20 Things It Took Me 20 Years to Learn


I’m turning 20 on Wednesday, and oh my god that’s five days from now, isn’t it? Crossing over to a new set of numbers feels weird. I think turning 20 is a normal thing to feel weird about, based on the reactions I see from others who have crossed that threshold.
I’m trying to be somewhat philosophical about it or at least just feel like an adult and not a scared little kid in an adult’s body. Here are the important things I came up with.

1) Don’t waste your time on people who aren’t worth it. This is much easier said than done, but once you stop trying to appease people, you end up being a lot happier. Also, don’t change who you are to fit in. If you have to change, then the friendships you’re going to “gain” won’t be real.

2) Smile and mean it. I try to take the time to smile at everybody who makes eye contact with me. I look at it this way: say you’re just walking down the sidewalk and somebody smiles at you. It feels nice, doesn’t it? Making other people feel nice makes you feel nice.

3) Nothing is wrong with having different interests. Everyone likes something that’s a little “off” or isn’t mainstream or popular. There are communities of people who share your “weird” interest. Find one!

4) Know when to ask for help. I’m very stubborn. Perhaps its a Middle Eastern thing. Walking around a store and refusing to ask a sales attendant where something is one thing, but when I’m upset about something or confused, I need to remember that I’m not alone.

5) Eat and be merry. Two years ago, I cut my food supply drastically. I’m honestly not even sure why. I hated myself for doing it the whole time, and even though I gained the weight back, I still have a hard time forgiving myself. There is absolutely no point in depriving yourself. I’m not saying you should go eat a double cheeseburger every day (you’ll develop coronary disease or clog up your arteries, and you won’t appreciate how good double cheeseburgers are if you eat them every single day!), but please, don’t torture yourself. When you lose that weight, you only feel disgusted with yourself for the means you took to get there.

6) Don’t fear solitude. Years ago, I saw a girl about my age now sitting by herself in a restaurant. She ate Indian food by herself and read a book, and she oozed confidence. I’m trying to be this girl. Doing things by yourself is actually empowering because it teaches you not to wait around or depend on others.

7) What is painful is most difficult to write about. It’s also the best material. I’m talking about stuff that’s so painful it physically hurts your stomach to even think about writing them down. But try it. Nobody has to see what you’ve written, and you’re conquering negativity.

8) Manage your messes. I’m still at teenager at the moment, so I definitely have the potential to be messy, but I’ve noticed that I can’t think well when I’m around a mess. Just take a little time each day to straighten something up. It produces a good sense of balance.

9) Listen to your body. If you’re so tired you can’t keep your eyes open, you should probably go home. If you feel like shit, don’t go to class. You won’t be able to absorb anything anyway. Pay attention to the things that don’t feel right. I’ve felt overly weak or tired before, so I looked into it and started eating more protein and iron. It made a huge difference. The little things like that really make an improvement.

10) Don’t underestimate the power of small talk. I once asked a man if I could pet his dog and ended up with his business card. I asked my dad’s friend how his job was going and ended up getting a tour of Teen Vogue’s headquarters in New York. Just say something. You never know what you’ll get out of it.

11) Actively tackle whatever is bothering you. Complaining or feeling sorry for yourself won’t fix anything. Get to the root of your problem and try to solve it. Is the problem really big? Just pick a section of that root.

12) Challenge your fears. This is especially useful if your fear is intense. Sometimes I get in these moods where I’m afraid to go outside or speak to people, and I give in, but it ends up making me feel worse. A good step to getting over your fear is stepping up against it and proving it wrong.

13) Break habits. Having routines is comforting. It can also limit you. Try doing something else or in a different way occasionally, just for the hell of it.

14) Let serendipity take its course. I’ve noticed that a lot of people go out and search for something, particularly a romantic companion. Major magazines will tell you the best places to meet future boyfriends. It’s ridiculous. Just step back. Don’t try. Some of the best friendships and relationships you have just come out of nowhere.

15) Follow your passion. Don’t let what others think allow you to doubt yourself. This one can be a little difficult, especially if your family is against you. I know that my family accepts my wanting to be a writer, but I don’t know how seriously they actually take it. Getting caught up on what they think isn’t going to help me out any, though. I just want to do what I love.

16) If you work hard, don’t forget to play too. For the longest time, all I cared about was school. I still put school way up there, but I’m not as insane about it as I used to be. Wanting to do well is a good thing. Wanting to be so perfect that you’re depriving yourself of everything else is a bad thing.

17) Being there for somebody goes a long way. People you care about are going to encounter painful situations that you might have absolutely no experience with or wisdom about. It might be bankruptcy. It might be divorce. It might be suicide. You can still help even if you don’t know the right thing to say. Just be there and show that you care. That is one of the most important things you can do.

18) Just because something isn’t real doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful or terrifying. Anxiety is a bitch. Oh, it is a bitch. Any possibility that crosses your mind can become horrifically warped and leave you hiding in bed. I always feel stupid because I’ll get hung on up something that isn’t real. But in a way, it is real, because I’ve come to believe it so strongly.

19) Everybody has problems. Some people are just better at hiding them than others. I learned this one years ago but for some reason, I keep forgetting about it. Try to consider what others are going through too. And know you’re not alone.

20) Love who you are. I went through a stage where I did not want to see my reflection at all. Then I started doing this thing where I’d stand in front of a mirror before I took a shower and examine myself, thinking I could be happier if and only if some aspects of my body were different. What do I do now? I think something nice about myself every time I look in a mirror. I’m working on building some positive reinforcement, because the last thing I need to be hung up about it a reflection. It’s just light.