When I was thirteen, none of my friends went with me to get a special birthday-pizza for lunch. I sat outside my school steps and ate my pepperoni slice and cried a little. For my 21st birthday I returned from a 10-day trip around England, Wales, and Scotland, bought myself my favorite sandwich, and listened to my favorite music while reading birthday emails and Facebook posts. I cried happy tears because even though several of my close friends and my family are an entire ocean away, I'm happy, and--most of all--content.
I'm celebrating my big 21st in a country where the legal drinking age is 18, and I don't even drink anyways, so instead I'll impart a bit of wisdom earned from the ups and downs of my last 21 years.
1. Life is too short to hold grudges
It takes so much energy to be mad at someone. It's not just a matter of picking your battles, but asking yourself, "How much time to I want to spend thinking about/being annoyed at/hating this person? Is it worth it?"
2. It is so important for women and girls to empower each other
We are all so different, and difference is beautiful. I want to make others feel beautiful and happy the same way I would want to feel beautiful and happy.
3. It's easier to remember your failures but more fun to remember your successes
Not every failure has to be a massive letdown, but if you celebrate every success, even the smallest ones, you'll find that you're much more ready to take risks, to live life, and to weather change.
4. Too many chips on your shoulder eventually keep you from moving forward
Heaven knows I've been through some stuff. I've carried plenty of baggage and I still do, but you can't let past mistakes, hurt, and trials define who you are going to be in the future. You're learning and growing and changing every day, and you have more power over your life than you think.
5. Makeup is an art, but first you have to take care of your skin
It took years of acne, Proactiv treatments, and ultimately a really good-smelling cleanser to realize that taking care of my skin could be a joy, not a burden. Around the same time I also learned more makeup tips and tricks, so I have a whole look. And somehow, I learned to love my skin, with our without makeup. Show your face a little love, and it will work wonders for your skin and your confidence.
6. Listen to the music you want
Listen to songs that make you happy. To songs that you want to share with people. Songs that make you want to power-walk your way through life. Songs that make you cry or laugh or even songs you love but are so weird that you know no one else will love them. Music is a gift to this world and there is so much out there just waiting for you to fall in love with it.
7. It's okay to just have faith sometimes
Not everything needs a rational explanation. You can compartmentalize, separate God and religion and spirituality and cultural practice and people and philosophize about the universe any way you like. Sometimes you can even talk about bigger-than-us things with another person, and that person doesn't have to have the same beliefs as you. But at the end of the day, as long as you have love in your heart, love to give to others, and a little faith, you'll be okay.
8. I can't solve all the world's problems
Although I do believe that everyone took more effort to understand and empathize with another, the world would be a better place. I can't solve all the world's problems, but I respect all the people that try.
9. I like going to bed before 10pm
I love late-night conversations and staying up to read a good book, but I love waking up the next morning feeling ready to conquer the day. I'd rather go to sleep early and wake up the next day feeling good than go to sleep late, sleep in, but still feel a little gross. I don't have to stay up until 2am to enjoy my life.
10. It's hard to constantly worry about what other people think of you
I'm a people-pleaser. If I were a character in a book, my Fatal Flaw would be that I care too much about what people think of me. But I've learned that a) people are so busy worrying about what you think of them, and b) trying to please everyone is impossible. Don't turn yourself inside-out trying to become what someone else wants you to be. Be who you want you to be.
11. Gender roles are gross
I have a lot of feelings on socio-political issues, but I will always be here to talk about the awfulness of gender roles. You should be able to dress and act and do things you want to do in a way that makes you feel good about yourself.
12. Never feel obligated to love someone
Your love is a gift that anyone would be lucky to have. No person is automatically entitled for you to love them. Not even your friends and family are entitled to your love like a payment. You can control who you let into your heart and your life, so make sure the people you do let in are worthy of your love.
13. If you're going to spend money, spend it on things that you love and that will last
It's not necessarily a quantity-over-quality thing. If you decide to fork over hard-earned money on something nonessential, make sure you really love it, and if you do, that it will stick with you for a while, even if it's in memory.
14. Spend time by yourself outside of your room
I love my me-time as much as I love hanging out with my friends. But when you give yourself some much-needed down-time, don't spend all of it in your room. Get some fresh air, take a walk, and give yourself some physical as well as emotional space.
15. Learn how to take a good photo
Oh, I still can't pose for my life, but the world is beautiful and so are the people in it. Photography is a great way to capture beauty and your memories of it, so even if you're not a professional photographer or an Instagram guru, you'll soon find that you're seeing things differently.
16. Your opinions and your health are valid
There have been many times where I felt like someone else's opinion weighed more than mine, so I made myself smaller to make room for them. Don't do that. I've also ignored warning signs of my body until I ended up in the ER. Don't do that, either. Listen to yourself and your body. You know you the best.
17. Don't criticize something that someone is passionate about
If your friend is into some slightly out-there hobbies, teasing can be expected. Friends tease each other and poke fun, but don't belittle the thing that someone genuinely enjoys and gets happiness out of. If your friend cares about something, they will want you to care about it, too, so don't go too far.
18. Don't go to see movies you really don't want to see
Especially if you're paying $15 for a ticket. There are better things to do than see a bad movie. But you could be going on a date, a friend could be taking you to the film, or you might see it and be surprised. But if you're not truly sold, just wait until it comes out on Netflix to see it. Life's too short.
19. Sometimes life kind of sucks
You could be in a funk for no reason. You could be upset with political scandals or the way the world is going. As hard as it is to let go and of yours or the world's burdens, sometimes it's important to take a deep breath, take a nap, and try to understand that sometimes life just sucks. It's not good or just, it just is. Then after your nap you can figure out where to go from that point.
20. You do not have to like the same things as other people
As long as you listen to what others have to say and take confidence in that your tastes and interests are unique and valued, you'll be okay.
21. Hard work pays off...but not always in the way you expect
If you work hard, sometimes you'll be rewarded with a good great or an internship or a thank you. But it takes time--you won't always get immediate gratification, or even what you were looking for. You might get a different opportunity than you expected, you might find yourself a little bit older and wiser than you were before.