20 something years ago, I left the comfort of my ma’s belly and entered the world in a crying, screaming fit.
Doctors say it’s a good sign when babies do that, but I was probably just being dramatic, and if you ask my ma, she’ll tell you the same thing.
Fast forward 20 something years later and I’ve grown a bit, both in size (I sadly can no longer be cradled) and dramatic abilities (woe is me, all the time).
As the end of February rapidly approaches and my 21st birthday is coming at me, full speed, with a bottle of champagne and a predicted hangover, I can’t help but reminisce on all that’s made me who I am leading up to now.
I learned how to ride a bike with glorious pink poms poms that dangled on the handles, almost drowned during a swimming lesson because the cute but mean boy in my class stole my floaty, and somehow managed to conquer my fear of heights by learning how to fly a small airplane. That last part was a lie. I’m still afraid of heights.
I won’t bore you with the “more important milestones” as others would call them, because honestly, I sleepwalked through them. My high school graduation? Couldn’t tell you a thing about it. My first day of college? I was too nervous that day to register it while it was happening, let alone share my experience three years later.
I will, however, let you in on some words of advice that those in my life have offered me throughout the years. They seem to have taken up permanent residence in the memory chamber of my brain, so I might as well put them to good use.
My favorite is one I still hear in my ma’s voice.
“Pick your battles, mi hija, not everything is worth the fight,” she would say in a soft but stern tone. “Save your strength for a battle that is.”
I was in middle school, gearing up for war with a girl I didn’t like. I don’t remember what we were fighting about or why I didn’t like her, but the amount of rage I felt as a 12 year old still haunts me to this day. I blame it on teen angst.
“I can’t let her win,” I fired back at my ma. Again, teen angst.
She let out an exasperated sigh and shook her head without trying to hide her disapproval. “If you give others the power to make you this mad, you’ve already lost, and you always will.”
Talk about a slap in the face, punch in the gut type of thing. My ma is a gentle woman who always reminded me of a Care Bear, but man, does she know how to hit you where it hurts.
The zing from the blow my ego took in that moment never stopped. So now, whenever I want to make the executive decision to declare war on an unfortunate soul whose only offense is crossing paths with me on a bad day, I remember my dear mother and how she wouldn’t hesitate to humble me again, embarrassing me in the process, and probably in front of the person I was mad at.
Second to that is one from my good friend, Katherine. She’s probably reading this right now, laughing profusely at the fact I called her Katherine in an article when that’s not her real name. Sorry Katherine, but this elongated nickname of yours isn’t confined to the walls of our shared apartment.
“Don’t work harder,” she would say with a smirk plastered on her face. The kind of smirk that mocks you and entices you at the same time. “Just use your resources.”
She may or may not have been referring to cheating during a test instead of studying for it, but I looked beyond that and found a deeper meaning.
I’ll deny I ever said this if it gets brought up during a job interview, but I’m not a resourceful gal. If my kitchen knife was dull and refused to do its only job of cutting things, I wouldn’t think to look for another sharp object to replace it with.
But my good friend Katherine would break the window, grab a shard of its glass, and add it to her kitchen knife set once she was finished chopping an onion with it.
“I applaud you for that,” I told her, allowing her tenacity to inspire me.
“For cheating?” She asked. “Thanks, me too.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t talking about her cheating shenanigans at all. She seemed rather proud of herself, so what kind of friend would I be to take that away?
Besides, the message still stands. Use your resources, kids.
Before you do, I’ll humor you with one last piece of advice from my old guitar teacher. I haven’t taken lessons from him since I was 10, but even after a decade has gone by, he remains a recipient of my adoration.
I was getting frustrated during one of my afternoon lessons because my little fingers refused to form a C chord (they still do). Even so, I strummed along, trying my best to make the unflattering sounds that escaped my guitar resemble music.
Eventually, I let my right arm dangle over the body of my guitar and allowed the look of defeat to take claim of my face.
“Why bother,” I said. “I’ll never be the best.”
Don’t ask me why my 10 year old self was so focused on being the best guitarist. I clearly watched a little too much Hannah Montana and let it feed my impressionable young mind into believing I could be a rockstar.
“You don’t have to be the best at something to enjoy doing it,” my guitar teacher said as he flashed an encouraging smile my way. “And you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”
That’s all it took for me to pick my guitar back up and continue strumming, despite how horrendous I sounded. Past tense because I’m a lot better now, I swear. Still not a rockstar at 20, but maybe at 21, I’ll finally achieve that pipe dream of mine and make my old guitar teacher proud. Or maybe I’ll be saying the same thing at 22.
Either way, I’ll keep on strumming and mentally jotting down the advice I receive in my 20’s.
I’m sure the list of favorites I compile then will be much more scandalous, and sharing them will be twice as fun.