“You can learn new things at any time in your life if you’re willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you.” —Barbara Sher
I’ve been alive for eighteen (slowly approaching nineteen) years now, and although I know that’s not a very substantial existence just yet, I have learned quite a few lessons throughout the past eighteen years. I know I have many, many more lessons to learn, but today, I thought I’d share the ones I’ve learned already with whoever is reading this. Whether you’re older or younger than me, or even the same age, I hope you’ll be able to learn something through this post, too.
- Things rarely go according to your original plan. As an independence-loving person who also tends to get a lot of change-induced anxiety, I’m the type that likes to plan things out and know exactly what’s going on at all times. I’ve never really been that great when it comes to dealing with change, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed that periods of transition or change bear the unfortunate side effect of making me incredibly anxious. When the comfort of my routine is disrupted, I have the tendency to freak out a little bit. Less than six months ago, I had a seemingly-perfect plan for college: I would attend Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa and major in Communications with a minor in Journalism. I was entirely set on that plan, yet one day I woke up, thought about my “perfect” plan, and realized that wasn’t what I wanted. (And it wasn’t anything bad about the college—I still think it’s a wonderful school.) For a period of a couple weeks, I felt entirely lost. I went from knowing exactly what I was doing to knowing just about nothing. I was back to square one with the college decision, and seeing as it was almost February of my senior year of high school, I was starting to feel the pressure of making my mind up. Now, less than six months later, I have decided to attend Winona State and double major in Graphic Design and Advertising. I’ve already met my roommate (who is awesome), I’ve made some other new friends, and after visiting the campus for a third time, I know I made the right decision. What I’ve learned through that experience and others is that as much as I would love to know exactly what I’m doing and be in control of my life all the time, I just can’t be. I am in control of my physical body, but I am not the master of my life—God is. Paraphrasing one of my favorite Bible verses, Jeremiah 29:11, God has plans to help me (not hurt me), and since his wisdom and knowledge far surpass mine, his plans for me are far greater than anything I could ever come up with on my own.
- Stepping outside of your comfort zone is worth it. Up until the age of eleven or so, I was a really shy kid. Painfully so, actually. (My parents used to get told at parent-teacher conferences that I was too quiet and needed to talk more, if that gives you any indicator. In fact, one time during my sophomore year, my biology teacher had to tell me to stop talking, and she was so excited that I spoke that she hardly even cared I was interrupting her lesson.) To some degree, I’ve grown out of that shyness since then. I am still definitely reserved and introverted, but I wouldn’t call myself shy anymore. Even still, my comfort zone is my favorite place to be, and stepping outside of it (especially in social situations) pretty much fosters heart palpitations. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve let an opportunity pass just because I was too scared to set foot outside of where I felt comfortable. Over the past year, however, I’ve learned that stepping outside of my comfort zone is beyond worth it, and even if it’s terrifying, the reward of taking a risk usually exceeds the temporary sacrifice of my nerves (or dignity).
- Having a variety of friends makes life way more interesting and fun. When you’re trying to survive high school, friends become a huge part of your life. Especially in the four years between the ages of fourteen and eighteen (also known as high school), I know how easy it is to become absorbed in your own clique and place your sole focus on one small group of people. And I get it. After emerging from middle school—the traumatic years of struggling to figure out which friends would truly be there for you—I know how it is to want to hold on tightly to them. And that’s honestly really great (no sarcasm for once in my life). The people in your “friend group” are typically the ones that share the most interests with you, and you therefore spend a lot of your waking hours with them. And although that group chat of all your closest friends is fantastic and fun, making and maintaining a variety of friendships is even more fun and fulfilling. I went to a really small private high school where everyone knew everyone, and in my graduating class, there were three or four main social groups. While I did have one I spent (and still do spend) most of my free time and weekends with, I had friends from every group. Some were acquaintances, some were friends, and some were even really good friends. Even though they weren’t in my “main” group of friends, I could still hang out with just about any group and feel comfortable/able to be myself and have a good time. Throughout high school, I learned that a variety of friends means a variety of activities, relationships, and experiences; and that, to me, is far more enriching than limiting my close friendships to a select few.
- Rejection isn’t the end of the world. One of the most prevalent fears of the human heart is the fear of rejection. I will openly admit that I have that fear, as I’m sure just about everyone else does. It’s a natural human desire to be loved and accepted for who we are, and when that doesn’t happen, it hurts. But being rejected isn’t the end of the world. It may be a sore subject for a while, but it won’t kill you—you will survive, and you will move on. Even though I’m a female and guys are generally seen as the ones who are supposed to initiate things, I have, in fact, “made the first move” a few times in my life, in one way or another. Sometimes my invitations/feelings were accepted, sometimes they were rejected. Each time it took me days, weeks even to build up the courage to ask the guy out or tell him what I was feeling. Even though it is disheartening when someone declines or doesn’t reciprocate, I have learned to be proud of myself for stepping very, very (did I mention very?) far outside of my comfort zone and taking a risk. And honestly, there are far worse things that could happen than someone saying they’d rather not hang out with you.
