21 Things I learned Before Turning 21

  1. Don’t be afraid to love. Love everything and love fiercly and I promise that love will always find its way back to you.
  2. That being said, do more of what you’re afraid of. Some of the greatest things happen just beyond that leap – just beyond your fear.
  3. Find the thing that grounds you – whether it’s a religion, a hobby, or otherwise – and invest yourself in it. Everybody needs a crutch.
  4. Spend more time outside. Feel the ground beneath you and the space around you. Let the earth make you feel small and humble you.
  5. Learn how to be present – whatever that means to you.
  6. Decisions are rarely hard to make, they’re just hard to do. Trust yourself and your insticts and go.
  7. Practice empathy every chance you get. You never know how far a little understanding can go.
  8. Become more self-aware. Learn about the who, what, when, where, and why that make up your being. Understanding yourself is peace.
  9. The opinions of others should matter, but not the opinions of everyone. Find your circle, learn who your people are, and trust what they have to say.
  10. Travel. Even if all you’re able to do is explore the cities around you, travel. There is too much life to be lived and too many things to experience. To do it all in one place would be a waste.
  11. Take advantage of the dull moments. Journal, meditate, exercise – don’t let spare time become wasted time.
  12. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Keep evolving into whoever your spirit is telling you to become and don’t stop until you can sit back and think, “this is who I’m meant to be.”
  13. Be nice. Just be nice. There is absolutely no reason for me to explain this. Be nice to strangers. Be nice to non-strangers. Be nice to someone even if they’re not nice to you. Just be nice to people. And don’t forget to be nice to yourself, too.
  14. Understanding your pain is the key to understanding happiness. Enjoy both.
  15. Things are almost never as complicated as they seem. Just trust that some things in life really are that simple.
  16. Remember that you’re not alone. It may not feel like it sometimes, but there will always be someone who understands.
  17. If somebody wants to be generous, let them. Don’t always fight it.
  18. Make goals for yourself. They can be as ambitious as a dream job or as simple as getting out of bed. Be proud of every accomplishment.
  19. One thing at a time. Focus on figuring life out one thing at a time.
  20. Have a mantra for yourself. Let it save you.
  21. It’s always a good day for a good day.

The Moment My Life Changed

I remember specific moments where my life had changed. The minute I bought that plane ticket to go halfway across the world; the time I chased a dream despite the many obstacles in my way; the moment I kissed that boy knowing the only two possible outcomes were happiness or heartache. I knew. In every moment I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that life would never go according to plan, and no matter how much you try to bribe your way into a better outcome, the dice have already been rolled and there’s nothing you can do but play the cards you have. I knew that they were course-altering moments and if I were in a movie, they would be the scenes that can be identified by a change in music, forcing the audience to feel one way or another. I knew.

I knew that in all the emotions I could have felt in every moment that my life had changed, the only one that pounded its way across my head, knocking into my skull time and time again to make itself known, was fear. It wasn’t the type of fear that held me back – binded at the wrists and ready to succumb to the innevitable outcome that I had no choice but to follow. Nor was it the fear that boiled my blood and left adrenaline coursing through my veins like a drug that couldn’t be stopped. It was a different kind of fear. It was fear that caused my heart to pound just a beat too fast and my mind to quiet like the world around me as it focused only on the moment I was in. It was the feeling you get when you explore a new place on your own – afraid of what could happen but curious and thrilled at the possibilities ahead. It was the moment on the track just before the gun is shot; the intensity of the musician as the conductor lifts their arms; the readiness of the actor as the curtains open in front of them. In every moment there was fear, but it was the fear of the beginning that puts everything else into action. I knew.

I knew that this fear, while not blinding or adrenaline-inducing, was one I would come to know and love because it meant my life was moving forward. While I never knew if that direction was one that would end in a triumphant roar of the audience or a defeated fall on my knees, what I did know is that I would be better off because of it. The victory would inspire me to go even further while the defeat would teach me to hold my head a little higher.

I have learned not to be afraid of being afraid – an irony that took me more time to learn than I’d like to admit. My mind has been trained into understanding that the greatest type of fear is the one you feel just moments before a change; moments before you push past the comfort zone you once set for yourself and fly into a new territory that has been waiting to be explored by you. Because the only two reasons that you can be uncomfortable with where your life is at is because you’re either staying in your comfort zone where you don’t belong, or you’re pushing past it where you’re not used to. And I would rather feel the fear of moving forward than experience the loss of standing still, and this is something I know.

My Own Battle

A few weeks ago, in the midst of a very emotional conversation, I opened up to someone about something I had been holding back for what feels like my entire life. Overcome with tears, I told them about my own personal mental health struggles and how, for a long time, I haven’t felt okay.

I’ve never been the type of person to get too emotional. For years, some of my closest friends had never even seen me cry. It wasn’t until senior year that that started to change (granted, it was a pretty emotional year for everyone). Yet, I was still the one others would turn to for advice, encouraging everyone around me to enjoy life even in the middle of chaos. I was always the “overly optimistic” one, the “positive” one, the “happy” one.

I’m not saying I didn’t always feel that way, because sometimes I did – I meant every “it’s a good day for a good day” that I said. I just believed so strongly in this “attitude is half the battle” mindset that I used every ounce of strength I had to ensure I had the right attitude because that was the only way I could win the battle. I even thought that if I could make everyone around me happy, then I would be happy too. Didn’t Gandhi say something about a candle never losing its light by lighting others? In reality, though, what ended up happening was I was giving so much of myself away that, rather than being filled in return, I was being drained. My light may not have faded, but I was running out of candle to burn.

