Today I am 18. An official adult, according to society. I can now buy lottery tickets and cigarettes and get tattoos and piercings without permission. I’m not particularly excited about any of that but the one thing that’s got me REALLY excited? I get to vote in November! Honestly, I am so, so happy my 18th birthday falls before the election because I’m so excited to vote. (And if you’re traveling during the election, please read Nomadic Matt’s post on how to vote abroad. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!)
Voting aside, I am ridiculously happy to officially be an adult, even though everyone keeps telling me that by next week I’ll be wishing I was still a kid or that it’s really not as exciting as it is in my head. I suppose it’s an independence thing, really – I like to be independent and in control of my decisions and for the first time, I really can do what I want, when I want to, without needing prior approval.
In the days leading up to my official entrance to adulthood, I’ve been reflecting on my teenagehood/childhood and trying to come up with some interesting lessons I’ve learned.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I really don’t know much at all about life.
But that’s okay, I think, because otherwise, what would be the point of the rest of my life if I had it all figured out now?
Even so, I like to think I’ve learned some things in the past 18 years, so here are my
18 15 lessons.
18 15 Lessons in 18 Years
1. Politics will stress you out. This just happened to be the year where I both became super-interested in politics and began to actively follow and participate, as well as the year that I decided that politics were a waste of time and I was absolutely done. It’s important to be knowledgeable about your options and who is running for office to make an educated vote but that doesn’t mean you have to read every political article ever written or debate with everyone.
This is how I feel after reading too many political things.
(Photo Credit: AnxietySlayer.com)
2. You have a voice – use it. If you believe in something, stand up for it. Use your voice. This goes for politics and everything else. There are many issues I feel strongly about (like equality) and I’m no longer afraid to stand up for the things I believe in, even if the people around me don’t agree. If you don’t use your voice, nothing will ever change.
3. Travel is important. I learned this lesson two years ago when I traveled abroad for the first time. It makes me sad that so many people never leave their state, let alone the country. There is a big world out there waiting to be experienced and taking your head out of the sand to see other places for what they really are is so important.
4. People change. Your friends will change, your enemies will change, and you will change. More importantly, the way you see others will change too.
I am no longer the scared girl I was two years ago, the first time I traveled to Guatemala.
5. The small things matter. Smiles and kind gestures make a bigger difference than you think. If you tell someone you’re going to do something, do it, no matter how trivial it seems. And if there’s something you can do to make someone’s day a little better, do it.
6. Listening is the most important skill you can learn. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut your mouth and listen. Listen to what people are really saying and you’d be surprised at what you’ll learn. Often, we speak too much and listen too little.
7. There is more good than bad in the world. The media loves to paint a picture of all the bad things in the world yet never really spend time on the good. People thrive on fear and often let it rule their lives. But, in reality, the good far outweighs the bad. You are most likely not going to die if you step foot outside your country and you’d be surprised at all the good things you’ll f ind.
8. Be kind to strangers. This is especially true when you’re traveling but should always be a general rule. You never know when a smile is going to make someone’s day or when someone is going to help you out later. I like to think of strangers as friends I haven’t met yet.
All of my friends in Guatemala and I started out as strangers.
9. Most of what you learn in high school is pointless. High school isn’t a COMPLETE waste of time but half of what you learn is useless. Three months after graduating high school, I can’t remember half of the stuff my teachers tried to convince me I absolutely *needed* to know and you know what? I’m functioning completely fine without it. High school spends way too much time teaching you things you’re going to forget in five days and not enough time teaching you about the real world.
10. Not everyone who should support you will. This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. There are certain people who you just expect to support you and even though they should, they probably won’t. This becomes even more true when you go against societal norms. It sucks sometimes, sure, but in the end, if you’re firm in what you want, you’ll end up even stronger for supporting yourself.
11. Crave knowledge. Knowledge is important, even if the things you learn in high school aren’t. Seek out new things, ideas, and opportunities. Learn about things that interest you, even if it seems the only place that knowledge will be useful is on Jeopardy.
12. Real friends do exist. The world is full of back-stabbers, liars, and people who are only your friend when it’s convenient or they want something. This is only amplified in high school, where everyone is trying to find their place. However, the real friends, the ones that truly have your back, really do exist. You just have to put up with a bunch of not-so-great “friendships” to find the real ones, sometimes.
I never found my two best friends until half way through my senior year, while traveling abroad.
13. It’s possible to have fun without drugs and alcohol. Confession time – I made it through high school without ever touching any drugs or alcohol. And yet, somehow, I managed to have an absolute blast. Despite the idea society likes to present, you can absolutely have the time of your life without getting drunk or high.
14. Being different doesn’t make you better. Everyone is always telling everyone else to be different and stand out from the crowd and I am a total supporter of doing your own thing, even if it’s not what others are doing. But so many times people equate being different with being better. Just because you’re not making the same choices as someone else does not a better person that deserves special treatment.
15. Breathe. This is perhaps the most important lesson. When things get stressful, remember to breathe. This is something I often forget when I’m upset or stressed and have a thousand things to do. But taking a break and breathing, sometimes that just makes it all a little better.