My 19th birthday is in only four days, which means I have one year left of being a teenager (yikes). It also means that it's time again for me to go through everything I've learned in the last year. This has become a yearly tradition of mine, and I'm quite excited about this year's edition. So, without further ado, here are (some of) the things I learned while being 18:
1. I'm horribly insecure... but I'm working on it.
I am, by far, the most insecure person that I know. Back in January, when I got my senior pictures taken, I was terrified because I was convinced the pictures would turn out horribly and I'd hate them forever. But I was wrong, the pictures turned out great, and I still love them now. I'm still insecure, but I'm working on not letting that keep me from doing things I want to do. I read a poem I wrote out loud at my Grandparent's 50th Anniversary party in England, and then I participated in a poetry open mic the next month even though I'm always worried about what people will think of my poetry. I did an internship in a theatre even though I didn't know anyone. I forced myself to talk to new people when college started. I’ve done a few interviews for things that I don’t want to talk about yet but that are pretty exciting. I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone in an attempt to combat all the insecurity. It’s all hard, but I think it’s working.
2. Don't do what you think people want you to do just because you think they want you to do it.
In other words, don't do something because you think it's what everyone else wants. When I was on SA, I spent the first half of the year doing chapels how I thought other people wanted me to. It wasn't until February when I did a chapel the way I wanted it that I was actually proud of what I was doing. I realized that I was in that specific office for a reason, and if I wasn't proud of the work I was doing, then what was the point? So I started making some small, gradual changes. I spoke up for what I wanted a spiritual even to be, and I tried my best to make them what I wanted them to be. I may not have been the best RVP that school has ever seen, but I'm still proud of the work that I did.
3. Your life is never going to feel long enough.
So there's no point in worrying about how much time you have. Live your life the way you want to right now. Don't spend time being anxious about the future when you could be using that time to work towards what you want. I'm a pretty anxious person most of the time, but I'm (still) learning how to not let that affect my ability to write a book, work in a theatre, and any other dream I have.
4. Hoola Hoop
When I first got back into therapy, I was told to stand in a hoola hoop. The therapist told me that everything inside the hoola hoop is what I can control. Everything outside and in front of me is anxiety, and everything outside and behind me is depression. I shouldn't worry about anything outside of the hoola hoop because it is simply out of my control. In therapy I actually made a hoola hoop key chain and I still have it on my lanyard. I carry it with me so I can remember to only focus on what I can take care of right now, not what has happened in the past or what I worry may happen in the future.
5. There truly is a time for everything.
Not to get too religious, but this verse from Ecclesiastes took a whole new meaning for me this year: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens. A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time a build up; a time to weep, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to case away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace" (3:1-8). This year has brought a lot of changes, and in those changes I have learned that there is time for everything under the sun. There are seasons of tears, but we can always learn something from it. On the flip side,there is no use trying to hurry good things along before they're supposed to arrive. In the words of Jack Kerouac, "Nothing good gets away."
6. There are people you are supposed to connect with right away, and others not until later. There are people you are supposed to be friends with for a short amount of time,a and others for forever.
I have friends who I clicked with as soon as I met them, and then I have friends (my roommate included) who I met and then didn't really become friends with until almost a year later. I've also had friends who I became friends with right away, but then later the friendship drifted away for various reasons. All of that is okay.
7. If you want something, there is truly no harm in asking.
In March, I really wanted to speak for my high school's Student Week of Prayer. I knew I had something to say, and I knew that if I was chosen I would do a good job. So I went to my principal, asked if I could speak for one of the days, and he said yes. Fast forward a few weeks, and I was standing in front of my high school telling the story of the time I got to say thank you at the Leadership Conference the previous September. I actually wrote about the whole experience, which you can read here. And if you want to read more about the story I talked about, click here. Later this year, after I graduated, I had an internship with a theatre. I got the internship because I saw a flyer in a Barnes and Noble advertising a summer camp and emailed asking if they needed any extra help. They didn't for the summer camp, but they needed someone for their production of The Music Man. If I hadn't emailed asking if they needed help, I never would have had that experience.
8. It doesn't matter what cords you get at graduation. What matters is how you affected the lives of those around you.
In March, I had a really bad week and ended up in the office of my vice principal/religion teacher. As I lifted the weights from my shoulders and poured my heart out in her office, I told her that I was having trouble adjusting to the fact that I wasn't getting cords at graduation. She looked and me and said that I had accomplished so much that couldn't be measured in a graduation cord, and she was right. I had worked hard to overcome a lot while still getting as good of grades as I could, and that can't be measured in a gold or silver cord. Earlier last school year, I was looking through old Instagram pictures and found some from my Junior year when the class of 2017 graduated. As I looked at the pictures of me and my friends, I realized that I wasn't looking at the cords they got (or didn't get), but rather at their faces as I thought about how much they had affected my life and how much better they had made it. What my vice principal/religion teacher neglected to tell me (and rightly so) is I would in fact be receiving a cord for earning an advanced diploma. I still got a cord, but not until after I came to the conclusion that the cord doesn't matter. What matters is what kind of legacy you leave behind.
9. It is very important to imagine people complexly.
I noticed this more in terms of friends than with family, but this goes for family members too. People are complex, no one is completely good and no is completely bad. You can't expect a "good" person to never make a mistake, just like you can't be surprised when a "bad" person does something good. This was probably the hardest thing I had to learn this year, and I don't think I've been 100% successful yet, but I'm still working on it.
