I recently turned 21 so I thought when better than to impart my wisdom upon the world? These are just some of the lessons that I have been learning over the years, from my teenage years to now. Most have these lessons have been hard to learn and have taken some time to really sink in. I don’t always follow this advice but I am definitely doing my best.
- Take a step back
Sometimes I get really passionate/excited/worried about something and I let it consume me. I am now learning not to focus too much on an issue, especially if it is becoming detrimental to my mental or physical health. I find it second nature to try and take on the problems of the world, but I am learning that this is just not possible. It is so important to put yourself first, something which can be hard and may feel unnatural but as someone probably wiser than me said, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
- You will find people who like you exactly as you are
It is so easy, especially when growing up, to want to change yourself to fit in or to be liked. I am definitely guilty of this and have previously hidden parts of who I am or tried to be someone I am not in order for someone to like me. I now know that this is not healthy and it’s much more important to be authentic – if you like something, don’t try to hide it or downplay it. The people worth sticking around will love you for you and if you live like this, you will have much more authentic and meaningful relationships.
- Family is so important
I am quite a big family person, and I think this definitely increases the older you get as you realise the importance of family. I think death and loss in your family also teach you this the hard way. When you realise quite how fragile life is and that those people who you always took for granted as being around one day will suddenly not be, you learn to really value your family whilst they are still here.
- Don’t rush falling in love
My teenage years were filled with the classic hopes and dreams of a teenage girl…having a boyfriend. I was young and naive and would let people come to close to me who I knew (or didn’t even realise at the time) weren’t good for me and didn’t deserve a place in my life. I know now that you will fall in love with someone you never expected to at a time where you didn’t expect to be in love and it will be so worth the wait.
- Your positive actions will inspire those around you: Be the change you want to see in the world.
Living by example is the best way, in my experience, to inspire change. For example, instead of bombarding your friends with videos of animal cruelty facilitated by animal agriculture, quietly pursue your own life of not supporting this. Quite soon, you will find that people around you get curious, ask questions, and see how easy it is to live a cruelty-free life. This really does work and it is so encouraging when you realise that someone has changed their lifestyle because of you! Another example is showing kindness. A kind act towards someone you know or a complete stranger will often inspire that person, and potentially others, to be a bit kinder too.
- Your sleep affects everything
I have learnt the hard way how important sleep is. If I haven’t had enough sleep, I can guarantee you I will be over-emotional, sad, grumpy and less able to think straight. I have come to prioritse sleep over the past year or so and I feel so much better for it.
- You should not have to fight for someone’s affection
Okay this is a sad one. I have definitely done this in the past and I am not proud of it. When you are practically begging someone to stick around, you are really showing them, yourself and the world your lack of self worth. People in your life should be around because they want you to, and this should be a mutual, two-sided relationship.
- Living abroad is really hard
I have never really talked about this but when I was at UGA (University of Georgia) for my semester abroad, I found it really difficult sometimes. I was told that there would be days like this but I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be. I never felt comfortable expressing this to anyone, even my closest friends, because I felt like I was being ungrateful. Everyone emphasised how great my time would be, and it was, but it was so incredibly difficult as well. I wish I’d just spoken more about this because I know that other people would have been able to relate and help me, rather than suffering in silence. I think I would be a lot more honest and open if I was in such a situation now, as I have since learnt that it is more than okay to admit that something is difficult,
evenespecially something which is supposed to be the time of your life. The same can be applied to uni in general. You may have the time of your life, but equally you may not and this is okay too. This is a lot more common than you may think and there will always be someone who feels the same or can just listen to you.
- You appreciate your parents so much more when you no longer have them there 24/7
Moving out to university made me realise how much my parents did for me. Being thrust into this new, independent, grown up life really fosters a new kind of admiration for your parents and I am as grateful as ever for everything they do for me. Not only this, but having the chance to really miss having your parents around all the time really makes you realise how much they mean to you. Now that I live quite far away from them, I value our phone calls and our time together so much more.
- Do things you want to do…without telling people first
This is not necessarily advice for big life decisions, I think a lot of people would be quite hurt if you suddenly moved countries without telling anyone. This is for decisions like dying your hair, going on a date, trying a new hobby. Sometimes it’s just nice to make a decision entirely on your own without the opinions of others putting you off. Try it!
- Everyone has got something going on in their lives that makes things that bit harder
Have you ever had someone tell you something they are going through or have been through in the past and you had absolutely no idea about it before? This always makes me wonder what else people around us are going through that we could never imagine. I think it’s an incentive to be extra kind to people around you and strangers. Someone may be having the hardest day of their lives but putting on a brave face. Always be kind.
- Sleep on your worries
Everything seems ten times worse when it’s late at night and you’re overthinking everything in bed. Sleeping on a problem or a worry will help you gain perspective, rather than getting yourself worked up late at night. I have had so many nights where I will be stressing about something or getting upset over something that happened years ago, only to wake up in the morning with a completely different perspective. Something else which helps me a lot is to journal right before bed. This is especially useful if you are one of those people who lies there with the worries of the world spinning around their head. Get it out onto paper, and tell yourself you will deal with it tomorrow.
