21 Candles and Even More Lessons
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21 Candles and Even More Lessons

Here's to the best of times and the worst times, and the year that was both.

21 Candles and Even More Lessons

Every year, I like to post an article around the time of my birthday. I take this time to reflect. I like taking account of my thoughts and trying to focus on what I learned within the past year, what I wanted, what hurt, what was great. I believe there is value in self-reflection. There is strength in self-awareness. Though this article is coming later than anticipated, I still wanted to lay it all out there.

Last year was, in the words of Tale of Two Cities, "the best of times and the worst of times". I began the year living in my sorority house comforted by the crowded community bathrooms. I loved having a house full of people to eat meals with, talk to, and spend time with. However, the problem with a house of 70 girls is that it's a house of 70 girls. For a place that was always so full, there were times of feeling empty. I quickly learned the value in a community and the disappointment of fun-sized friendships.

I learned a lot about friendships. I learned that some are worth treasuring and holding on to at all costs. These are the people who uber to you at 3am when you're at your lowest and spend the night on the sorority house couch to make sure you're okay. These are the people who you can go weeks or even months without seeing and still knowing nothing will change. These are the people that touch your lives in ways they don't even realize. I learned to not take these people for granted. I learned that some relationships are worth mending and fostering. Some apologies need to be said and others need to be received. The right people will understand the value and humility of both. Some people are worth the awkwardness, the work, the rawness, the transparency. Sometimes, we need to put ourselves aside and focus on our relationships more than the circumstances. I also learned some friendships aren't. Not everyone is worthy of your time and energy and heart. Some friendships are simply fun-sized. They're only around for the good times. They'll never fill you up and keep you feeling empty. I learned that it is okay to let people go. That not everyone needs to be in your life, nor should they be. It was in a time of hurt and loneliness, I found that you can never find the right things in the wrong people. I learned that sometimes silence speaks the loudest and not doing anything at all is an action in itself.

I learned that it's okay to drop the ball, but you have to know which ones are glass and which ones are rubber. I dropped some glass balls. I watched things fall apart and make a huge mess. However, I learned that it is okay to not have it all together all the time. You can mess up and still be okay. I learned the art of making mistakes. I learned that you can forget to check your email or show up late to a zoom call, or miss a homework assignment, and things will still be okay. The world will not crash and burn. The world is not always against us. I think most of us forget that sometimes the worst days are only 24 hours. I think we lose track of ourselves while trying to keep up with everything else. I think sometimes we get so caught up in every mistake that we forget that they are just that... mistakes, and mistakes happen.

I learned about the little luxuries. With such big events and huge life changes, we fail to notice the little things. I have tried to appreciate these tiny treasures especially in a pandemic where bigger things are falling apart. I love the smell of a brand new candle. I have a weird fascination with the scent of burnt olive oil after teaching myself a new recipe. I've learned to appreciate things like someone thinking of me and inviting me over even if it's just to talk on their couch while watching TV. The little things that show you someone is missing you. I love the small things; a new shampoo you can't wait to get home and try, an appetizer you ordered that you can't wait to come out of the kitchen, the friends that make the small moments feel so special. We need to start romanticizing our lives. This is the only time you will be exactly where you are now, so enjoy it. Focus on what you love. Take up random hobbies just because you have the free time. This time in my life taught me to appreciate the little things more than ever. When you're so focused on what could've gone differently or what should've been or what could be, you'll lose track of things that matter now, and by then, it's too late.

I learned that sometimes you'll go on spring break and come home to an international pandemic. You can go from living four to a room going out to crowded bars to standing in a depressing grocery store line with a mask on and hand-sanitizer bottle in your bag. Sometimes you look around and it's like everything changed overnight. Usually, it doesn't happen as quickly as a pandemic, but sometimes you wake up unaware of how different everything feels. I had a lot of moments like that this past year- where I woke up having no idea how so much changed so quickly terrified of what's to happen next. From being kicked out of my sorority house for a pandemic to moving in with complete strangers to waking up one day without the friends I had wanted so bad, everything changes. Looking back about the ways things used to be puts a rock in my stomach the size of a boulder. But that's life. Things change- often for the better if you're patient enough. People change. Sometimes you'll go on spring break and come home to an international pandemic.

I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is the next right thing. When things go poorly, your dishes still need to be done. Even amongst a breakdown, you still have to submit your outline. When you get bad news or are at your lowest low, you still have to make dinner. Sometimes all you can do is the next right thing- even if it's small, even if it seems minuscule, even if you don't want to, sometimes we have to focus on one small step at a time to get to where we want to be. In times of chaos, sometimes you can only do your best, and most of the time, that's enough. That's just enough to get you to the next step and so on.

I learned people aren't thinking about you as much as you think they are. If you do something embarrassing, no one is still talking about it. If someone doesn't text you back, it is most likely unintentional. Your teacher is not examining your paper judging you for submitting it right before midnight. The guy you met in a line outside of a bar and unfollowed you did not mean it personally. No one remembers what you wore out or that someone spilled their drink on your shirt. People aren't sitting around talking about how you don't act like you used to. No one remembers that one awkward thing you said. No one is checking your Instagram pictures for artificially whitened teeth or comparing how many likes you got vs. your last picture. People don't care as much as you think.

This moment is not every moment. Bad things happen. But they don't always. The way you feel at your lowest will go away. You will still wake up the next day and pick up groceries and register for classes and call your mom. The way you feel is never how you will forever. The world is not always against you. Good things will still happen, and they will still happen to you. The worst days are only 24 hours. You will take the test, and then it will be over and out of your hands forever. That job interview will give you a response, and you will move onto the next move. You will miss an assignment and turn in the next one. Travesties are temporary. Stop torturing yourself trying to convince yourself they aren't.

Your feelings are always valid, but that doesn't mean your actions always are. Your emotions and reactions and the way you feel is valid and real, and no one should try to tell you you're feelings are ever incorrect because they are yours. You can be upset about whatever you want to. You can sob when it's cold and have the best day ever when your coffee is made just right. You decide what is important and how you feel about it. Don't let people gaslight you out of yourself.

Your loudest problems become background noise. No matter how terrible something is, tomorrow it will hurt a little less and in a month even less than that. There will be times where it sucks but those will become farther and far between. And one day, you'll wake up and realize you don't think of it at all, and the thing that was so big at the time and just a distant thought.

I still have a long ways to go. I still have things to work on. There are things I did not touch on that I learned. The first being that cheese is more expensive than I had thought and bread goes bad quickly. This has been a year of lessons and learning from each of them. Some of the best times and best people have come out of the year I assumed to be the worst. Fickle, Tara

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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