twenty-three things I've learned

This week I celebrated my birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to commemorate the occasion with a look back on my experiences. In my short 23 years of life, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Here are 23 of them:

1.     Personality tests are a fun way to understand yourself better. While I don’t think you should take any test too seriously, I have found a lot of value in personality tests- like legit tests created by psychologists, not BuzzFeed quizzes. They’ve helped me better understand my strengths and weaknesses, how I perceive the world, and how I relate to others. My favorite personality test is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. I’m an ENFP, by the way. The detailed description of ENFP characteristics are eerily on point.

2.     Making deep, meaningful friendships take effort. Growing out of childhood and into adulthood is a weird experience. I watched some friendships die off while others strengthened and new ones blossomed. I learned that friendships take initiation. Looking back, I never had to make any friends because friends made me. As an adult I had to learn to make friends. Luckily making friends is easy when you’re an ENFP! Starting conversations, making plans, and sticking to those plans are a pretty easy recipe for forming new friendships.

3.     It’s always worth it to wash your face before bed. I know the feeling all too well- I’m about to doze off on the couch as the credits start rolling, or I stumble into the apartment after a long night out, drowsy with sleep. Washing my face is the last thing I want to do, but if I don’t I’ll end up tossing and turning all night because something feels off. Nothing helps me sleep better than knowing my skin has been cleansed, exfoliated, toned, oiled, and hydrated.

4.     It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” It’s 2019 and we have a lot of information available to us. Current events, pop culture, scientific discoveries, world history, self-help, and more. Because this information is so readily available, it seems that people feel the need to have an opinion on everything from immigration laws to the Crusades to the latest developments in robotics. I think it’s important to stay up to date on what is going on in the world, and I will always advocate doing your own research so you can be an informed voter, responsible citizen, and savvy conversationalist. But there is only so much you can keep up on! Often I’m asked to share my opinion on something I know little to nothing about, and I’ve learned to confidently say “I don’t know.” After making that shameless proclamation, I often have the opportunity to learn about the topic. Or sometimes the conversation just has to change. And that’s ok. I think feeling responsible for having to know everything all at once is dangerous. In choosing a side before learning the facts, our cognitive biases are bound to kick in and influence the way we perceive the topic.  And hey, it’s 2019 and I think we need to call out that kind of logic.

5.     You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your life decisions. As a recovering people-pleaser, I catch myself falling into the pattern of oversharing and giving personal, vulnerable details to people who don’t necessarily merit that kind of intimacy. You do not need to justify your choices to anyone you don’t want to. You are allowed to make a dramatic life change. You are allowed to follow your gut and do or be something that goes against the grain. And you have the power to choose who is trustworthy to know the story behind those choices.

6.     Buying clothes secondhand is actually really incredible. From an altruistic perspective, buying secondhand is great because it reduces the demand for fast fashion, keeps fabrics out of landfills for longer, and puts money into charitable places. From a personal perspective, buying secondhand is great because it’s much cheaper, you can find more unique pieces, and it turns shopping into a treasure hunt! I used to dislike shopping secondhand because I thought it was kind of gross and too much of a chore. While it is quite a chore, and it definitely not as glamorous as shopping at a well-lit, museum-esque store like Anthropologie or Nordstrom, I’ve found myself gravitating more towards thrifting because of the beautiful things I’ve found for less than five dollars. Finding something perfect for you is such a rush!

7.     Life doesn’t happen to you. While mindlessly browsing through a thread on reddit, I came across one of the most eye opening thoughts I’ve ever read, “Life doesn’t happen to you.” I didn’t realize how much I actually believed that statement until I read it. Perhaps this is obvious to most people, but that day I realized how much I actually expected life to happen to me. I lived passively, waiting for opportunities to arise and inspiration to strike. While I still believe all of that is still possible, I now better understand the role I play in creating things for myself.

8.     You can train your taste buds to like new things. I’ve always loved trying new things, and food has been no exception. Training your taste buds to like foods/drinks you’ve initially been repulsed by is possible. I’ve done it, it just takes a lot of work. I’ve gotten myself accustomed to black coffee, carbonated water, kombucha, dark chocolate, and beer, which all repulsed me at some point. Now they are some of my favorite tastes! Right now I’m working on spicy foods, and I’m slowly starting to understand the appreciation for a good burn. I’m still not crazy about it, but I hope building up my tolerance will come in handy when I travel to countries like Mexico, South Korea, or India. I’m still working on wine too, and I’ve got a glass recycling collection to prove it. I’ve decided I don’t want to put any effort into liking black licorice because it’s disgusting. I think I’ll always stand by that.