10. I really love comedy, especially of the stand-up variety.
Last May, when I was super stressed about the end of the school year, the only way I was really able to turn my brain off a little was to watch comedy specials on Netflix. After I graduated, I kept looking for more and more. I didn't know how much I appreciated stand-up comedy until this year, but I really do love it. Some of my favorite specials that I've watched include: Kid Gorgeous (John Mulaney, who is one of my top 5 favorite comedians, by the way), Homecoming King (Hasan Minhaj, who, as it happens, is another of my top 5 favorites), Confirmed Kills (Iliza Shlesinger), and This is Me Now (Jim Jefferies).
11. Every hard thing will get better if you don't give up.
After my graduation, I started interning at a nearby theatre for two (ish) months. The first few days were really rough. I felt like I was on the outside looking in, and I was struggling to see how taking notes on a production was going to help me in the long-run. As time went on, I started talking to more people, and my job changed from "note taker", to "person who runs the music when the actual music person isn't there," back to "note taker," and then "person who basically does all the stuff we don't have someone for." I loved that job. This also couldn’t be truer when it comes to college. I’ve been in Washington for a little over a month, now, and while the first two weeks or so were really hard, it’s only gotten better the more I’ve stuck with it.
12. What other people think of you doesn't matter as long as you know yourself.
I always knew this, but I didn't have to learn it until this year. People may know that you get anxious about things, but they don't know how independent you are. People may know that you sometimes have test anxiety, but they don't know how much you study beforehand. My point is that people may know you, but they don't know all of you. You know yourself better than anyone else does, so don't take someone else's perception as you as truth. If someone says something to you that they believe is true about you, think about it first and then decide if it actually is true or if they just don't have the whole story.
13. We all make a greater impact on the world than we realize.
I few months ago, I saw a mini TED Talk where this guy talked about an experience he had back in college. It’s a short video, and I really recommend watching it. The basic point is that we all affect more lives than we realize, and we really do leave an impact on the world. When I graduated high school, many of the students in the class below told me and my classmates that our class was going to missed because of the great impact we’d had on the school. I think, on some level, we all knew that we were important to other students in the school, but to be told that your existance on a campus has made an impact is a big deal, and it’s nice thing to be told. I could tell story after story of times when someone has made an impact on my life and how they probably don’t even know it. This year, not only have I learned that we make a bigger impact than we realize, but I also learned that we need to tell people they’ve impacted our lives before we lose the chance.
14. Trust your gut.
It's always right. However, in the past year I have had to learn how to tell the difference between my gut and plain old anxiety. I'm starting to figure that out, though, and my gut is still never wrong. So yeah, always trust your gut.
15. God is a show-off.
This is something that writer Anne Lamott likes to say, and it’s completely true. The week before I went to school was an insane, rollercoaster of a week. So much happened, whether it be good, bad, or just plain random. At the beginning of the week, I read something where Anne Lamott said that God is a show-off, and that really resonated with me. Throughout the rest of the week, whenever something really good happened (because all the good things that occurred were really good), it came to mind. What I’ve discovered this year is that God is really good at making things happen when they are supposed to happen (see thing I learned #5), and when something is supposed to happen it can happen in extraordinary ways.
16. God sends the people we need when we need them.
In the back of my mind, I always knew this was true. But this was made even more evident in the past year. What I’ve come to realize is that while God will always send people when we need them most, how long we need them for will vary. I’ve had people come into my life this year for a summer, one month, a week, or even just four minutes. God sent the people I needed when I needed them most, no matter how long I needed them for.
17. Even if you’re independent in quiet ways, you’re still independent.
I’ve always been someone who turned to their family for everything. I get scared of trying new things, and I get anxious when it comes to the unknown. Still, I moved two states away and have been doing lots of things by myself for a little over a month now. I may still call my family almost everyday, forward my mom emails that I don’t understand, and FaceTime my grandparents for math help, but I walk everywhere by myself. I go to counseling appointments alone. I’m the one who makes sure everything that needs to get done gets done. I’m independent in quiet ways, but that doesn’t make it any less important.
18. First and foremost, love.
This post has been edited last minute due to the recent events of this week. The Adventist world is small, and recently the internet did what it does best and an open letter of mine got picked up by Adventist Today. This week has been an intense one for me, especially since I made the mistake of reading almost every. single. comment left on Facebook from the Adventist Today repost. This was really not a smart move on my part, but it did reinforce a lesson that I’ve had drilled into me all year- love with all of your heart. I am an incredibly opinionated person, and I have spent the last few days holding myself back from responding to every comment with something snarky. Instead, I’ve taken a deep breath, reminded myself of why I wrote the letter in the first place, and reminded myself that first and foremost, I am here to love and to spread love.
Being eighteen was both everything I thought it would be and nothing like what I thought it would be. I went through some rough patches with school, had one of the best summers of my entire life, and started college. I wrote lots of poetry (and did an open mic!), and was involved in theatre. I got my driver's permit and started to conquer my anxiety. Eighteen was a good year, but I'm very excited for what nineteen will be. A lot of eighteen was spent preparing to nineteen, and the next year certainly has some exciting things in store for it.