Wow, can I believe I’m twenty-three? Not really. And no, I don’t feel any older. But I DO feel like there’s been a lot to learn in my life. There’s so many things I wish I could have taught my younger self. Words of guidance from someone who made it through the school years, heartbreaks, loss of friendships, triumphs, and failures. Here are twenty-three things I’ve learned throughout my twenty-three years. Hopefully you can find encouragement from them!
Throughout my public school years, I was the tallest, most developed girl. I literally stood at 4’8” in fourth grade, making all the other kids look like my minions. Except I wasn’t in charge of anyone. I was socially awkward and gangly. I wore oversized t-shirts to hide my chest until everyone else started to go through puberty too.
I wish I had believed that I would grow into myself. That someday I would feel short compared to some people — a thought I couldn’t even imagine. As I experimented with hair and fashion, I developed my own way of dressing. People noticed me not because I was tall, but because I wore what I wanted and totally rocked wearing two patterns at once.
You too will develop your own style that compliments who you are. Whether it’s fake leather jackets or kitten t-shirts, we start to grow comfortable in our own skin someday. Maybe it won’t be at 23, but I promise it will happen. Trust your passions and your style will show through.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer and illustrator. I know a lot of people say this phrase “I’ve always…” But I mean since elementary school I’ve been writing and drawing with the intention of becoming established in these fields. While I never stopped pursuing this passion, there were plenty of times when other people quit something they loved because other people told them to or they didn’t think they had a future in it.
You may be born with a passion and some natural talent for a sport or an artistic area, but there will be a time where you hit a wall. People will tell you to quit. You can’t progress any further. You’re struggling to find your love of the game anymore.
It’s natural to hit walls, but it’s also important to remember why you love this sport, art, or topic in the first place. Maybe take a break and come back, but always come back. People will tell you that you won’t make money in x, y, z, and beyond. They don’t know what you’re truly capable of. And you’ll only find out if you keep digging deeper.
Finding friends is hard, but keeping them is even harder. Whether they or you move away, you graduate from high school, or you just don’t have the same classes anymore, it’s bound to happen sometimes.
They hardest thing about having and making friends is worrying if you’ll lose them. You might think, Why am I investing my time in someone I might not even talk to in four years? The answer is, because you need someone to talk to now.
Friends come in two kinds: crossing of paths and railroad tracks. Those that cross your path will be in your life for a short amount of time, but will help you figure out life in that moment. They might show you new activities or tag along to sports events and dances. But then you graduate and you just don’t talk that much. The railroad tracks friends travel in parallel lines with you for the rest of your life. They’re the ones who will go deeper with you and keep in touch even when you’re miles apart.
An important thing to remember is that you don’t know which of these friends will end up being which type. So in the end, it’s important to hang tight to all your buddies and remember that no matter what happens, it was good to have them in your life.
There’s been plenty of times when I don’t text a friend because I feel like I initiated the conversation last time, so maybe this time they should text me first. Guess what? Sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. If you want to text your old friend from high school, just do it! If you want to invite a friend over for the third time this week to play Mario Kart, just do it.
Chances are your friend is either thinking the same thing or just used to you being the one to contact them first. If you really struggle with unreciprocated communication, you could always just try to casually talk about it. No one wants to feel like a burden, and if your friend is really your friend, they’ll understand.
On the other hand, if your friend is ghosting you, you really have to consider if they’re worth your time. It doesn’t matter how popular or great they are. If you put in the effort to hang out and talk, they should put in at least a little effort too. There are plenty of other people out there who would love to spend time with you.
One of my favorite things to do when I start to get bored is just try something entirely different. I started learning different languages through websites like Duolingo. I started to learn coding through websites such as Code Academy. I started running and practicing Yoga. There are so many things to try in life, so why just pick one? It’s fun to dabble in a variety of different areas. You never know what you might find you’re really good at.
The important thing is widen your horizon. Are you already super musical? Try hiking. Are you involved in three sports? Maybe explore your city and take fun photos. Here are some things you can try whenever you are super bored. Feel free to come up with your own too!
In my first year of college I started to become a runner. I was so nervous to run outside at first because I didn’t want people to see me jiggle or fall or run out breath. Yes, that was my actual thought process. It’s been a long process of ups and downs, but at my peak performance I was able to run 10 miles in less than two hours. Not Olympic times by any means. But I was never an athlete in high school.
You are only limited by your own determination. Why not try to become a runner or painter? It may take a long time (usually people say 10,000 hours of practice makes a master), but if you really want to do something, the only thing that’s stopping you is you!
I wish people had actually taught me how important it was to eat healthy during the most stressful years of school. Even though I was never a huge junk food eater, and I ate plenty of vegetables, I never really learned what healthy eating actually is until the last few years. I never used to look at the ingredient or nutrition labels on anything. But it’s super helpful to see what’s actually going in your mouth. You may be surprised when your favorite snack has twenty ingredients you don’t even know.
This isn’t partially our fault. Maybe you grew up in a home where veggies weren’t served with any meal. Maybe it was just easier to pick up fast food for dinner every night. Not to mention the hundreds of food companies that are more focused on getting your money than improving your health. The point is, what we eat is often how we feel. If you want to start working on self-care and improving your mental health, I would suggest just keeping a small notepad on what you eat for a week. Was there a lot of sugar, junk food, tons of meat and no veggies?
