24 things I’ve learned in my 24 years
Today’s my 24th birthday, and it’s sort of crazy, because I still feel like I’m 17. In a lot of ways, I like getting older, even if it does scare me. As I look back on my life, I like knowing how far I’ve come and what adventures I have left. Like anyone, getting older comes with a whole lot of self-reflection, some regret, some pride, some fear, and a great big amount of soul-searching. Here’s what I’ve learned in 24 years.
1. Your parents were usually right
Yep—getting older, you gain hella perspective, and you realize that 90% of what your parents said and did was totally right. One of the freakiest parts of getting older is losing most of that rebelliousness you held so dear a couple of years ago.
2. You know you’re getting older when you feel protective of teenagers
I tutor a 13-year-old girl with a huge heart, intelligence, curiosity, and ambition. I didn’t realize how much I’d grown up until I felt like I wanted to advise her on her life, provide guidance, and shield her from everything that she’ll face as a teenager and later in life. I almost felt like a parent to her, and that’s when I realized I’m a much different person than I was at 17, when I was little more than a child. I had a Dumbledore moment, when I felt wise and old.
3. Feeling ashamed about your wants and interests is a waste
I used to qualify my interests with “I’m a dork, though” or “It’s a guilty pleasure,” until I realized there’s nothing wrong with what I do and the choices I make, whether they’re responsible or too reckless. Being afraid of judgment is a waste of the person I am.
4. Learn how to make yourself happy
In my 24 years, I’ve learned how to treat myself, and how to support myself when things go wrong. I know that a little time alone is the best cure for when life gets too hard. I know what I need, and I give it to myself.
5. Family and friends trump everything else
Truly. Set ambition or pride aside, and make time for those who truly matter.
6. Financial freedom is a necessity
I’ve learned it’s okay to splurge on something you really want as a treat, but learning how to be an adult means actually figuring out retirement, and when to stop shopping. You just have to have discipline.
7. Grow your passions
Don’t just work. Even if you hate your job, find time to do what you love, because that’s a priority, too! Again, make yourself happy.
8. Fairy tales will NEVER get old
Take it from someone who has, like, 3 copies of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales and who still adores Ella Enchanted. Fairy tales will never get old! Our obsession with Disney princesses proves this. Sometimes, it’s good to believe in your own brand of happily ever after.
9. Be constantly in dialogue with your younger self
Know where you’ve come from. I like to read my old journals and remember who I used to be, and I like to keep current journals so I can get to know myself better, take care of myself, and learn how to be happy. It teaches me to be nice to my 7-year-old inner child, and act like a child myself sometimes.
10. Letting go of old friends isn’t always sad
Part of growing up, I’ve realized, is figuring out who’s worth keeping in your life. There just isn’t as much time when you’re an adult to have packs and packs of friends, and losing touch with some only make you realize the caliber of friends you want to keep. Some friends aren’t meant to be BFF. And that doesn’t have to be sad.
11. Get excited about small things
These are the things I get excited about on a regular, boring ol’ work day: seeing the light shining through my window in the morning, watching milk spread through my coffee, cozy socks, listening to my favorite new song on the highest possible volume, flowers, leaves changing, a coffee break, a new episode of a show, when your best friend texts you—the list is endless. Take pleasure in those things.
12. Vacation is a state of mind
Everyone needs vacations, but there are ways to get yourself in that mindset without going anywhere. Take a long walk after work, try a new restaurant, photograph the things you see, try a new class or hobby.
13. Make a fool of yourself
When you’re a kid, making a fool of yourself is a big no-no, because your high school or college peers may make fun of you. Part of what I’ve realized as an adult is to learn how to be comfortable with looking like a fool, because literally no one is cool all the time. Don’t take yourself so seriously, and you’ll have much, much more fun.
14. Take care of yourself first
This doesn’t mean being overly selfish or greedy; it just means learning how to make sure your own desires and needs are met, so that you can take care of and love others. Sacrificing your happiness for other people who wouldn’t do that for you is unhealthy behavior, and there isn’t time for that as an adult. Love those who love you back the same way.
15. Set goals and meet them
Make lists! I do this SO MUCH. Life is too short not to make lists of what you want to accomplish in this fab life of yours, and to get down to business…to defeat the Huns…
16. Forgive yourself if you don’t
Then again, if you miss a deadline or have a meltdown or whatever, it’s okay. Life will go on. All you can do is try again, forgive yourself, and move on.
17. Be honest
Nothing is more important than how you treat other people. Growing up has made me less selfish and more compassionate. Your actions have a lot more weight than when you’re young and still figuring out who you are. Getting older, you learn your actions have bigger consequences.
18. Be kind
Being kind is a learned behavior, I’ve found, but the more you flex that muscle, the more you’ll learn that you get kindness back when you give it. It’s sharing happiness.
19. Self-pity is a heck of an enemy
Self-pity is utterly crippling, and it’s been my enemy for a good portion of my adult life. It’s hard to get rid of it, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Laughing helps. Learning how to keep yourself from succumbing to the beast of self-pity is a huge weapon in your adulting arsenal.
20. Social media blackout days are good for the soul
Take a day once a week and limit your social media use! You really don’t need to be a slave to the cell phone, and your brain will thank you for it. It just slows everything down and puts things into sharper focus. Be in the moment.
21. You’ll never stop learning
Think that learning stops with college or grad school? Think again! We do so much learning when we enter the real world, and learn what it’s like to do things on our own, without someone telling us what to do. Once you stop learning, you truly stop growing.
22. You’ll never get everything right
The sooner I realized it, the sooner I stopped worrying about being perfect, and I was able to live my life a little bit more freely.
23. Anxiety about the future is totally normal
Even if you’ve got your “ducks in a row” and have done everything like “you’re supposed to” (as if there were a correct timeline, which there totally isn’t!), no one is immune to this terrifying feeling of getting older. We’re mortal—we feel things. I’ve learned it’s okay to feel it, because it gets easier to deal with.
24. Say “I love you” all the time
Tell those you love that you love them. People need to hear it.
(Photo via RKO Radio Pictures)