- Your mental health will not miraculously get better overnight
This is especially important if you are in the depths of a mental illness – recovery is a gradual process that can take months or years. Patience is key. It’s natural to want to feel completely different in a matter of days but this is probably not going to happen. The best thing you can do is to keep working at your mental health every day whilst being kind to yourself and understanding that it is a slow process which could take a frustratingly long time.
- Your grades aren’t everything
Again, I learnt this the hard way. When I was in school, I put so much pressure on myself to get the best grades possible, whilst sacrificing my mental health. By the time I went to uni, I’d lessened the pressure significantly, but I still had periods of getting so worked up about grades. Although certain grades can help get you to where you want to be, your life won’t end if you don’t get them. It is so important that your mental and physical health come first before anything else. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure you balance your life – spend time with friends and family, do things you enjoy, get enough sleep and don’t work yourself to the ground. By my third year of university I was so chilled out – I honestly don’t remember getting stressed at all that year whereas all my friends around me were crumbling. And this is because I realised I had to prioritse other things over grades and that although I worked hard, I ensured that I was happy and healthy first and foremost.
- So many things will change once you love yourself
This is a BIG lesson that I have learnt. I went from hating myself – really, truly hating everything about myself – to actually loving myself and being kind to myself. Again, it didn’t happen overnight and it took a lot of revisiting why I’d got to the point of hating myself, which wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. Once I started loving myself, I was just so much happier in general, more confident, and I found it easier to have healthy relationships. Honestly self love has changed my life.
- You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings
This is still something I struggle with sometimes but I’m learning that I can’t live my life exclusively trying to please everyone and I can’t fix everyone else’s problems. This was a difficult lesson for me because I’m naturally compassionate and caring; I would fix everyone’s problems if it were possible before I even considered my own. But learning that this is not my responsibility, and that sometimes I am going to upset or hurt people, and that’s just part of life, was really freeing for me. Obviously I try not to upset people but I spend a lot less time trying to make sure everyone around me is happy all of the time.
- It really is the little things that matter
I know this is a bit of a cliche but it’s a cliche because it’s true! The past couple of years I have found a deep appreciation for the little things in life – such as enjoying a coffee in bed on a Sunday morning, or getting enough sleep, or the sun shining. Once you start being grateful for all these little things that we can easily take for granted, you will start noticing more and more things to be grateful for. It really fills me with a warm gratitude as I realise how lucky I am.
- It’s okay to be sad (or angry/irritable/jealous/guilty etc)
We are often taught to fight certain emotions – sadness, anger, etc. ‘Think positively, calm down, look on the bright side…’. Whilst I am all for positivity and seeing the good in things, IT IS OKAY TO FEEL THESE EMOTIONS. In fact, it is not only okay, it is perfectly healthy and normal. What is not okay, is teaching people that certain emotions are ‘bad’ which leads to repression of feelings or guilt for feeling a certain way. Sometimes I have days where I just feel irritable and annoyed (we all do). I used to feel so bad about feeling this way. I used to think ‘I don’t get why I’m so annoyed. What’s wrong with me? I should be fine’, I would beat myself up for how I feel. Which is not helpful. If you feel a certain emotion, let yourself feel it. It’s okay.
- Limit your social media usage, you will thank yourself
For me, this has largely been in the form of staying away from Instagram (which I talk more about in this blog post) but you don’t have to come off any social media platforms if you don’t want to. Personally, though, I think it’s good to watch how much time you are spending on social media and try to reduce it. Social media can make us feel angry, sad, jealous and bad about ourselves when we really don’t need to. Despite social media aiming to connect us (which it undoubtedly still can!), it can make us feel further apart than ever. Take a break for a day or so and see how you feel.
- Treat yourself like a friend
This links a lot to my journey to self love. I find this useful especially when I find myself being mean to myself and that critical voice in my head pipes up. Try to challenge it, and speak to yourself as you would a friend if they were in your position. You can practice this any time and it might feel a bit uncomfortable at first but it gets a lot easier. If you are doing this for the first time, I’d recommend writing out in a journal or piece of paper the things you would normally say to yourself, and then write what you would say to a friend who had come to you for feeling the same way. This is a very effective way of seeing quite how horrible you can be to yourself. The more you treat yourself like you would a friend, the easier you will find loving yourself.
- It’s okay to just be
I am one of those people who always needs to be doing something, or if I have something I need to be done I find it so difficult to not do it straight away. But sometimes it’s important to just do ‘nothing’ – this could mean literally just sitting on the sofa day dreaming, or having a nap, or watching rubbish on TV. I think we are taught that this is time ‘wasted’ (whatever that means) but learning that it is okay to just exist has made my life so much easier and makes me a lot kinder to myself. If you want some more advice on taking rests, I spoke about it on this blog post.
I hope you enjoyed my humble life lessons. I think it’s really important to reflect on how far you have come and what you have learnt. It does make all the hard days seem worth it, as you realise how much they have taught you and how much you have grown.
I would love to hear anyone else’s life lessons in the comments section!