By no means do you have to change your whole diet, but sometimes knowing what we eat can help us understand how we feel. Try cooking a meal at home. Or exploring your grocery store’s produce department and pick out the craziest fruits and veggies and try to make a meal. Look on Pinterest and Google for recipes from different cultures. Food can be both healthy and delicious. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I can’t tell you how many times I believed I was a giant oaf who wasn’t smart enough to do anything. And by believing these things, I became aggressive, defensive, and reclusive. How I saw myself impacted how I treated other people.
Going through school can be a wild ride. No matter what group you belong to, we all have doubts about ourselves and our place in this world. People can also be incredibly cruel and know exactly what to say to cut us down.
The good news is, we don’t have to believe lies. The things we tell ourselves matter. That means no more body-shaming in the mirror. No more telling yourself that you aren’t good enough for _____. Because we are all uniquely designed with different passions, body-types, and visions.
Here are some fun things to tell yourself in the mirror. Just trust me. It may feel like lying at first. But they are absolutely true.
On a similar note, believing what people think about you, even the good stuff can limit who you really are meant to be. Maybe your aunts always wanted you to be in the fashion industry but you actually want to work in a Zoo. Or maybe you’ve been known as the jock, but you really do love math and want to pursue that field.
It’s definitely hard to fight the waves of other people’s expectations, but just know that you have the ability to find your own path in life. Each day is a new day to start over and take a step towards the kind of person you want to be.
I’ve been known to be one of those people who can’t focus on anything until I get my work done. But in reality, the work really isn’t ever done. This might not be the best tip for my procrastinator friends, but if you’re a school-or-workaholic like I am, it’s important to make time for play time.
Play time is so important. Whether it’s just relaxing online with the newest video game or having a game night with your friends, taking a break each week or a little bit each day can help you take your mind off the hard things in life. Take an hour and color in a coloring book. Play online scrabble. Form a DnD group. Whatever you’re interested in, take a break and have fun.
I can’t stress how important this one is. So many times in my life, I’ve caught myself developing a friendship for the intention of hopefully becoming their girlfriend. I’ve also had so many situations where someone stops being friends with me after they realize I don’t want to date them.
Starting friendships with the mindset of dating can ruin your relationship. A lot of relationships start as friendships. And that’s totally fine. My partner Mitchell was my best friend for a long time. But I didn’t become friends with him so I could date him.
People are real humans with feelings and emotions. When we treat other people like living love machines, we don’t really try to get to know them. Plus friendships are way more chill than dating can be, especially in high school and college.
Falling for your best friend is super common. But dating all of your friends can create rifts in your group and make everyone uncomfortable. Proceed with extreme caution.
Sometimes I think society confuses alone time with being a loner. Spending time by yourself is a necessary part of life. You’re not a loser for eating alone by yourself at lunch if you want to. You’re not a loner for spending Friday night binging Netflix.
A lot of people need alone time to recharge after a stressful day. Maybe take a walk by yourself in a safe neighborhood. Maybe spend some time listening to music. If spending time by yourself makes you feel good, then it’s important for you to have that time.
There were plenty of times in college I just sat by myself and ate lunch. A lot of people do it, and no one thinks any differently of you. Sometimes our schedules are crazy and we need to cram in some extra homework. There will be plenty of time to be social. Don’t worry. Breathe. You’re fine, social butterfly.
I’m sure you’ve either seen or been a part of a talent show at a school or camp. Usually, there are multiple people showcasing the same talent. Like singing. Everyone kind of nods along as singers perform, but there’s always that one person who just completely steals the show. Now imagine you’re performing right after that person. Do you feel the anxiety rising yet?
Or maybe you’re in art class and you look over and see that the guy next to you is also drawing a portrait. But you think his is way better at using of different shades of blue. How did he even get the colored pencils to shade so smoothly?
Listen, we all have different talents, and we’re all at different stages. We also have our own way of doing things. The worst thing we can do to stifle our creativity and progress is compare ourselves to others. Now there’s looking up to people like your favorite singer you aspire to sound like or your favorite football player you examine each day before the big game. But regarding peers, it only hurts you to compare yourself to them.
Being in Honors classes throughout High School ruined me in this area. It’s a constant competition between GPAs and who is in the most clubs. But honestly, I just wanted to do the best that I knew I could do. Just remember to practice and continue to grow. It’s hard not to get discouraged sometimes, but don’t let comparing yourself to others destroy something you love.
When I was in high school, and even in college, I felt like I had to make it big before I graduated. You know, publish more books, get Instagram famous, etc. My reasoning is that I knew other people younger than me that were already famous and doing the things I wanted to do. But the reality is, I wasn’t ready, and it’s a very small percentage of people who make it big at a young age.
I know it seems appealing to be famous as a teenager, but what does peaking in high school actually prove? Rather, I want to continue to grow and become seasoned in my chosen fields.
Keep doing what you love, even if it seems like nothing is actually happening. Because it is. You are growing, you are changing. And that’s step one.