- Trying and failing is far better than not trying at all. Going along with the prior point, I’ve learned that trying something and failing at it is far more beneficial than not trying at all. Like many others, I fear failure. Humans naturally desire to succeed and excel at things, so when we don’t, it’s uncomfortable and disappointing. I’ve found, however, that avoiding something or letting an opportunity pass just because I’m afraid that I might suck at it is no way to live my life. Sure, I might fail miserably, but I also have the potential to succeed. My junior year of high school, I was afraid to take AP U.S. History and Honors Pre-Calculus because I was afraid I would suck at it. And guess what? I did. I got a 2 on the AP exam (you need a 3, 4, or 5 to pass) and I managed my first (and, in my defense, only) C on my quarterly report card with Pre-Calc. But do I regret taking either of those courses? No. (Okay, maybe a little.) But actually, no, I don’t actually regret taking either class. I might have sucked at it, but I learned a lot of study skills in both classes, and I stretched myself farther than I thought I could go. And despite failing the actual APUSH exam (and earning C’s and D’s on more than one Pre-Calc test), I did pass both of the actual classes and even managed to pull off a decent grade. Though I definitely would not elect to re-take either of those courses (not even if you paid me), I don’t regret challenging myself with them in the first place. The things I regret most are not what I’ve tried and failed at, but what I never had the courage to try in the first place.
- You reap what you sow. It’s a cliché phrase that everyone has heard, but it’s beyond true. What you put in will reflect that you get out. If I put a lot of time, effort, and creativity into a project, I’ll earn a good grade; if I throw it together at the last minute, I’ll earn a bad grade. If I invest quality time in my relationships with others, I’ll have a great friendship; if I never hang out with that person or I treat them poorly, that friendship will fail. If I always work hard at my job, I could get a raise and my managers will think highly of me; if I slack off and do the bare minimum, I’ll get crappy pay and I run the risk of ruining a reference’s recommendation of me. The same goes for how I treat people—if I treat them well, they will treat me with respect; if I treat them poorly, they will do the same to me. No matter what it is, the effort and energy and care you put into something is what will eventually come out of it.
- “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are two of the most powerful sentences ever. I have had to say both of these sentences many times throughout my eighteen years of life, and they are words I believe humans (myself included) do not say enough. I don’t believe I’m a particularly dramatic person, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had legitimate fights with any of my friends (beyond just the usual, day-to-day arguments). Even so, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are both phrases I’ve said and, more importantly, meant. I try my hardest to be patient and kind and loving towards my friends and family, but I’m not perfect, and sometimes I slip up—I say something harsh that I didn’t truly mean or I brush people off when they’re only trying to look out for me. Whatever the case, sometimes I just have to get over my pride and apologize for something I’ve said or done (or didn’t say or do). Similarly, when I feel someone has wronged or offended me, sometimes all I really want to hear is that the person who hurt me is genuinely sorry. Sorry doesn’t fix everything, but oftentimes, it’s the only way that a damaged relationship can ever begin to become mended. On the other hand, offering forgiveness can be one of the hardest things to do. When someone really hurts my feelings, it’s difficult for me to completely let it go and forgive him or her for what was said or done. I have an unhealthy habit of dwelling on things that upset me, and if someone says something that offends me, I’ll probably play the scenario over and over in my head until I’ve worked myself up to the point of tears. Many times, however, the other person didn’t intend to make me feel bad, and their apology is genuine. Oftentimes, true forgiveness is what is needed to be able to let something go and repair the relationship. It’s not easy, but I’ve learned that admitting personal fault and forgiving the fault of others are two of the most powerful and freeing things one could experience. And if Jesus could forgive me for sinning hundreds of times a day, I can forgive someone else—another sinful human being just like me—for a handful of wrongs.
- It’s only awkward if you make it awkward. This one sounds humorous, and although it is admittedly funny-sounding, it honestly is true. Do you know how many neutral silences have been made mildly awkward just by someone exclaiming, “Well this is awkward!” (And if you’re an introvert like me, that silence was probably comfortable and actually really appreciated. I was enjoying the lack of human communication, so thanks for ruining it.) Sure, some things are just inherently embarrassing, like tripping and falling with half your high school as witnesses or saying something stupid in front of the person you have a crush on, but the awkwardness of the situation itself is all up to you. If you choose to make a huge deal out of it, then yeah, of course it’s going to be awkward and embarrassing. But I’ve learned that if you consciously choose to just shrug the uncomfortable feelings off (and maybe even laugh it off), the situation won’t be awkward. And who knows—it might even be something you’ll look back at and laugh about in a few years.
