As I celebrate my 22nd birthday here in London, I can’t help but think about where I was this time last year. I was comfortable with the year and a half cushion between me and the real world of post-graduation, living in Tacoma provided me with a consistent routine, and studying in London was a daydream months away from becoming reality. If someone had sat me down then and told me everything I would do, everything I would see, and everywhere I would go during my 21st year, I would have laughed at their storytelling abilities. But for me, this truly has been a year full of experience and adventure. So I have come up with a list of the 5 most important things I’ve learned since turning 21, knowing that, even though this chapter in my life is coming to a close, I still have many more obstacles to overcome and victories to gain. But for now, I’ll just keep dancing like I’m 22.
1. Take a chance.
As a writer, I love having new experiences because they inspire me, and I love learning new things that end up seeping into my stories. But I think, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been as open to trying new things. I knew what I liked and that was that. But there are so many things I never would have done in the past year had I said no when the opportunity arose. I never would have learned how to snowboard. Or taken a roadtrip to Canada. Or ran two 5k’s. Or studied abroad and backpacked through Europe. Or countless other things that have taught me about life and about myself. I think people say no to new experiences because they are afraid of the unknown – what if I fail? What if I look horrendously stupid? What if my car gets broken into and all of my stuff gets stolen? (Which is a valid fear.) I probably was able to start saying yes, though, because I stopped caring what people think about me because I was able to gain some much needed self-confidence.
2. Love yourself and be confident.
I’m awesome. No, that’s not arrogance. That’s confidence. Because I know I make mistakes and I let people down sometimes. I have a short temper and zero patience and if I don’t want to do something, I won’t do it until the last possible minute. But I love who I am. I don’t understand why a person would be willing to live in a world where they don’t love themselves. You’re stuck with yourself for a lifetime – that’s worse than being married to someone you don’t love, so why tolerate it? When I recognize a part of myself I don’t like, I strive to change it because I want to be the best I can be, and that’s not going to happen if I’m hating who I am. Once you love yourself, you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. And once you realize that, you will be confident enough to accomplish anything. (Or confident enough to fail terribly, but smiling boldly as you fail before picking yourself up and trying again.) That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned this year, I think. Be confident in who you are and what you believe in.
3. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it.
Do you ever have a moment where you think back to something you did a week ago, a month ago, years ago, and you just cringe? “God, why did I do that? What was I thinking? Of all the things I could have said, I said that.” I have those moments on a regular basis. But the thing is, if I had to go back and redo this year over again, there is only one thing I would’ve done differently. One regret in a year full of mistakes and awkward situations. Every single choice I made, good or bad, led me to where I am today, and I would have learned a lot less. If I had turned the lights off in my truck and the battery hadn’t died, I would have gotten to work on time that morning, but I wouldn’t have learned how to jump start a car. If I had maybe one or two drinks less some nights, I wouldn’t have had a headache in the morning, but I wouldn’t have gone on some pretty unbelievable adventures (that my friends and I still laugh about). You can’t change your past; it’s always going to be part of you. It’s how you handle the mistakes of your past that matters.
4. People suck. But that’s okay because people are also wonderful.
Don’t deny it. People can be awful sometimes. Like when you’re holding onto a handlebar while on the Tube and someone coughs directly onto your hand. Or when a professor still doesn’t know your name after a semester of seeing you every day. But especially when someone breaks into your house and steals everything expensive you own, or into your car and steals stuff that is useless to them but valuable to you. Those are the times when I want to run away to a mountain and live like a hermit so that I don’t have to deal with the crowds of crazies. How am I supposed to trust people after experiencing that kind of stuff? But the thing is…I also love people. We are such interesting creatures, and living in London, I’ve learned how necessary it is to have some sort of interaction with people. I’ve tried to figure some of them out, but it is impossible to come to any sort of conclusion because nobody is good or bad. We are a mix of all of these different traits and our minds are so unique in how we process things and see the world. So I don’t place blame on someone for breaking my heart or for spreading gossip. I was really hit hard with this lesson this year, but I think it’s taught me to take more responsibility for my actions. Blaming people will do absolutely nothing for you, and it only prevents you from finding peace. So you have to find the good in people, because when you see the good, you’ll find that you are spending your time with some amazing people.
5. Let go.
There have been two times this year that I’ve understood how important it is to let go, of the past, of your worries, of the negativity. Once was while I was hiking in Pack Forest in Eatonville this last summer and the other was when I was standing at Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester. Most of the time, I have doubts and plans and questions bouncing around in my head, but in both of those places, those voices went quiet. The thing about Pack Forest is that it is not as well known, so I rarely run into anyone there. It’s like I’m wandering around an empty forest, and I think that forces me to hear and see and feel instead of think. The earth’s floor seems to just absorb all of my troubles. And then in Winchester, I knew it was going to be a big deal seeing Jane’s grave. All of the miscellaneous drama that was flitting through my mind died that day because at that moment, I recognized that a lot of what I was worrying about was useless. I knew that my goal was to be a professional writer, and I needed to separate the things that would get me to that goal and the things that would keep me from my goal, and then I needed to let go of the second category. Letting go is always the scariest part of any process. It’s going back to the idea of fearing the unknown. But I think the future is always going to be better than the past. We romanticize the past and think it was better than it actually was. But the future…it holds so much more than we could possibly imagine. New lessons. New experiences. New people. New places. New love. New adventures.