9.     Following your intuition doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. In fact, sometimes following your intuition can be downright terrifying. I’ve done some pretty brave things based on nothing but a deep knowing within. I’ve also received heavy warnings from my intuition that I’ve ignored because I was too terrified of the courage it would take to follow. In my darkest moments, I felt like I had ruined my life and that I would never have the courage or ability to listen to the deep, inner knowing I once had. That is a lie. You are never irredeemable. Watching my life unfold after following those gut feelings later in life has been magical. It’s kind of like meeting back up with my true self.

10.  If you don’t love the way you look, you have two options: fix it or learn to love it. I don’t think it’s vain to want to look good. In fact, I think loving the way you look is an essential part of self-actualization. I’ve learned that some things about my appearance are out of my control- like my bone structure, my jawline, my nose, and my skin tone. Other things are in my control- like the way I style my hair, dress myself, take care of my skin, and accessorize with makeup and jewelry. There’s nothing right or wrong about wearing no makeup at all or a full face every day. There is nothing right or wrong about loving to experiment with fashion or dressing for functionality and comfort. Do what makes you feel like the god/goddess you are. For me that means having fun with makeup (and most importantly, lipstick), trying new hairstyles (I’ve tried a perm, bangs, and dyeing my hair pink!) playing around with different fashion styles, and exercising regularly to look and feel strong. Love yourself! And for those parts of your body that are out of your control, have compassion for yourself when those insecure thoughts creep in. Remind yourself how funny, empathetic, and smart you are, and how good you look in your favorite jeans.

11.  It’s ok to have no idea what you want to do with your life. I have to remind myself of this every day. As an extremely curious and a quite frankly, flighty, individual, not knowing what I want to do has been the theme of my life since I could form a cognizant thought about the future. Can my fellow ENFP’s relate? On the other hand, it is kind of exciting to not be tied to an idea of what my life will look like. It leaves me free to explore a variety of ways of living!

12.  Crying is a gift. Having the emotional capacity and sensitivity to cry is something I’ll never take for granted. For years I lived without crying, just bottling up my emotions. I thought I was cool, mature, and confident. Nah. I was emotionally stunted and it wasn’t until I reached adulthood I was able to cry for the first time in years. I don’t know what triggered the sudden emotional awareness, but it was truly a gift. Crying has allowed me to understand deep parts of myself that I would have never known existed had I continued in my robotic state of faux collectedness.

13.  We all see the world through different lenses. This has been one of the most fruitful lessons to learn. Having to accept that my worldview isn’t the only world view and not even the*right* world view is scary to my ego. There’s objective truth but there’s also a lot of nuance. I work on becoming aware of my own biases every day, and how I can look at something from somebody else’s perspective. I don’t think empathy is innate, I think it’s a learned behavior.

14.  Exercise is actually really fun. I’d always wanted to love exercise but could never stick to anything. I tried a lot of things- yoga, cycling, P90X, BBG, kickboxing, running, Aaptiv, and self-led gym time. It wasn’t until I started taking classes that I began to enjoy exercise. Because I had little experience on how to weight and cardio train, I couldn’t really manage much on my own. I liked having an instructor to follow. I took a lot of different classes before finally finding something I love: Orangetheory! It’s so nice to just show up and be led through an hour-long workout with a coach guiding you the whole way. I can show up and follow orders. Exercising regularly has changed my life! I feel so much stronger, I have more energy, and I love observing my growing muscles change the shape of my body.

15.  Fear doesn’t go away. Well, maybe it does. I’m only 23, and I’ll admit that deep down I’m holding onto the hope that one day I’ll wake up and happily discover all of my insecurities and anxieties have left me for somebody else. I haven’t heard of that happening to anyone, but I’ll just throw it out there that I’m open to it! Anyway, I have a lot of fear. Fear of being hurt, fear of hurting others, fear of being misunderstood, fear of misunderstanding. Fear of being mocked, fear of being unloved. Fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being lied to. Fear of being vulnerable, fear of being silent. Fear of being injured in a brutal accident and fear of contacting a terrible illness. There is so much fear racketing around in my brain that sometimes I find it hard to do anything. Hell, sometimes I find it discouraging to even be anything. They say that you have to feel the fear and do it anyway. And while I’ve done some pretty bold things even in the face of fear, I’ve learned that this is a daily practice. Showing up. Putting yourself out there. Risking rejection and criticism and whatever other dark, scary scenarios my brain comes up with. I could go on and on but I’ll stop here because I’m starting to sound nauseatingly like a self-help blog.

