Here I am: the big 2-0. As of this day, the suffix “teen” at the back of my age is no more.
There’s a lot I look forward to now that I’m in my 20s: more traveling, more of doing what makes me happy, more love to give and receive, and overall growing to be more of the person I want to be. But before all of that, I want to look back on the things I’ve learned as a 19-year-old because there were plenty of them. A lot of things happened when I was 19 and all the good and bad have changed a lot about who I am as a person.
So as I step into the 20s – what people say will be “the best years of my life” – here are 19 lessons I learned at 19 that I will carry with me and I thought I should share.
1. It’s okay to take a break every now and then.
Throughout most of 19, I was physically and mentally drained from pushing myself with the mindset that “not being on the limit means not being good enough” and that became a huge problem. Thing is, pushing myself all the time meant never truly recharging and just like phone batteries become exhausted and stop functioning when they aren’t recharged, humans shut down too when we don’t rest. Rest is important and we shouldn’t be mad at ourselves for taking that break every now and then. It’s better to take a break than to actually break anyway.
2. Life is short. Live fully in every moment.
Last year, two people in my life passed away unexpectedly and amid all the grief I went through, there was also that realization that life is truly short. You never really know when you’ll round out of seconds here on earth and so every moment should be lived fully. Love people deeply, experience things, face fears, do the things you’ve always wished for and be grateful for every second and everything going on in them.
3. The people you love should never come second to work.
This was honestly one of the hardest lessons to learn. We never know how much time we have with them, so every single second we do have with them should be our chance to show them how much we love them. And although working hard is good, but if that means not being there for loved ones when they need us, that means nothing – trust me, I’ve been there. So when faced with the choice of whether to hang out with the people you love or work, choose the people you love whenever possible. (unless, you know, you have a deadline tomorrow and your friends ask you to hang out)
4. The best moments in life aren’t lived through the cell phone screen. Be truly present.
In this era, there appears to be a huge obsession to document everything through Snapchat or Instagram Stories. We have this urge to want to share our lives with people. I won’t be a hypocrite here – I too use a lot of Snapchat and Instagram Stories. But I’ve realized that at the end of the day, the best moments you’ll keep playing in your head over and over again are those that don’t have a Snap or Insta Story about it, but those in which you’re truly present.
5. If you believe it hard enough, other people will believe it too.
During a student conference last year, I presented a paper that is scientifically quite crappy and was surprised when a lot of the participants in the conference actually came up to me and said that I had a good paper and made a convincing case. I asked one of them what made them believe that it was a good paper and he said this: “Because you presented it like you entirely believed in it and that belief radiates to us.” That’s how I learned that if you believe in something hard enough and show how much faith you have in it in how you communicate it, other people will believe in that thing too.
6. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
The friends I’ve shared the longest and most fulfilling friendships with actually have several things in common: they actually care about me, are there through the worse days, bring out the absolute best in me and push me to keep progressing in the pursuit of my goals. Also, with these people, I don’t even have to try too hard – it’s just natural. And I think at the end of the day, these are the marks of relationships that are worth it. After all, the people we surround ourselves with affect us a lot in our lives.
7. Don’t let others’ expectations run your entire life’s course.
Some people may think that they know what’s best for us and place all these great expectations on your shoulders or micro-manage our actions. And although I know these people often mean well, I’ve learned that relentlessly pursuing other people’s plans for me is truly unsatisfactory because it may not be what I truly want to do in life. So, even though making other people proud of us is a nice thing, it’s important to remember that it should be the cherry on top, not the main dish itself.
8. Confront your problems, don’t run away from them.
Let’s admit it: when dealing with problems, it’s easier to just run to other things so we won’t have to solve them. I used to run away from a lot of my past mistakes by immediately moving on to the next thing to work on. But the thing about running is that we can be caught someday and eventually, my issues caught up with me. It isn’t until we actually sit down, acknowledge these issues and take action to deal with them that we can move forward.
9. Be unapologetic about who you are.
Find out what makes you unique and embrace it, flaws and all. Most importantly, don’t waste time trying to be someone else and trying too hard to be something you’re not. We don’t need to compare ourselves to others, only to who we were yesterday. Be honest with yourself, be honest in who you are in front of other people. Wouldn’t it be much nicer to see who actually likes you for who you honestly are than be loved for who you’re not?
