I’ve always been the baby of the group. Having skipped a grade, I’m always the youngest of my peers, and that can make me feel behind sometimes (or ahead, depending on how you look at it). The upside to being 18 and a rising sophomore in college is I’ve learned a lot of lessons, and I’ve seen a lot of life through my eyes. Here are the eight most important lessons I’ve learned by 18.
Be truthful, but with kindness.
Anyone who knows me decently well knows I’m not one to B.S. I’m always searching for honesty and always ask for the truth from those I love. I believe being honest is the key to being yourself, and the key to not wasting time. If you show up as your authentic self and tell the truth, you can only attract what’s truly yours. While this was a lesson I learned early on, it’s important to add a more recent revision. I’ve learned that honesty without kindness is just brutality. If your honesty hurts someone’s feelings, or if you’re harsh about it, it probably isn’t doing anyone good, especially you. In my elementary school, we had a poster of this Maya Angelou quote that said “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I haven’t forgotten it. While what you say and do is important to be your truest self, the way you frame things is important for the impact you leave on other people.
Everyone else is human, just like you.
Bouncing off the last lesson, I’ve learned just how connected we all are. I’ve always believed the key to harmony is understanding, and by making an effort to understand everyone, we can leave everyone a little better than we found them. I love being kind. I love telling people they look beautiful, checking in on my friends, and smiling at strangers. When you begin to find joy in loving other people, you’ll find joy every day. By making the effort to include others in your conversations when they seem left out, and befriending the Starbucks employees who take your order every day, you bring sunshine to your own little corner of the world. I understand it can be hard to put yourself out there, and I struggle with shyness, too, but when we can all step out of our comfort zones bit by bit and spread more love, we begin to make our world a better place, even if it’s just our little corner.
Don’t take it personal.
I’ve definitely learned the hard way that people’s treatment of you is almost always centered on how they feel about themselves. As long as you know you’re trying your best to be your best self, there’s not much you can do about other people. It’s important to decenter other’s opinions and actions in our lives. This also extends to instead of automatically assuming the worst in social situations, like that someone doesn’t like you because they didn’t greet you as your paths crossed, just take a deep breath and a step back and reassess. It’s much better to assume the best, like how they’re probably busy or just didn’t see you. Causing yourself unnecessary stress is something we should all leave behind as soon as possible. Basically, assume the best until you need to face the worst, and when the worst comes, don’t take it personal.
Be your own best friend.
I am my own best friend, and you should be yours, too. When I was a little kid, I read somewhere that you’re born alone and you die alone. In its own way, it’s true, but it doesn’t make me sad. I love myself. By spending my whole life watching myself grow, by being there for every birthday, every heartbreak, and every mistake and triumph, I am the person who loves me in the purest way. I know myself the way no one else can, just like you know yourself the same way, too. Life is always going to be seen through our own lens, and no one sees it the same way. The only person who can fully “get” you is you. By being comfortable with yourself, I’ve found you never really feel lonely. Invite yourself to a painting class, take yourself to a museum, or get dressed up and watch a movie! I promise you, being your own best friend will revolutionize your life and bring you so much more joy.
Find variety in your friendships.
Life is so boring if you surround yourself with people who are just like you. By getting out of your comfort zone (are we seeing a theme here?), you can find a plethora of people who are very different from you. Those are definitely the people you should be friends with. The best friendships I have are those that come naturally and unexpectedly, with people who sort of snuck up on me. It’s these friendships where you grow the most together, and learn to love each other the most. I know I’ll always get real advice from my friends, and they’ll always show me a new perspective, and vice versa. Some of my friends include an outgoing streetwear style queen, a level-headed skateboarding Computer Science major, a charismatic Vice news consumer and regular backgammon player, and a soft-hearted water polo player. I couldn’t ask for better people to grow with. The point is, be friends with people who have different interests and different perspectives, but who will ultimately have your back. That's how you become a better person.
You can make almost anything happen if you want it enough.
There are very few things that cannot be reached through sheer determination and hard work. I really do believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’ve found that reaching out first and being a go-getter will get you a lot farther than you think, and if route A doesn’t work, there’s definitely a way through route B. The most important part about this piece of advice is not just to keep going, even if things look bleak, but to also know that it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes the way includes asking for help from someone else, and when we reframe our idea of success as a journey involving lots of moving parts and people instead of a solo journey, the way to get what you want becomes a lot clearer.
Fill your life with every kind of love you can find. It’s the most important key to happiness I’ve found so far. Sometimes we can get caught up in our every routine and forget how lucky we are to be here. Life is so beautiful. When you wake up and choose love and gratitude, your perspective changes, and as a result, your life. Choose to see the rain as a chance for the flowers to grow, rather than as an inconvenience for you as you run to your car. Seek out platonic love, romantic love, familial love, love for humanity, love for mother nature, and love for yourself. I promise you there is good in everything, you just have to find it, and by loving everything, love will find you, too.
Forgive, forgive, forgive.
When people hurt us, the anger and hurt we feel towards them just end up being carried around by us, festering and creating a big, ugly mess. I’ve been angry and hurt before. I’ve carried that around before, and please trust me when I say it is not worth it. It’s okay to let it go, and I promise you aren’t betraying yourself and your experiences by doing so. By forgiving others for their mistakes and opening your heart again to new experiences, you keep your soul warm and light. Don’t let someone else’s bad decisions continue to affect you. In the long run, carrying that anger around will only weigh you down.
Overall, I’ve learned life is what you choose to make of it, and what you choose to focus on. I’m so grateful for my life, and I’m excited to see where I go from here. May my lessons become yours and help you.