On February 25th, I turned 19 and my mom reminded me that this was my last year as a teenager, which sent me into a spiral of panic and fear. Over the past few months, I've learned that life is hard and being an adult human being is no walk in the park. I'm still learning to navigate this complicated world with a fragile heart that by some miracle still keeps beating. But I've learned so much about myself and about other people. So here are a few tidbits of wisdom.
1. Turn Your Heartbreak Into Art
I took a creative writing class last semester and really got into writing poetry or short stories. It gave me so much joy to take all the awful emotions I was feeling as a freshman in college adjusting to life away from home, all the sadness and fear and anxiety and loneliness, and turn it into art that other people could read and enjoy and relate to. I think there's so much power in vulnerability and being honest with the entire world about your emotions. The first Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering, and while this seemed pessimistic to me as a kid, I totally understand what the Buddha was saying at this point in my life. Life can be really difficult and we all have emotional struggles and I've found writing to be a great way to harness this pain and create something good, or in other words, to take lemons and make lemonade.
2. Self-Love is the Best Love
I think I've always struggled with a persistent feeling of loneliness. In kindergarten, I didn't have any friends. Even throughout elementary school, middle school, and high school, I was never popular. And I think this has led me to look for validation in other people, to seek other people's approval. As a hopeless romantic, I also started to believe that if I had a boyfriend, then everything in life would be perfect and I would always be happy. But this obviously isn't true, and I've recently learned how to embrace being single and not look for happiness outside of myself. I've learned to find happiness inside myself and be comfortable being alone. I've learned that to address my deep-rooted insecurities, I have to love myself, especially on the darkest days. Because in the words of Ru Paul, "If you don't love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?"
3. Treat People How They Want to Be Treated
This has been one of the hardest things to accept. I'm the kind of person who has a big heart and wants to be really close with my friends and shower them with love, but different people have different love languages and ways of being in a friendship. Some people aren't as comfortable opening up as I am. Some people feel uncomfortable when they're complimented. We're all human and we all have our own weird quirks. But we all deserve to have our interests respected by those around us. So I've struggled to accept that and learn how to accommodate other people's wishes instead of narrowly focusing on my own.
4. Rejection Isn't the End of the World
This has really been an important one for me. In college, I've dealt with my fair share of rejection, romantic and otherwise. I've had guys tell me I'm not their type. I've applied for positions I didn't get. And too often, I let these disappointments drag me down. I've wallowed in self-pity instead of picking myself up and moving on. I think rejection hurts me so much because it just reinforces my own ingrained feelings of inadequacy. But failure is a necessary and unavoidable aspect of life. And I have to have faith that I am enough, and that I will achieve my personal and professional goals. If other people can't recognize how amazing I am, that is their loss.
5. Appreciate Your Parents
It took me forever to realize how lucky I am to have two parents who love and support me. As a kid, I was honestly ungrateful. My mom can be kind of harsh and I grew up thinking that she was just mean and questioning whether she really loved me. I thought my parents were just doing the bare minimum. But now I realize that my parents have dedicated their entire lives to making sure my sister and I are able to succeed. They have changed my diapers, driven me to school, packed my lunches, bought all the books and music I ever wanted and paid for my college tuition. They have done everything they can to help me achieve my dreams. I recognize now that my mom showed her love for me through acts of service, through dedicating all the time and energy she did as a stay-at-home mom. There were pieces of her love in every pair of shorts folded, every meal cooked and I was too dumb to realize that as a kid. So mom, I LOVE YOU, even though I frequently forget to call home on the weekends.
6. Always Make Time to Read
As a kid I always had my nose in a book. I was super into fantasy novels, like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. As a teenager, I started reading more nonfiction, public policy books and political memoirs. I believe that reading is so important for expanding our minds and our moral imagination. Nonfiction books tell us more about the world we live in. And novels remind us that we are not alone in this cruel world and that every emotion we feel has been felt before, my many people. In college, I haven't been reading for pleasure as much as I've wanted because I've been so busy, but I'm working on it. Books truly are one of the best weapons against ignorance. And to reference Mark Twain, I'm trying not to let my schooling interfere with my education.
7. There's Nothing Wrong with Having Sad Boy Hours
I think we grow up expecting to be happy all the time, which brings us a lot of unnecessary pain. No one is happy all the time, and I think it's really fake when people act like they are. And I think that sadness is a really important emotion to have. Sadness is the feeling that gives happiness meaning. Both happiness and sadness are integral parts of our emotional life and I think we should embrace both. When I'm sad, I like to go on monument walks and cry while listening to Ed Sheeran. I think everyone should try to set aside time to be sad and to let these emotions out, whatever way you want to.
8. Be Proud of Who You Are
In elementary school, I wanted to be white. In middle school, I wanted to be straight. Throughout my childhood, I wanted to be normal; but being "normal" is so overrated. I want to live in a world where people are free to be their authentic selves. Now, I wear nail polish because I think it looks cute and I don't adhere to restrictive gender norms. I think it's really beautiful and amazing to be weird or different. At 19, I am out and proud of my heritage and embracing all the multitudes within me. I am the son of immigrants from Sri Lanka. I am my parents' American Dream. I am a queer brown boy from Little Rock, Arkansas chasing my dreams in Washington DC. So wear what you want to wear, love who you want to love, live your life the way you please and if other people don't like that, that's their problem. Don't follow the beaten path. Take the path less traveled. Be innovative and creative. Think outside the box, color outside the lines. Be unique. Be yourself!
9. Don't Let Fear Hold You Back
This is something I'm still struggling with a lot. I feel like too often, I let fear and doubt stop me from doing the things I want to do. Sometimes, I've had to force myself to go to a club meeting where I don't know anyone. I've had to gather up all the courage within me to start talking to a stranger or raise my hand in class. I've had a hard time speaking in front of the whole class in discussions. I've been afraid to draw attention to myself or to say something dumb and embarrass myself. I'm still learning how to find my voice, how to speak up even if my voice shakes. It's a work in progress. There's a Florence + the Machine lyric I really love- "Don't make the mountain your enemy/ Get up, get up there instead". It's freaking hard. But I'm trying.