10. Find what you’re passionate about and focus on it.
I’ve learned that getting a job that pays the bills doesn’t mean a lot of things if it’s something I’m not crazy about doing. The satisfaction is just not the same. So find the things that make your soul content, break it down into concrete goals, and work your butt off for it.
11. You’re in charge of your own thoughts.
I learned this from watching a lot of Lilly Singh and Blogilates. We are in charge of what we think and what we think controls how we do things in life. I can choose to keep pitying myself or be grateful for what I have. I can choose to push myself harder or listen to my body when I need to and not feel guilty about it. Our mind is a very powerful tool that we actually can control, so take charge of it and don’t let negative thoughts trip you up too much.
12. If you have to think too much, that “love” isn’t really love.
This is really personal, but it took me almost an entire year to realize that I wasn’t really in love with the person I thought I was in love with because I over-analyzed that person instead of just feeling that love and falling for him. When I met another guy who made me just feel for him instead of calculating or trying to psycho-analyze him, I began to understand that perhaps love is just that: not overthinking about someone.
13. Do one thing at a time, live one day at a time.
I actually had this epiphany while karting. When I was in that kart, I was entirely focused on where I was at that moment, the next corner or kart to catch up to, and the kart behind me. That’s it. I didn’t try to find the finish line from Turn 4 or look at all the cars behind me because if I do that, I’ll crash. And then I thought: doesn’t life work that way too? That’s what I’ve been doing, taking things down into daily to-do lists and focusing on that to-do list. All I can say is that it’s much less overwhelming that way.
14. Sometimes, it’s good to just do it.
In retrospect, a lot of my favorite moments in life were actually impulsive ones – like my adventure in Georgetown or spontaneous late-night trip from Solo to Yogyakarta. Though we still to remember to calculate risks and not throw all caution into the wind, it’s nice to just take chances and not think too much about things. Be brave every now and then.
15. Everyone has a story worth learning about.
As I traveled more at 19, I met a lot of people, learned a lot of stories and began to discover that there’s some good in everyone, no matter how bad they seem to be. As hard as it gets, we need to erase prior negative judgments or stereotypes and just take time to learn about other people’s stories. I think that’s how we can see more similarities among our differences and stop trying to keep each other away.
16. Work and money are important, but shouldn’t be anyone’s everything.
My grandpa has this beautiful list hung at home and I’ve finally figured out how correct that poster is. Money can’t buy you happiness, no matter how much you can buy with the money you earn. The things you cannot buy like love, friendship, a relationship with God – these are the most important things that should matter more. Don’t let these things become the bottom of your priority list.
17. Allow yourself to feel. That’s called being human.
Don’t keep every feeling pent up and say “I don’t have time to feel now” because when we do that, we’ll just end up in a huge explosion of emotions when we least expect it. I had a huge breakdown last year because of this and that was the wake-up call I needed to make myself stop being a relentless machine all the time and just feel.
18. Live curiously and with wonder.
Never get too used to the world you live in to the point that it stops exciting you anymore. Think critically. Ask questions about everything you’re curious about to people you think can answer them. Never stop learning. And if they call you a nerd for it? Be proud of it because curious “nerds” have proven to go far in life. (Albert Einstein, anyone?)
19. You don’t have to have it all figured out.
You don’t have to control everything. You don’t have to know everything. It’s those who realize they’ve got a lot to learn who move forward because they still have the attitude of wanting to learn. It’s okay to mess up. It’s okay to make mistakes because in the consequences of those mistakes, we can learn to be better people.
I can finally understand why Adele could write an album about her 19-year-old self because that was a lot of lessons I learned. And even though I’ve learned these lessons, that doesn’t mean I’ve learned them perfectly and I know that at 20, I’ll be making more mistakes and learning more lessons or learning the same old lessons better too.
After all, isn’t that part of the true core of human life: always learning to be better than who we were?
Ps: thank you for the kind wishes! Apologies for how I haven’t been consistent in my blogging lately – my body has been angry at me for the past two weeks, but now I’m learning to listen to it more. More posts will be heading your way!