- Sticks and stones may break your bones, and words can hurt a lot, too. I’m sure just about everyone has heard that exceedingly-untrue phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” If that isn’t one of the biggest pieces of bull I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is. Words are more powerful than most people know, and you would be surprised at how fast they can change a person’s view of an idea, another person, or even themselves. The tongue has a power unlike any other: It has the ability to either build a person up or break a person down. Most people (including myself) throw words around carelessly, and I’ll admit that gossiping with my friends can be enjoyable. But over the years, I’ve learned that words can make a person’s day, or they can ruin it. Although I do mess up and say things I know are hurtful and I later regret, I try my best to use my words to encourage others and lift them up, not tear them down.
- Learning to appreciate the little things in life is extremely fulfilling. I wrote a separate post on this topic a few weeks ago, but this is something that I continue to learn and re-learn every day. Even on those days where every little thing is going wrong and nothing seems to go my way, I’ve learned that there is always something to be thankful for. Moping around and complaining about everything does nobody any good, and quite frankly, it’s really annoying to listen to. So instead of letting bad days turn into a bad week, I’ve learned that with the right mindset, you can find something to be grateful for wherever you go. Whether it’s appreciating the beauty of the sun shimmering on a lake or searching for the good in a bad situation, those little moments are some of God’s biggest blessings to me.
- Nobody on earth is perfect. As Hannah Montana loudly reminds us, “Nobody’s perfect.” And it’s true. You’re not perfect, I’m not perfect, your family and friends aren’t perfect, celebrities aren’t perfect, not even that really hot person you have a crush on is perfect. We are all sinful humans that mess things up and embarrass ourselves and say things to others that we don’t truly mean. When I look up to someone—whether it be a role model or a guy I’m interested in or even a family member—it’s super easy to put that person on this Pedestal of Perfection which is, as I’ve learned, entirely unrealistic. Even filthy-rich celebrities with their faces plastered on magazines and billboards and televisions across the world aren’t perfect, and neither are their lives. Everybody has to fight different battles throughout their lives, and I’ve found that reminding myself that nobody is perfect—especially me—is incredibly humbling and freeing. Sure, others mess up, but I mess up just as much, if not more. I’ve learned that since I want my peers to be patient and kind to me when screw up, I should, in turn, show patience and kindness towards others when they fall short. I’ve screwed up countless times, yet God—the only perfect, sinless being—still loves and accepts me despite my shortcomings. And if I want to be more like Christ, loving others in spite of their mistakes is one of the first steps.
- Comparing yourself to others gets you absolutely nowhere. In society nowadays, the social pressure put on men and women to be perfect is unbelievable. Because of that, it’s depressingly easy to constantly compare yourself to others. Whether it’s a close friend or a stranger you see walking down the street, comparing yourself to other people is almost automatic now, like an unconscious second nature. It’s sad, yes, but it’s the truth. I’d consider myself a pretty confident person, and I generally feel pretty good about myself. But there’s not a single person on earth immune to the lethal virus of consistently comparing your traits with the traits of others—young or old, short or tall, thin or stout, and any other difference you could think of. Negative feelings do not discriminate. Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and I see a really attractive girl and I find myself thinking, “Wow, I wish my legs looked like that!” or “Why can’t I get my makeup to look that good?” or even worse, “Geez, she makes me look like a sack of potatoes.” It’s something that happens without me really thinking about it, but it’s a dangerous habit to fall into (and extremely difficult to break, if that’s even possible). Over the past couple years especially, I’ve learned that comparing myself to others is counterproductive and psychologically harmful. Instead, I’ve learned to base my self-worth and self-confidence on Christ. He made me the way I am on purpose, and wishing I was someone else is an insult to his work. If I created something I thought was perfect, gave it to someone, and they spent years harshly critiquing and insulting it, I wouldn’t feel too great. I’ve found that when I base my worth in Christ—an unchanging, perfect being—I am far happier and more confident.
- Don’t take yourself (or anything) too seriously. I’m one of those people that loves to joke around, and I have that certain sense of humor that catches people off-guard and causes some unsuspecting witnesses to stare at me in confusion. While it is very important to know when to be serious, it’s just as important to know when to laugh. Having a drive and motivation to succeed is great, but if we go through life with such an intense mindset that we never stop to laugh, it will end in more harm than benefit. I’ve learned that sometimes, the only thing I can do is laugh at myself. If I make an embarrassing mistake or trip and fall up (yes, up) the stairs in front of half the world’s population, it can be pretty tempting to mutter, “Oh my gosh, that was so embarrassing, I can never look at these people again,” and speed-walk away. But in situations like those, I’ve found that it’s way better to just laugh at myself. If I don’t make it a big deal, chances are nobody else will, either. It’s actually pretty nice to be able to laugh at my unfortunate mistakes and not take myself too seriously. It helps keep things lighter and more stress-free than constantly worrying about staying super serious and avoiding embarrassment. (Because let’s be real—I’m far too weird to not laugh at myself.)
