Significant yet random life lessons from the last 21 years (in no particular order)
1. It’s ok to take up space- I’ve spent most of my life trying to be as small as possible, to make other people comfortable by doing nothing that might disappoint them. Keep yourself small and you won’t annoy/offend/disappoint anyone. Don’t speak up or talk back. I became a girl with no substance. But I’ve learnt that I’m important too and that I’m allowed to take up space and speak my truths. If someone does something that upsets me I’ll say something. If people take advantage, I’ll stand up for myself. It’s okay to take up space.
2. Use your voice – I have quite a good lot in life really. I’ve learnt that it’s important to talk about the stuff that matters instead of just sitting back. Just because it doesn’t directly affect me doesn’t mean I don’t need to talk about it. I now speak openly about mental health, feminism and body positivity. I challenge people when they speak with ignorance or harmful views. I try to discuss, rather than shut down and insult, opinions I disagree with. I start conversations about race and the issues in our language around it, whilst remembering that this is not my conversation (but I will support and open the way for others to speak their truths).
3. Support my sisters – I’ll admit that when I was younger I wanted to be ‘one of the lads’ I had a lot of male friends and thought I could distinguish myself by claiming I’m ‘not like most girls’ and ‘I prefer the company of boys cause they’re less bitchy’ etc. But I’ve most definitely seen the error of my ways. I have learnt that we need to stick together as women, and that my attitude was harmful to the girls around me and to the attitudes of my male friends. We can raise ourselves up without having to bring other women down.
4. Other women are not my competition– following on from the above point. I accept that I get insecure a lot (and this lesson is still a work in progress) but I’m learning that just because I see a beautiful, confident and attractive woman, that doesn’t take away from my own unique beauty. She is not ‘prettier than me’ but she is beautiful and I am not jealous but proud that she is and proud that I am also. We are all different and I can see that comparisons are useless because of this. So many aspects go into someone’s beauty, not just their physical appearance and makeup skillz. Their passions and their smile and the way they speak and what they talk about are just as important. Kindness, curiosity and enthusiasm make up my beauty more than any physical aspects.
5. Burn bright and do you – I used to try to fit in a lot, to not be too different or too unusual. I squashed myself down into a box and all it did was make me miserable. Now I embrace my childish nature, my carefree joy and love of life – even though it’s not ‘mature’ and doesn’t fit with my desire to be sophisticated and womanly. I’m not ashamed that I prefer to read books about dragons and magic than the ‘classics’. I don’t force myself to keep up with celebrities and pop culture, that doesn’t interest me, as a way to fit in. And I’ll happily rant to anyone about my love of mythology and science. These are all my little passions that make me who I am.
7. Be kind– I’ve always be a kind person, I don’t really have it in me to be really nasty. But sometimes I dont speak up when others are being less than lovely, or just find myself nodding along so I can fit in. And that’s just as bad. There is never a reason you can’t be kind to someone. And sometimes I used to see an opportunity to be kind but wouldn’t take it because it was going an extra mile. Now I take every opportunity I come across, I buy cards for people just to say hi or sorry they’re going through a hard time or just to remind them that I care. Buy flowers for your friends and family or treats for you work colleagues. Even if it may be embarrassing or other people see it as you being a suck up or whatever.
8. Take photos! – even if you’re like me and you hate having your photo taken. Trust me. I love all my photos from the last couple of years (even if I look awful in some) they’re all brilliant. And it makes me so sad that I have hardly any from my school years. But don’t just take selfies (though they’re not bad things to have!) take pictures with the people in your life, you’ll thank yourself later. And take pictures when you go on holiday and of your family house and your first house on your own and your first car and your pets and your bookshelf. Everything. Put them on facebook or print them off, just make sure they’re in more than 1 place so you don’t lose them. Make albums and scrapbooks.
9. Journal – you don’t have to journal everyday, and you don’t have to just write. Go buy yourself a pretty notebook. Check out Pinterest for ideas and inspirations. Make sure you write about any really good days or any really bad days. Write honestly and without a filter. When you read it back in a few years you’ll be grateful for all the details you put in. Do doodles and use it as a quick notebook. Scribble down that quote that you read that just resonated with you. Or what book you’re reading and the date. (Dates are important! Date everything!) Stick train tickets in and your favourite photos. I’ve even used it to take notes at work when I couldn’t find my work notebook quick enough and it’s a great thing to look back on. Write the names of people you meet and places you visit. Take it on holiday with you. I have several notebooks spanning the last few years and I love them so much.
10. Never stop learning – just because you’re out of the education system doesn’t mean your learning should stop. And you don’t have to only learn things that will directly affect your career either. When that random question pops into your head, google it! Go to the library and check out a book on a random subject that looks interesting. I’ve recently spent a £50 Waterstones gift card on books about religion because I wanted to know where it began and why people believe what they believe. It doesn’t matter if you really need to know how earthworms communicate, the habit of finding answers to your questions is a habit you won’t regret forming.