My time will come. And so will yours.
In a world where you’re getting conflicting messages about whether or not you should bottle your emotions or let them reign 100% of the time, from experience let me tell you it’s going to cause a lot more harm to hold it in. While there is a time and place for every emotion, letting yourself grieve or throw a temper-tantrum like you’re three again can sometimes be the most healing experience.
No one really has to be around for this unless you want them to. I wouldn’t recommend having this personal moment in public places, but it’s perfectly acceptable to curl up with your pillow and let it all out. I don’t care who you are, what gender you identify with, and what you’ve been told. Emotions are important to feel and understand. When you’re done you can pick yourself up, tell yourself that you’re strong, and keep moving forward. Giving yourself time is key here.
This is one point that I’m still working on. Sometimes it’s easy to feel like my family is going to be there no matter what, just because they’re my family. But the reality is, I have no idea the amount of money and comfort they’ve given up by having me. So I know I need to thank them for all they’ve done.
Your home situation might not be the same as mine. Whoever takes care of you and makes sure you’re alright, make sure you thank them. Buy them flowers or a gift card. Write them a note — like an actual handwritten note. Bake them cookies. Or just say, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
We have no idea what this will mean for them, but it can only be good.
My sister and I used to fight so often that our mom would get in the mix too. The reality is, we’re six years apart, and until we were closer to having the same amount of development and experiences, we couldn’t connect with each other. Now she’s someone I know I can talk to about anything because she just gets it. She also has a budding life of her own that’s very different than mine, so it’s fun to hear about the adventures she’s getting up to.
Siblings can be the worst and best at the same time. The older you get, the more you can relate and connect, or so I’ve been told and experienced for myself. What are your siblings like? Do they call you names and bite you? We used to. But now we have nicknames for each other and trust each other with the deepest darkest of secrets.
I’ve worked terrible jobs. I’ve worked in a smoldering warehouse in the middle of summer, I’ve worked happy hour at a big-name coffee shop, and I’ve been the lowest-of-the-totem-pole sales associate.
Look, I get it. It’s hard to be enthusiastic when people are mean, you haven’t had a break, and your manager just quit. But when you’re the one who shows up on time every day and gets work done plus extra, people notice. It might not be your boss or your coworkers who will thank you, but you’d be surprised at what working hard can actually get you.
Also, burning bridges is a dangerous game to play. You might not think your coworker at the local thrift store will ever see you again when you leave and trash the place in your wake. But a couple years down the road it turns out that the dream job you’ve always wanted just hired a new HR. Guess who?
Anyways, that’s theoretical. It’s just good to be nice and work hard, because when you’re in a job you don’t like and work your butt off, imagine how great it will feel when you finally get that job you like, and you know how to manage your time well.
I don’t like taking risks. I like being comfortable and being in consistent routines. But taking risks has also proven to be beneficial to me. I’m talking about those risks like, should you go to the dance this Friday? Should you try that new food? Should you buy that daring dress? The answer is always yes to these things. Dare to challenge yourself to be a stronger version of yourself every day. You don’t have to go bungee jumping, but you shouldn’t hide under your bed either.
I met with a girl who was about six years younger than me for coffee about twice a month for three years. I loved just chatting with her, getting to know about her crazy life and friends, and being able to let her know that someone (besides family obviously) deeply cared about her.
Finding someone to be a mentor to can be so enriching. The process doesn’t have to be complicated. I wasn’t her therapist, and I wasn’t trying to fix her life. I was just a listening ear as someone who just went through what she was going through and was going through what she would be going through soon.
It could be a best friend’s little sister or brother that you take out for ice cream. Or a neighbor kid you’re family friends with. Usually it’s best to keep to the same genders, but hey, that’s up to your discretion. They’ll be so happy that some cool person is showing interest in them, and you’ll get to make a huge difference in someone’s life.
I also had mentors myself, who would be just a phone call away. I still contact several of them whenever life gets really tough, and I need to just know that I’m not alone. These women were people I met through life that just ended up taking me under their wings. Sometime we would read books together, get coffee or dinner. Sometimes we would just drive around for a while.
Having someone older than you to talk to is such a great blessing during this time in your life. You’ll find out that adults don’t really have it all together. That we’re all just taking it one step at a time. It’s strangely reassuring. They also might be able to help you with tricky situations if they have had any similar experiences.
With or without a mentor, it’s important to find a community to be a part of. Whether a club, church group, or sport, finding people who share common ideas and goals in life can help you stay on track and form great relationships.
A major part of my life was my Sunday night youth group. While our leader was kind and a great speaker, we also formed great bonds as students from all different schools and backgrounds. We stuck together during rough times and supported each other during tragedies. I still talk to a lot of these people today.
I’m still learning how to do this thing called life, and I can’t wait to see what lessons the world has in store for me. It’s not always going to be peaches and cream oatmeal, but sometimes that’s the best way to learn.
Let’s challenge ourselves to learn from other people around us, both younger and older. We all have different life stories and experiences, and the more we share our struggles and triumphs with others, the more we can grow closer together and help the world become a better place. A little cheesy, but hey. Why not?