- Pick and choose your battles wisely. There are a lot of things in life that are going to make you want to fight back, for one reason or another. A normal argument can quickly escalate into a full-blown war zone if both parties aren’t careful, and most of the time, it’s over a laughably-small issue. If you jump at any and every chance to argue, you’re going to live a life full of aggression, hurt feelings, and a lot of wasted time. The way I see it, some things—a lot of things—just aren’t worth my time and energy. And that’s not to sound vain or conceited, either—life is a lot shorter than I will ever be able to understand, and spending half of it in a state of anger, hostility, or bitterness is no way to live the life God blessed me with. Some things are so insignificant that it’s just not worth the blood, sweat, and tears of trying to fight it. I’ve learned that in order to live life to the fullest, I have to pick and choose my battles wisely and avoid arguing about petty things. While my brother leaving the toilet seat up is annoying, it’s not worth screaming at him for. All I have to do is put it down myself—there’s no use wasting my energy yelling at him and wasting his time by making him drop what he’s doing to do something I could easily do myself. Be picky with what you fight for, and only put your time and energy into the topics you are truly passionate about. Choose your battles wisely and you’ll win the war.
- Never try to be anyone but yourself. Although it’s one of the most cliché and eye-roll-inducing phrases known to man, it’s also one of the ones that rings the most true. In a world where fitting in is a top social priority for many people, it’s easy to compromise who you are in order to gain acceptance. But pretending to be someone you’re not isn’t very fun, and it’s a lot more stressful than it’s worth. I’m a pretty weird person, and trying to suppress my weird personality and odd sense of humor is nearly impossible (trust me, I’ve tried). I’ve realized, however, that there’s really no use in trying to hide it because there’s nothing at all wrong with being a little unorthodox. So my laugh is kind of obnoxious, I make a lot of uncalled for Asian jokes about myself, and sometimes my intelligence betrays me and I say some really stupid things. But those weird things about me are part of what sets me apart from other people, and contrary to what we all thought in middle school, differences really are a good thing.
- Rest is really, really important. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m also the type of person that tends to over-commit to things. It’s a vicious combination, and more often than not, I find myself with little time to actually rest. I can’t tell you how many nights I went on less than a couple hours of sleep just so I could finish my homework or study for a test (which I usually ended up near-failing because I was way too tired to concentrate). As important as it is to work hard and be productive, it’s equally important to take a breather every once in a while. I’ve learned the hard way that staying up until three in the morning to study won’t help me if I’m falling asleep during the test a few hours later, and over-working myself isn’t beneficial if I’m so burned out that my work becomes sub-par. Doing well in school and working hard are great, but I need rest. Occasionally a grade might have to take a hit in order to get a good night’s sleep, but rest and mental health are far more important than a letter or percentage circled in red on the top of a paper.
- Not everyone is going to like you, and that’s okay. There are people I’m forced to interact with that I don’t really like, and I’m sure there are people who don’t really enjoy me, either. But you know what? That’s okay. I’ve found that you can’t please everyone, so there’s really no use in trying. It all goes back to picking my battles—it’s not worth my time to try to get everyone to like me, so I’m not going to bother trying to cater my personality to everyone’s preferences. If someone doesn’t like me, then there’s probably not a lot I can do about it without changing who I am. Of course, if I’ve done something to hurt or offend them or my behavior is harmful in any way, then it’s a different story. In that case, then please let me know and I’ll do my best to correct it. But if you just don’t like me because of something about me (that isn’t personally involving you), then I’ll have you know that I don’t really care. Trying to gain everyone’s admiration and approval is one battle you’re never going to win.
- You don’t really know anything at all. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I don’t really know anything at all. I may be eighteen but I’m not actually an adult. My dad had to help me file my taxes; the only food I can really make is pasta, cheese quesadillas, and cookies; I still buy band-aids with cartoon characters on them; the only skills I have with cars is how to drive one; I’ve used an iron exactly once in my life; my dad reconciles my bank account for me; and sometimes I use my calculator to ensure that two plus two still equals four. Humor aside, I really don’t know anything. If you ever get to a point where you think you know everything, think again. (And if you still believe you know everything after taking a serious look at your life, you’re an idiot and probably the annoying know-it-all in your group of friends.) As Hugh Bonneville states, “At 19, you know everything; by the time you’re 40, you haven’t got a clue.”
So there ya’ have it—a very lengthy post telling you a few of the many lessons I have learned over the past eighteen years of being alive. I know there are many more to come, and I’m excited to learn them.