21 Life Lessons in 21 Years

As my 21st birthday approaches (it’s only a month away!) I’ve been thinking a lot about what the first 21 years in my life have given me that I can use to move forward. Here are 21 of the most important things I’ve learned, although there are infinitely many more to choose from.

  1. Thank your parents. They learn not to expect gratitude from their children, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate it.
  2. “Older sibling” is one of the greatest roles you can ever be asked to play. For one thing, you can dress your little brother up like a girl and he can’t say anything about it. For another, you will never doubt your importance in the world.
  3. As a general rule, if you don’t let yourself cry about it, you won’t move on.
  4. Someday you will want to cash in on all the naps you defiantly skipped when you were in preschool. But life isn’t fair.
  5. It is a wonderful thing to be proud of yourself and your accomplishments, but it is small-minded to think you are more important than anyone else because of them.
  6. It’s okay to need help. Our society is becoming more and more individualistic, but it’s important to remember that real strength comes from knowing when you can’t do it on your own.
  7. Keep playing with Barbies long after it’s considered “cool.” There are very few activities that stimulate the imagination the way populating a good Barbie Dream House does.
  8. You don’t need a singular best friend. You can have many different relationships with many different people, all of which may be equally valuable. Limiting yourself to one “best friend” causes you to miss out on all the other wonderful possibilities out there.
  9. Don’t spare everyone else’s feelings at the expense of your own. There are times when this is appropriate, but in the long run it teaches you that you don’t matter. And no one should ever feel like they don’t matter.
  10. If something catches on fire, put it out. It’s probably not the best idea to stand there staring at the flames as they decimate your kitchen. I mean, to each his own, though.
  11. At some point, you will look back on the misery of middle school and have a good laugh about it. However, try telling this to a middle schooler and they’ll probably never speak to you again. It’s hell for them. Respect that.
  12. Compromising yourself for someone else is never worth it. If you are not appreciated for your strengths and weaknesses exactly the way you are, you need to surround yourself with different people.
  13. It’s okay to be bad at things. In fact, it’s kind of fun. And there is no better bonding experience than sucking at something with somebody else.
  14. Every person has something to add to any conversation. Listening to other people teaches you more than classes, books, or the internet ever will.
  15. Drinking orange juice right after you brush your teeth is never a good idea.
  16. High school is inevitably full of two types of people: those who don’t care, and those who care too much. There is a balance. It’s just very hard to find.
  17. Doing what’s right is often messy. You might hurt someone or make your life more difficult, and it will almost definitely be uncomfortable. Do it anyway.
  18. Nothing and nobody can define you unless you let them.
  19. Not every friendship is meant to last forever, even if it’s the strongest friendship you’ve ever known. People grow up, grow apart, and cease to need each other the way they used to. But that doesn’t make the friendship any less valuable.
  20. Bathing suit bottoms are an acceptable substitute for underwear if it saves you $1.00 to skip laundry during finals week.
  21. In retrospect, no catastrophe is so terrible that you cannot recover. Your world doesn’t end. Things can always get better, and there is always something to learn.
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