15 Pieces of Advice From My 21-Year-Old Self

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So, my birthday was last week. I am officially 21 years old. Despite hiding behind my age for practically my entire life, here I am, saying it out loud (or rather writing it publicly): I am 21.

I know that for a lot people, I’m not at an age I should feel embarrassed by, but I have always been ashamed of my age. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I am the youngest. Before my little brother, I was the youngest of three. At 16, I was the youngest in my high school graduating class. At 20, I was the youngest person I knew graduating college in my year. All my friends have been at least two years older than me, if not older. I am always “the baby”. It’s always felt like a burden, a reason for people to assume things about me before getting to know me. So unless I needed to be truthful about my age (for legal reasons), I lied.

No more lying. It’s time to start settling into myself. I now feel that I have acquired enough little nuggets of wisdom worth sharing.

Here it goes:

  1. To my pre-teen and teenage self: do not put so much weight on what a person says just because they are an adult. Conversely, to my adult self: do not put so much weight on what a person says just because they’re older than you or in a position of authority. You can respect someone without allowing them to put their fears and frustrations on you. You’re not a blank canvas for some high school counselor, professor, or parent to paint themselves onto. Go after what you want, not what they tell you you can get.
  2. Molding your life around one person is usually a bad idea. No matter how permanent they may feel at the moment, you never know what will happen. It’s okay to look after yourself first. It doesn’t mean you care about the other person any less.
  3. No one can love you as much as you should love yourself. Often, especially as women, we’re led to believe our value as people is tied to the worth we’re given. That mindset leaves you craving  approval. “Am I thin enough, tall enough, smart enough, beautiful enough to be loved?” Consequently, when you’re not being approved by others,  you devalue yourself. Loving yourself unconditionally is the only way to combat this. You should love yourself fully, faults and all. It can be hard, but it is vital.
  4. One of the many keys to life, which will open many doors for you, is discipline. I still struggle with this one. Just this morning, I smashed my snooze button three times before rolling out of bed. Nonetheless, be it in your work, in your eating habits, in anything, learn to be disciplined.
  5. Never mix light and dark liquor. No matter how strong you think your stomach is, it’s never strong enough.
  6. Do not downplay your interests. My mother likes to say, “Don’t sit on your talents.” It took me a really long time to express to people that I like to write. I would always be self-deprecating and downplay my interest and my ability. Doing that with all kinds of things I liked to do–acting, photography, illustrating–left me feeling stuck and denied me the practice necessary to cultivate my skills. It left me stuck between what I was doing (nothing) and I wanted to be doing (everything). Now that I want to pursue these interests, professionally or even merely as hobbies, I feel behind. I could have finished my 10,000 hours by now. So annoying.
  7. He is not that important. Get a hobby.
  8. Learn to ride the wave. I have the habit of deleting too many things, people, and memories from my life. It’s a coping mechanism that has robbed me of remembering the good things in order to forget the bad. Learn to ride the wave. Being uncomfortable is not always a bad thing. Remembering the mistakes, the embarrassing moments, as painful as they are, can be helpful. It helps you learn and grow.
  9. Stop making room for people who don’t value you or your time —i.e., you don’t have to like everyone. I learned this lesson at a very young age. It’s not that you should go around disliking any and everyone who rubs you the wrong way. It is okay, however, after knowing someone or talking to someone for a little while, to distance yourself from them. Every person you meet is not meant to play a role in your life.
  10. Family is whatever you define it to be. Just because you share a grandparent with someone, doesn’t mean they love you more deeply than someone who’s shown to value you throughout your life. You can make your own family. You’re not betraying anything or anyone if that’s what you choose to do.
  11. You are no one’s punching bag. We all need to vent to people we feel close to, sure.  If, however, you’re not a licensed counselor or therapist, you are not forced to absorb someone’s bad energy or negativity all the time. When someone is always venting to you and takes what they’re struggling with out on you, it may mean that it’s time to let that soul-sucker go.
  12. If you’re on a road and you feel you’ve made a mistake, turn back.That’s another piece of advice from mom. It’s hard to start over. It’s hard to turn back. It’s hard to admit a mistake. But it’s worse to live in regret. I’ve seen it destroy people. Don’t be afraid to turn back and go elsewhere.
  13. Be kind to yourself. For this, I like the quote: “If someone spoke to you in the way you speak about yourself, would you be friends with them?” At the end of the day, you are the only person that you will have to live with for your entire life. Do you really want to spend all that that time, the only time you’ll ever have, hating yourself? Seems like an enormous waste to me.
  14. Things will happen how they’re meant to happen. You might have read this one in a fortune cookie or heard it in the form of a song (Que sera, que sera, anyone?). I’ve found this nugget of wisdom, as cliché as it is, to be the truest and most unchanging thing in my life. Many of my accomplishments, many of my closest friends, many of my most cherished memories are a result of life taking an unintended turn. It might have made me stumble onto things I’d never imagined doing, but often, they become the best things I’ve ever done.
  15. Nothing lasts forever. This should be intuitive, but I think being young has a way of making you feel like where you are is where you’ll always be. That is a dangerous way too look at life. In truth, the only constant thing about life is that it isn’t constant. There’s comfort in remembering that; at least, there is for me.

I think most of these have to do with the decisions we make and how we deal with them. I realize more and more how much my life is a culmination of every choice I’ve ever made and how I deal with the consequences of those choices. I think we forget how much power and control we have over ourselves. I know I do. I chose to endure a year at a school I was being bullied at because of a boy, who ended up publicly humiliating me in front of my whole class and his.

I’ve chosen to be lazy. I’ve chosen to give up on myself. My life, as good as it can be, as great as it has been, has been of my own making, even when things have gone horribly wrong. Sometimes, especially when things have gone horribly wrong. Knowing this doesn’t mean that I’ll stop making bad choices or that I am now immune from failure. Life has a way of bringing the bad with the good, no matter how much you try to avoid it. It just means that instead of tearing myself down for those mistakes or failings, I can pick myself up a little faster and, maybe, a little gentler.

Anyway, I’m 21. At 13, I didn’t think I’d make it this far, but here I am.

Until next year,

Afia

 

PS: It’ll be interesting to read this at 30. Perhaps, I should make an alarm for 9 years in the future. Or is that bad luck?

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