Like most ages, 22 feels the same. Besides the fact that I’m happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time, it’s miserable and magical ((ooOOoOoh yeahhhhhh)). Sorry, I was contractually obligated—had to do it.
Anyway. I’ve been anticipating turning 22 with keen excitement. Not only because of the song—but mainly because it’s an even number, and even numbers are the best.
My favorite part of reflecting on the past age every year is pinpointing my lightbulb moments. This time, to bring some structure to the hecticness of 21, I’ll be dividing them into categories.
Behold! My 21 lessons learned at 21. Although “lessons” is a broad term in this context, to be honest. Just humor me.
1. Everything sucks, and it doesn’t matter!
This sentiment may sound odd, but many things that suck just don’t matter in the grand scheme of life. Almost all the tiny annoyances that add up and make you think, “holy heck, everything sucks,” will cease to bother you at some point. You’ll find new things that suck, of course, but…it doesn’t really matter.
2. Everything sucks, and it DOES matter
There are, naturally, things that suck that do matter a great deal. I spent a lot of 21 separating the “does matter” and “doesn’t matter” suckage and prioritizing the ones I could do something about, the ones that needed attention, and recognizing the ones out of my jurisdiction. The practice of protecting your energy is cliche yet real. It’s a constant effort.
Who has access to you? Think about it. What runs your day? Ask yourself if the impact matches the importance.
3. Setting boundaries is only half the battle
Just because you set a boundary doesn’t mean the work is done. It’s up to you—as much as it’s up to the other people in your life—to stay true to the boundaries you’ve set.
Sometimes people need to be reminded, and sometimes, you need to remind yourself.
4. Being upfront is paramount
Do you have a problem with me? Tell me. Did I say something confusing? Ask me to clarify. Do you feel unsettled, unsure, or uncomfortable? Let me know. You’re not up for XYZ right now? That’s okay, please say so. Do you enjoy my company? I’d love to know.
I don’t like to play games, and I don’t like to waste time. Tell me what you want. Tell me what you need, and I’ll aim to provide the same level of honesty. That’s the only time we can make real progress. Transparent communication isn’t only for special occasions and heavy conversations. True connection is what happens when we strive to approach all interactions openly.
Within reason, I mean…read the room. Maybe don’t announce carnal lusts at a company function or sing an impassioned ballad of love in a Denny’s. But hey, the principle still stands, and I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life.
5. I’m more than an idea
I’ve written about personification before, my struggles with falling into characters, shifting myself to fit with different groups.
In my discovery process of leaving that way of living behind, I’ve had to face who I am when I’m not performing. It can be harrowing to look yourself in the face and confront what it means to be you at the base level.
What I’ve found is that I’m more than an idea. I contain many shades and variations, and they are not restricted or required to match up with pre-determined specifications. I’m a growing person with traits and cultivated interests, sure—those traits and leanings are not determined by a single image or aesthetic I strive to uphold.
6. I’m worthy of feeling safe
When you’ve spent the majority of your life in fight or flight mode, you begin to believe that security and safety are luxuries for other people but not for you.
Safety becomes nothing but a concept, an unattainable mirage that you can’t ever touch. You can’t rest, you can’t relax, you can’t let down your guard and take a deep breath. You don’t feel worthy of feeling safe because that’s when they’ll get you. Safety equals softness, and softness means weakness, and weakness means death—in a literal or metaphorical sense, depending on the situation.
You don’t realize that’s the way you feel about it until someone or something makes you feel safe, and instead of relief, you feel guilt.
Safety is not something you should have to earn. Unfortunately, that’s often the case.
I’ve had to train myself to accept traces of safety/security. To recognize the intense need I have for softness without feeling ashamed. I’m worthy of feeling safe—not because I’ve earned it, or deserve it, but because it’s a fundamental need for improved mental health.
7. Sometimes it’s just not it, chief, and that’s alright
This notion applies to relationships, friendships, jobs, and fashion choices. It’s critical to recognize when something is not for you and move on. That doesn’t mean that thing/person/what-have-you is bad or wrong or that you are, it just means that it ain’t it, chief. Keep moving. It will make sense eventually.
8. Freedom is a double-edged sword
There’s a quote that goes something like, “When no one wakes you up or waits for you to get home every day, and you can do whatever you want—is that freedom, or loneliness?” and that rings true. There’s a melancholy exchange that comes with freedom, a pang of silence that goes deep with every free step. Finding the balance between autonomy and isolation can be a careful dance.
