Since my 19th birthday this past August, I have undergone a major transition in my life: college. Leaving home is one of the scariest things I have ever done (and frankly, it’s already November, and I’m still not used to it), but this time of transformation has also been a time of contemplation. As I’ve reflected over the last 19 years of my life, there is only one thing I know for certain: I will never stop learning. Although I am still young, I have learned so much about myself and others, and as I approach the end of my teenage years, I’ve gathered a list of 19 things I learned before I turned 19.
1. It’s okay if your first friends are not your last friends.
I went to two, small Catholic schools from preschool to my senior year of high school, so, needless to say, I generally had the same friends for fourteen years straight. My middle and high school friends were seemingly perfect; as we all embarked on our last summer and prepared for college, however, I experienced eye-opening moments that exposed reality. True friends are supposed to lift you up, celebrate your wins and help you cope with your losses, not kick you when you’re already on the ground. Endless nights of crying over why I wasn’t good enough for the people that I would give my life for broke me, but as I look at it now, only a few months later, I realize that the dwindling of those friendships allowed me to explore other friendships that are better for me in the long run. Just because someone is your longest friend or best friend at one point in time does not mean they are still the best. Sometimes the best is where you don’t expect it, and that’s okay.
2. Hug your parents.
Growing up and even to this day, I have always been a little bit jealous of other people’s relationships with their parents. I am a Daddy’s Girl through and through, and my mom and I have gotten closer over the years, but it wasn’t until my two older brothers left for college that I truly began to connect with my parents. They were the only thing I had, and I was the only thing they had. As I prepared to leave for college, I began to realize how much I took my parents for granted. As kids we believe it’s their job to be there for us at our every beck and call, but now I understand that my parents sacrificed so much for me to be where I am today. So hug your parents; it will mean more to them (and you) than you know.
3. Being alone is okay.
Being alone is scary. I know. For the longest time I was so terrified (and sometimes still am terrified) of going through life on my own. Insignificant things like showing up at a party alone or eating alone made me anxious to my core. I felt like I was being judged by the strangers around me, but I’ve come to learn that being alone is 100% okay. In order to find peace and love in others, you must find it in yourself first. Ultimately, the only person that always has your back is you, so spend time in solidarity figuring out who you are; it will do you a world of good.
4. The way you are treated is not a reflection of your character.
Some people are mean. It’s how they are, and until they experience the receiving end of it, they will not change. Their rudeness, harsh comments or mean actions do not reflect on you, however. In high school, I met one of my greatest friends, and among the countless other people I have met in my lifetime, she is by far the best. To this day, I am convinced she is an angel sent from Heaven, but even she receives the short end of the straw sometimes, and if seemingly flawless people are treated poorly, then anyone can be treated poorly. It’s not fair, but life is unfair sometimes. We can either let their punches roll off our backs or we can succumb to their negativity; you get to choose which path you decide to pursue.
5. “If you never bleed, you’re never gonna grow.”
A quote from Taylor Swift herself, but a quote that is sad and true. In order to become better people, we must deal with hardship. It is a part of life, and although in the moment it is the worst feeling in the world, coming out of it rejuvenated is truly a breath of fresh air that everyone deserves to breathe. Whether it takes days or years, the healing that comes after a heartbreak or misfortune is like no other, as long as you allow yourself the time and patience to heal.
6. Take the picture.
Living in the moment is a beautiful thing, but as someone who loves looking back on old memories, I say take the picture. You will never regret taking it, but you will always regret not taking it. So be in the present, but just do it. You’ll appreciate it in the future.
Some people never have the opportunity to travel. Whether it is to the nearest city 30 minutes away from your home to see a show or whether it’s across the world in a completely different culture, if you have the opportunity, please do it. Everything else will be waiting for you when you get home, but sometimes experiences are only available once in a lifetime.
8. Value experiences more than things.
Similarly, in my opinion, most experiences are worth more money than any object. A $200 cooking class is worth more than a $200 meal, a concert trumps a speaker or record player, and a museum trip creates more memories than an expensive piece of art. Experiences are powerful and elicit strong emotions within us; those memories can last us a lifetime. While objects and material things are good in some contexts, to me, nothing will ever replace a fond experience or trip with a friend or relative.
9. You do not need to be nice to everyone… within reason.
Be nice to your neighbors; they can lend you something when you’re in dire need. Be nice to the adults who are mentoring you; they can recommend you to a future employer. Be nice to your classmates; they may be your future employer. But the second someone takes advantage of your kindness, especially in the instance of a power dynamic, you no longer have the obligation to be kind in order to defend yourself. Kindness makes the world go round, but boundaries keep you alive.
