front of them, gosh darnit, it’s going to be dessert number three. Should we all act like we’re five all the time? No way. But should we emulate some of these childish qualities? Absolutely. Dance and don’t give a damn who’s watching. Pick your friends based on their kindness and quality of fart jokes, not their looks or status. Give into your pleasures and enjoy yourself. Disney movies are wonderful, watch them sometime. Nothing cures the blues like Goldfish. Be a princess. Be a pirate. Be an astronaut. There’s nothing like staining your hands with sidewalk chalk. Life is filled with simple joys: soak them up.
15. Be a crazy tea-drinking old cat lady.
Old people know how to live. They’ve been here longer than the rest of us, so they’ve got this whole life thing figured out. Traveling and partying and staying out until the crack of dawn are all fun, but so are staying at home and having sit-down dinners and going to bed before ten o’clock. I am an “old soul,” so I can attest to all of this with confidence. Life is delicious when you take it in thoughtfully, when you treasure your memories and divulge your stories with others. Drink tea. Coffee speeds you up too much, tea slows you down in just the right way. Nothing is better for the soul than a good book and a solid night’s sleep. Bring a sweater when you’re going out: it’s better to be warm and prepared than cold and neglectful. Write letters using, yes, an actual pencil and piece of paper. Don’t go for a run, go for a walk today. Enjoy the trees and the flowers. Call a friend instead of sending a text. Share your wisdom with those who are younger. We go too fast too often; take a moment and hit pause. Be here and remember where you came from.
16. You can be completely lost and afraid and have no idea what the hell you’re doing.
Look around you. Everybody seems happy, calm, and collected, right? Wrong. Inside, everybody is probably thinking, “Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing?!” Maybe not all of the time, but certainly a good portion of it. There are very few people in this world who are completely solid and grounded in themselves 100% of the time. You don’t have to be one of them. I know I’m not! Yes, there are days when I feel good, when I know what I want, when I’m confident I’m going in the right direction, but there are arguably more days when I don’t feel good, when I don’t know what I want, when I think I might be going in the most absurd direction possible. And you know what? It’s okay. Part of being human is getting lost so you can find a better version of yourself. You don’t learn anything by sticking to the itinerary; you learn something by losing yourself and winding up at an abandoned alpaca farm in New Mexico with only an elderly sheep dog (named Shep), a unicycle, and an unlimited supply of Whoopie Cushions as your survival tools. You don’t have to feel ashamed for drifting. Drifting takes you somewhere new, and teaches you about yourself and the world along the way.
17. Learn how to cook one solid meal from scratch. Yes, this includes dessert.
Maybe this is because I’m a foodie, but I think learning how to cook is one of the most important skills a young adult can learn. Food is for you, food is for me, food is for EVERYBODY. There are so many big grownup responsibilities we have to learn; preparing a meal is a relatively easy, conquerable one. Pick a recipe for your favorite entree and sweet. Go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients yourself. Make sure you include vegetables, because you’re a grown-ass man or woman and that’s what grown-ass men and women do. Yes, you can buy boxed pasta, but please, if you’re going to have tomato sauce, make it from scratch. It’s so easy and tastes way better, trust me. Get real vanilla and decent chocolate. You don’t have to be Ina Garten, but set some standards for yourself. Don’t be eating no fake crap. If you buy pre-made cookie dough I’m coming to your house and shoving a stick of butter up your nose. Set aside an afternoon and evening to cook. Follow the instructions. Watch YouTube videos if you don’t know how to cut something. Bonus points if you invite a friend over for dinner. Set the table and eat with a fork and a knife. Chew and swallow and engage in conversation. No phones. Do the dishes. Master these recipes down-pat so when you want to impress a date or host friends for dinner after work one day, you’ll be ready. If you mess up, it’s okay. Every cook has had a night where he or she has burned everything or added too much cayenne. The important thing is that you learn and take responsibility for what goes into your stomach.
18. Be a go-getter.
Sometimes, life comes to you. That’s great. It’s also rare. More often than not, you’re going to have to go out there and get life for yourself. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass, but that’s how it is. You want to be friends with someone? Go out and formally introduce yourself to him or her. Set up a time to get coffee. You want to date? Prince Charming isn’t going to show up on your front porch with a majestic white stallion. Talk to people. Go do stuff. Make an effort to socialize and look nice. You want a job? Put yourself out there and put your best foot forward. You’re going to be rejected. Rejection sucks. I hate it. But you keep going, because eventually, it will click. You don’t need a pizza man. Go out in your pajamas and pick up your godforsaken pie from the restaurant. You are strong, you are independent, you are talented and brave and clever: therefore, you will go places if you try. Believe in yourself and other people will believe in you, baby. Keep getting up when you fall because scars tell stories that make you better. Seize the day, don’t let the day seize you.
So, did you make it through the whole thing? Another 4,000+ words of fun? If you did, I’m proud of you. Thanks for reading my writing. I think that I’m going to write a book one day. A book-book and a cookbook. Maybe just one and not the other. I don’t know. But I’m going to write a book sometime in my adult life.
I want you to be the first to know, because whoever you are, I love you. Maybe you’re one of my close friends who’s reading this out of obligation; maybe you’re an acquaintance I’ve waved to once or twice; maybe you’re one of my teachers who is kind enough to read my work even though I’m no longer your student; maybe you’re a stranger. Whoever you are, know that you are a gorgeous person worthy of love, and you should be proud of yourself for what you’ve gotten through and who you are. Never be ashamed of the beauty that is you and your heart.
Xoxo <3 <3,