9. Oh, so that’s what that’s like…
There have been a few epiphanies along those lines. From understanding the difference between genuine friends and false friendships to getting eight hours of sleep to figuring out small pieces of who I am. These “Oh,” moments are wonderful and usually intimidating.
More often than not, though, they spread through me like sunshine on a back porch, blooming with a clarity that makes everything seem possible. A silent, delicate sprout that springs up after rain. Something to nurture and care for—something to grow.
I tend to learn this one often—I’m very good at convincing myself people are merely tolerating me. But you know what? I am a DELIGHT, dammit.
On the flip side, I work hard to remember that it isn’t critical to be liked by everyone. It’s impossible to be every flavor of tea at once. There is no universal blend I can brew to reach maximum likability, and that’s a-okay.
11. Home is where you’re loved
It’s not a new idea that home isn’t a place but a feeling, it’s been said many times. It’s the people around you—the ones who have authentic care and love for you, that make somewhere home. Home tends to be someone(s) rather than somewhere.
12. You can cook almost anything on a sheet tray in the oven, and it will be great
Listen. I stand by this philosophy unwaveringly. It’s fast, it’s efficient, there’re fewer dishes to clean, and the outcome is almost always delicious (unless you accidentally use two tablespoons of sriracha instead of teaspoons, but I digress). The options are endless.
Sheet meals have changed my life, and they can change yours, too. Trust me.
13. Taking a walk almost every day is like magic
I’ve been going on walks consistently for almost three months now, and DANG, it’s amazing what a difference it makes. From gaining mental clarity to getting exercise to experiencing the full spectrum of each season (hail and snow notwithstanding). In this restless stage of life, a quick walk never fails to help me feel settled. Highly recommend.
14. I can’t function optimally on granola, Progresso soup, and avocados alone, and neither can you
I learned my limitations in a new way at 21. It felt like dropping into a new body. It felt like a switch flipped, and I was left to figure out how to operate again with a new control panel.
Something that I thought I understood but plainly did not was the importance of nutrition. It’s ironic that while working at a health education company, I was the least healthy I’d ever been. Anyway. Eat a balanced diet, kids.
15. My dog is the best
Legit, I don’t know how I survived without him for a year. He is my BOY my DUDE the light of my LIFE, I would do anything for him.
16. Outlander is love, outlander is life
The Outlander franchise has challenged me unquestionably—it’s inspired me to write better and feel harder, to never settle for lukewarm passions or shy from ambitious subjects. Fiction like this doesn’t come around every day, and if my work can have even a fragment of the impact that this franchise has had, I’d be ecstatic.
17. I really love drawing mermaids
I mean…this isn’t news, but I really, really love drawing mermaids. So much so that I have next to no doubt I will incorporate it into my career somehow. That and I’m running out of noteworthy lessons.
18. Originally flavored double stuffed Oreos are superior to any limited-edition flavor (except for red velvet)
It’s true. No, I’m not open to debate, sorry.
19. Y’ALL EVER TRIED THESE CHIPS???
For real. If you like sweet/savory snacks, these horrendously unauthentic Hawaiian-themed luau BBQ chips are the chips for you. Thank me later.
20. Wednesday is the best day of the workweek
Hear me out—I know there’s a lot of debate about this, with solid campaigns for Fridays. Allow me to humbly present the case for Wednesdays:
They’re right in the middle, allowing you to get a more consistent amount of work done. Most people have finished grieving for the weekend, so meetings are more productive. There are only two days left in the week afterward. You probably have leftovers if you cooked anything at the beginning of the week. Wednesday doesn’t have the pressure of Friday, nor the bittersweetness of Thursday. It is a pure workday with a dash of anticipation for the rest of the week, with none of the scrambles of Monday or the malaise of Tuesday.
There are lots of reasons I love Wednesdays, but those are the most practical and universal ones. Thank you for your time, and I hope you will consider supporting my campaign.
21. These birthday blog posts are going to be insanely long in 10 years
As if this one isn’t long enough as it is, think of how it’ll look down the line. Yeesh. Thank you to anyone who made it to the end of this slightly disjointed walkthrough, and I hope y’all keep learning!
Here’s to hoping 22 lives up to all that Taylor promised, or I’m asking for a refund. Smh.