I had done what I thought to be such a great job at shoving down my doubts and insecurities that I truly thought I was okay. The panick attacks or sudden mood swings or days where I would dissasociate myself were just “off days” and nothing to worry about. My relationships with others were even suffering but, to me, that had to be for another reason: fate, God, I don’t know, but it wasn’t because of me. But, as life got harder and things got to be more than I could handle, it quickly became evident to me that maybe the way I felt wasn’t just from one or two bad days, but from a mind that had been drowning and a heart that had been breaking for far too long.

In the initial conversation where I confessed these parts of my heart, I was still torn between feeling trapped and feeling free – now I had admitted to these feelings, so I needed to do something. Luckily for me, I was talking to someone who I felt confident I could lean on, so I wasn’t diminished or looked down upon in any way; I was encouraged and met with an equal understanding – something that I will forever be grateful for.

It’s only been a few weeks since that conversation that helped me shed some light on the darkest parts of my heart. I still don’t know exactly what to do; maybe I’ll go to therapy, maybe I’ll start yoga or mediatation, or maybe I’ll just practice being more self-aware, but I know I have seen healing in many ways since then. I’ve only opened up to a few people about the way I have felt, but the support I received has been beyond encouraging. It’s reminded me that, no matter how I feel, there will always be someone with a shoulder for me to lean on. It’s amazing what healing can come from simply acknowledging that healing is needed.

Now, I don’t mean for this post to be sad and my hope is that nobody reads it with a heavy heart. I hope that it serves as encouragement to open up and reach out. I talk so often about vulnerability and feeling without suppressing, but I neglected to acknowledge the deepest parts of me that needed to hear those lessons. It wasn’t until I opened my heart up more and more to another person that I began to notice that there was something deeper that needed attention from me. My hope is that someone reads this and something in their heart shifts in a way that lets them know it needs some extra attention as well.

The more I talk about it, the more healing I see. I’ve realized that it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to not be happy all the time and it was always unrealistic of me to think I had to act that way. I hope that as time goes on, I can continue to accept that lesson. I know there is so much beauty to the life around me. Hopefully, as I continue to open my heart up, I can let the darkness work its way out as light works its way in and I can start to truly see that beauty again.

Extremes

I’m not sure what’s in the air lately, but I have a lot of friends who are going through the most extreme parts of life and experiencing things in highs and lows with no middle ground. Be it marriage or heartbreak, love or loss, loneliness or fulfillment, everyone I know seems to be experiencing so much. Once is a coincidence. Twice is a coincidence. But three times is a pattern. And this summer seems to have a pattern of extreme emotions.

I love to listen to podcasts to hear what other people have to say about life. One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is called “Ladies Who Lunch” (LWL) and while they’re no longer recording anything, I still listen to their old episodes somewhat frequently. A few weeks ago while I was donating plasma I turned on one of their episodes in which they talked about moving on and letting go and, while they said a lot of really great things, there was one thing in particular that stood out to me. They got a letter from someone whose father had passed away less than a week before, and the person in the letter was asking how they can move on from the hurt they were feeling. LWL gave the typical responses of surrounding yourself with friends and family who love you, doing things to keep yourself busy, etc. But after giving all of those suggestions they stopped for a second to let the person know that it’s okay to simply feel, and something about that really resonated with me.

Throughout the summer as I’ve watched my friends go through all different emotions (or even experienced them myself) I’ve noticed how we’re always trying to move on to the next emotion. If we’re sad, we want to stop being sad and feel something else. If we’re happy, we’re questioning our happiness and anticipating something else. Very rarely (particularly in moments of negative emotions) do we just let ourselves feel. I think this lack of accepting our emotions is another byproduct of our need to constantly desire more. But I also think it’s time for that to change.

If you’re sad, be sad. Let yourself feel. Let yourself hurt. Go through the motions and roll with the punches. I’m not saying you should wallow in self pity and go about life feeling miserable forever, but what I am saying is that sometimes it’s harder to move on from an emotion if you don’t fully understand what you’re feeling. Get comfortable with the pain so you know how to work through it. When you break a bone, you don’t just ignore it and hope it works itself out. You straighten the bone and look at x-rays and wrap it up in bandages and casts which will be full of pain and annoyance but by doing this, you’re understanding the injury so you can enhance the healing. You have to allow yourself to feel your hurt to understand it, and once you understand it you can heal from it.

The same goes for positive emotions. Stop questioning the way you’re feeling. Stop thinking the higher you go, the further you fall. Stop falling in love only thinking about the potential heartbreak. Stop feeling joy only thinking about the potential sorrow. Let yourself feel good. Even if the worst thing happens, at least you were able to truly enjoy some of the best parts of life.

We need to stop fighting things. Time is always on your side and it will keep moving even when you think you can’t, so it’s high time you just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride.

Choices

I’ve come to learn that we have a lot more control over our life than we think. Sure, we can’t control the choices or actions of others. Yes, the workings of the world around us are out of our hands. But we control our actions and our perceptions, and that’s a lot.

So, if you want to do something, do it. Maybe it will take time and hard work, but it can be done if you prioritize it and try.

If you want to be someone, be them. I don’t mean someone else, but merely a better version of yourself. The only one standing between who you are and who you want to be is you.

If you want to accomplish your dreams, keep pursuing them no matter how hard it gets or how crazy people think you are. You must be fearless in your pursuit.

Choose to be fearless.

Choose to be happy.

Choose to be you.

It’s like the wise Dr. Seuss once said, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”