16.  Celebrate your obsessions. I think having an undying love for a particular movie, musical, book series, celebrity, TV show, video game, etc. is endearing. Plus, meeting someone with the same obsession creates an instant connection. For me, my undying love is devoted to Taylor Swift. Her music is home to me. I’ll admit, not much is nerdier than the Taylor Swift fan Instagram accounts I follow or the subreddit I am heavily involved in, but hey, it brings me a lot of joy. And anything that brings that much joy ought to be celebrated!

17.  Traveling outside the US is an opportunity that should be highly valued. Nothing has shaped my worldview more than the opportunity to study French in college and live abroad for a little while. Exploring US politics and culture through the lens of another nationality was transformative for me. In an ideal world, I think everybody would get to have the experience of living abroad for a little while. I think traveling outside your native country is a beautiful way to step outside your bubble, reevaluate your perspective, and foster empathy. I look forward to future opportunities of living abroad and studying new languages!

18.  What people say about you says more about them than it does about you. This is age old wisdom, but actually accepting this truth has been liberating for me. Funnily enough, I didn’t realize how true this actually was until I caught myself projecting my own insecurities onto others. Oops! Catching myself in the vicious cycle of misunderstanding and being misunderstood has released me from the stress of agonizing over things said to me and about me. I’m working on catching myself before I say or think something discrediting or unpleasant about somebody else.

19.  Saving money on flights with multiple layovers is not worth it. I have slept overnight in an airport in Mexico city, spent an entire day wandering around Rhode Island on a budget tighter than my Lulu Lemon Align leggings, suffered through an 8 hour middle of the night delay in Dallas, and have spent more hours roaming the Denver airport than the local pilots- probably. And I am so done!!! Direct flights or at least a fight with only one layover are worth the money. Lesson learned.

20.  Feminism isn’t a scary world of man-hating and mom-shaming. The word “feminist” used to turn me off, which I now recognize was a symptom of my internalized sexism. It turns out, feminists are a diverse group of people who all want the same thing: equality between sexes. I’ve learned that there is still a lot of misogyny even in developed countries like the US. I’ve learned that sexism hurts men too. I’ve learned society teaches us from birth that boys and girls are very different, and some of those imposed differences are harmful. Understanding feminism is a journey and I’m still learning. I’ve found a home in the feminist community and particularly in advocating for awareness in intersectional feminism. I hope to be more vocal about feminism as I come to better understand it.

21.  The key to enjoy cooking is to be present with it. Feeding myself is a lot of work. From recipe searching, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning, it’s equivalent to a part-time job. Sometimes I’m too exhausted to be bothered with it. I really value nutrition though, and I’ve discovered the way to make cooking fun is to be present with it. When I’m able to get in the zone, I feel deep satisfaction in chopping vegetables, measuring spices, cracking eggs, and squeezing lemon over freshly grilled fish.

22.  The ocean is the most magical place in the world. It really is otherworldly how beautiful the ocean is and I swear my soul is part whale. I wish I lived on the coast because I’ve never felt more connected to the earth than I have while in the ocean.

23.  Humans, animals, and the earth are interconnected. In the past couple years I’ve had what some might call an environmental awakening. I’ll admit that I feel uncomfortable speaking up on the subject because I’m no ecologist, climatologist, biologist, zoologist, or whatever but it seems pretty evident to me that humans have had a very negative impact on the natural world. Some evidence points to the ability of the natural world to recuperate from anthropogenic damage, and I think we should be doing everything in our power to heal oceans, lands, icecaps, the atmosphere, and biodiversity.

Putting words to the experiences I’ve had thus far in life and concluding each one with a judgement of wisdom was trickier than I thought it would be. I am curious what my future self will have to say about all of this. Growing older excites me, and I hope to continue to be open to new ideas and perspectives. Cheers to 23 years!