10. Learn how to cook.
Cooking is such a valuable skill (and quite impressive)… you never know when you’ll need to impress a first date or a partner’s parents. Dinner parties with friends are also one of my biggest sources of happiness, so let your cooking turn into memories. Plus, baked goods are the way to anyone’s heart.
11. It is okay to be someone who loves others more than they love you.
Many people in today’s society reciprocate love because they feel it first. Falling in love with someone showing you attention, however, is an abuse to love. Growing up, I always felt like I was put on this Earth to give love, rather than to receive it. That feeling hurts, but I am always somewhat comforted in knowing that the people I love will never feel the way I do, because I am showing them the love I wish I felt myself. Although it comes as a sacrifice to you, putting effort into those you love is so worthwhile, and eventually, what goes around comes around; you will find that person that prioritizes loving you, too.
12. Keep a planner.
I am an extremely Type A person, so I love a good planner. Whether you use a physical planner with space for budgeting, meal prep and workout plans, an online calendar, a schedule in your Notes app or sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, keep some sort of planner. Staying organized is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health, and therefore your physical health, and one day you are going to be thankful that you didn’t miss something extremely important because you put it in your planner.
13. Distance will test your relationships.
Since I’ve moved away to college, I’ve learned that it takes a lot of care to maintain relationships. Figuring out a new schedule and trying to modify it to fit in with others’ schedules can be difficult and extremely draining. Amid this new journey in my life, however, I have discovered which relationships are actually worth my care. Distance tests familial, friendly and romantic relationships, but those that withstand all the complications that distance prompts are so worth it.
14. Simple beauty is the prettiest beauty.
Paint your nails. Spray perfume. Wear a dainty necklace. Put some gold hoops in. It will immediately elevate your look. (And on those really special days, I am also a fan of pairing mascara with black eyeliner on the waterline; it makes your eyes pop). You do not need a full face of makeup, or any makeup, to be beautiful! Natural beauty comes from within, as long as you look deep enough inside yourself to recognize it.
15. Experiences are not exclusive.
Just because you experienced something with someone, introduced them to a restaurant or played them your favorite album, does not mean you can no longer do the same things if that relationship ends. One of the greatest beauties in life is sharing our passions and love with someone else, and although sometimes experiences or places may revive painful memories, never forget why they are memories. If something showed you joy once, do not let anything or anyone ruin that joy for you!
16. Forgive, but don’t forget.
Forgiveness is an essential part of life. At one point or another, there is someone you will have to forgive for hurting you. At the end of the day, however, you should be your first priority. To respect yourself, you must learn to forgive but not forget. Forgiveness is for your own benefit and peace, but if someone demonstrates hurtful behavior once, there is a chance they will do it again. It is vital that you remember your own values and standards to maintain that respect for yourself; you are not a doormat, and you should not be treated as such, especially by those who are supposed to respect you the most.
17. Learn how to give a sincere apology.
Sometimes we mess up, and that’s okay, but in order to get back on track, we have to recognize our wrongdoings. After recognizing mistakes, apologies can make a world of difference. No “I’m sorry, but…” Don’t make excuses for yourself. Establish that you understand what you did wrong, and establish that you will work on fixing it, so you don’t do it again.
18. You do not have to apologize for everything.
While it is vital to learn how to give a sincere apology, at the same time, however, you do not have to apologize for everything. One common habit, in women especially, is apologizing for everything that goes wrong in life, but not everything is your fault. Additionally, never apologize for your feelings. I once read something that said, “You never apologized to me for hurting me, but I apologized to you 12 times for being angry about it.” This really resonated with me, and I have tried to learn that my own feelings are valid! If I’m angry at someone’s words, that’s okay, and if I’m upset at someone’s actions, that’s okay, too. It is normal to feel, and if you don’t expect someone else to apologize for it, don’t expect yourself to, either.
19. Vulnerability does not equal weakness.
While mental health is being more normalized with every passing day, there is still a stigma around depression and anxiety. Especially in today’s world, there is so much pressure put on teenagers, students, graduates, and adults to do well in school, find a job that pays well, maintain healthy relationships and be mature but not too mature. Amid the stress of daily life, it is okay to feel overwhelmed. It is okay to cry, and it is okay to be upset. You do not need to have all the answers at 18 years old, 22 years old, 40 years old or 80 years old. Life is about adaptation, but when it is hard to adapt, it is okay to fall apart. Vulnerability does not equate to weakness; in fact, it is the opposite. Recognizing your vulnerability is what makes you strong and gives you the ability to overcome your hardships.
My last 19 years have been full of blessings and hardships that I have grown from. As I prepare for the next 19 years of my life and every year after, I am ready and excited to use these lessons I have learned to love others and love myself more deeply.