11. Get into politics – sure politics can be boring at best and infuriating at worst, but it does affect you. Educate yourself. Read news articles, listen to podcasts, talk to people with different views to yourself. Make sure your get your information from as many sources as possible to avoid the inevitable bias and form your own opinions. Then pick a side. None of them are perfect, I know. But change starts somewhere so pick the party that shares the same basic ideals as you. And make sure you vote. (Go watch some Jonathan Pie videos. Comedy? Yes, but also politics and thought changing ideas. Disclaimer, he doesn’t like the Conservative party. This quiz also may help if you are struggling to pick a side.)
12. Don’t get hung up on social media – sure facebook is great for staying connected (merlin knows how many birthdays I would have otherwise forgotten), but it’s not real connection. I have a love hate relationship with social media and one of the most important things I’ve learnt is not to get too obsessed. Merlin knows I wish someone had told my 13-year old self not to overshare on facebook. (No Emily, just because the boy you fancied wasn’t paying attention to you doesn’t require a post about how his smile makes you melt.) But seriously, it’s nice to keep your memories on facebook and instagram, and it’s nice to keep updated with the lives of your friends and family that you don’t see very often. But remember that people only share the highlights of their lives and that spending too much time comparing yourself, your life and your relationships to other people’s airbrushed, filtered highlight reels isn’t healthy.
13. Self-care is incredibly important and I’m allowed to say no – I am allowed to turn down that night out. Even if all I plan to do is curl up at home with a book and a coffee. Taking time for myself does not make me a disappointment. I’m allowed to take an extra long shower and to relax, to go to bed at 7pm or to take an afternoon nap to recharge. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to look after yourself.
14. Take the time to get to know yourself – sometimes you don’t know what you want. You are going to spend your whole life learning about yourself. So don’t feel rushed to get your shit together the second you leave school / college / uni. What you want and what you need will change constantly. It’s a long process, getting to know yourself, but it will be kind of amazing. Date yourself; take yourself somewhere you love to be, buy yourself flowers and small gifts, write little notes to yourself and leave them on the bathroom mirror, remind yourself daily what you love about you.
15. It’s okay to make mistakes – this is something I still have to fight everyday to remember. I’ve always been the kind of person who hates to disappoint. I get embarrassed when I do things wrong and feel like a failure. I always figured if I don’t attempt it I can’t fail at it. But really, if I don’t attempt it then I’ve already failed and I can’t succeed either. You will make mistakes and get things wrong, so what? Own the mistakes, laugh them off and learn from them. I’m much better now, more willing to step outside of my comfort zone to try something new. And you know what? It’s bloody brilliant, terrifying but brilliant.
16. Make time for your friends – whatever is happening in my life, I always have an afternoon or even a 10 minute coffee break free to catch up with my friends. Whilst I’ve learnt when to say no and when to take some time for myself, I also make sure that I am there for the people who matter. You never know what difference it might make to your friends week when you allow them some of your time to listen and to chat.
17. Vulnerable isn’t weak – I no longer apologise for my ‘soft’. I double, triple or quadruple text people when I want to. I don’t try to match my level of response to what I receive. I’ll text first any time. I tell people when I’ve missed them. Being seen as indifferent, mysterious or cool is not as important to me as being honest, authentic and communicating what I actually feel. You will miss so many opportunities in life if you get hung up on not being seen as vunerable.
18. Try something new – there are so many things to do, activities and foods to try, places to visit and opportunities to take. You never know what you will enjoy until you try it. If you always pick the safe option then how will you discover anything new? Your favourite food right now was something at one point you’d never tried. You don’t have to push yourself constantly cause that can be exhausting but every now and then a chance pops up for you to learn something completely new, and who knows where it will take you? Take a dance lesson, try your hand at a new hobby, eat something new, go on holiday somewhere you’ve never considered. Try something new.
19. It’s okay to not have a plan – You might know some people who knew exactly what they wanted in life when they were 6 years old. That girl that answered ‘a nurse’ when asked what she wanted to be when she was older. Picked her dress up outfit then her GCSE, college and uni course based on that plan. She’s 22 now and she’s doing exactly what she always wanted. She has a long term partner, a mortgage and a plan for the rest of her life. I’m 21 and I still can’t answer ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’, I’m doing a job I’d never considered, I live in a graveyard and I have no clue where I will be in 5 years. And that is okay! You don’t have to plan your whole life out. Opportunities and choices will present themselves constantly, you just have to go with it. Say yes, say no, do what feels right right now. You might change your mind in a year and be able to make a whole new choice. That’s the beauty of it, you can’t plan everything cause you never know what’s around the corner, and that’s what makes it exciting.
20. You don’t owe anyone anything – you don’t have to be everything to anyone. You aren’t required to be the perfect child, sibling, friend or colleague. You’re you and that is enough.
21. Confidence is key- whatever you do, do it with confidence. Even if it’s faked. You’ll meet people in life who seem to have it all together and they’ll make you doubt yourself and your ability to cope. (Or maybe that’s just me?) Regardless, even the most happy and successful people in the world doubt themselves at some point. The key is to keep doing you, and do it with confidence. You’re unique and you’ll never be able to be like (insert person you admire most), because you’re not them, but if you’re confident in yourself and your abilities you’ll find yourself shining. ☀️
What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learnt?