It’s easy to reflect on all I lost when you passed away, but I rarely consider what I have gained. It’s hard to admit that I, even in the smallest way, benefitted from your death, but here it is, in writing, and I can’t take it back.
Your death caused me to gain perspective. I’ve acquired this on so many levels: in friendships, relationships, life, and loss. In honor of this recent revelation and my upcoming December birthday, I have compiled a list of 23 Life Lessons to Learn Before Your 23rd Birthday (is it a coincidence that it's also November 23rd and there are 23 days until my 23rd birthday?! This better be a good omen!)... Enjoy!
23. Don’t be afraid to let go of a friendship that has clearly expired. Right or wrong, I would always fight it out and hold on for dear life. I have learned that it’s okay to move on from the friendships that are no longer benefiting either party involved.
22. Not every friend needs to be the forever kind. All our relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends fail except for the one we marry, so why do we expect friendships to be so different?
21. Live by the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, but with a slight alteration. Do treat others the way you want to be treated, but don’t expect them to return the favor. Chances are the person you let cut in front of you in the grocery store is that same speed demon that will hop in her car and cut you off in the parking lot. Don't take it personally.
20. Only welcome people into your life that continuously make you want to be a better you. I thought I was a fairly nice person, that is, before I met John and his heart of absolute gold. He was going to school about an hour away when we first started dating a few years ago, so I didn’t see him as often as I would’ve liked. He came up to visit one weekend, and on our way home from lunch we saw that someone I knew had a flat tire just outside my house. He immediately wanted to go help her while I pouted and said, “But you’re only here for the day, and who cares, she’s not even nice to me anyway.” He responded, “Well, wouldn’t you want someone to help you?”
19. Be genuine. I can’t even count how many times I have written “Love you!” to friends that I am not even that close with. If you tell everyone you love them, then the words lose meaning. Save it for the people who truly deserve your love. And when you say it, mean it (Thanks AS).
18. Focus on quality over quantity. Again, the more popular you aim to be, the least genuine your relationships are. Not everyone is going to enjoy your company, and instead of trying to change that, focus your energy on the ones who love you already without needing convincing.
17. If your body is telling you something, listen to it. There is only one thing worse than hearing your mom say, “If only I would have gone to the doctor’s sooner when I could tell there was something wrong… then everything would be different,” and that’s knowing she is right.
16. Don’t snoop. If a cell phone, e-mail account, or Facebook inbox does not belong to you, then don’t look through it. If you do, it reveals more about the kind of person you are-- not him. Don’t be nosey. Get a hobby.
15. If your boyfriend tells you, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you”... RUN!
14. If you repeatedly catch the same boyfriend flexing alone in the mirror in his tighty whiteys... RUN FASTER!
13. Don’t be naïve. Just because you are a trustworthy, confidential person, doesn’t mean everyone you air your dirty laundry to is also. If you can find one or two people you can trust, consider yourself lucky.
12. Certain people will talk about you sometimes. Save yourself the shock and heartache and accept, early on, that some people are just plain immature. It doesn’t make it right, but again, that’s what makes the paragraph above so critical.
11. Don’t rely so heavily on first impressions. People change completely once you actually get to know them.
10. Just because someone isn’t here anymore, doesn’t mean you have to act like he or she never existed. It’s difficult to talk about someone you lost, but do it anyway. You’ll feel better. People are probably too nervous to mention that person because they’re afraid you’ll have a mental breakdown at the sound of her name. Show them they’re wrong. And if you do happen to cry, that’s okay too. Grieving isn’t a week long, it is lifelong.
9. Stop comparing yourself to your significant other’s exes. They broke up for a reason, and you will too if you keep it up.
8. Distance changes friendships, but it doesn’t need to end them. A little effort goes a long way.
7. Be yourself. A friend once relied on me so heavily to help her think of what to write in text messages to a guy she liked, that eventually, I had to remind her that in doing so he was going to end up liking ME instead of her.
6. Friends should always come before boyfriends or girlfriends for the first two decades of your life, but eventually, you have to allow yourself to change your priorities when the right person comes along. I blame the nimrod that once said, “Boys come and go, but friends are forever!” for brainwashing me and making this transition so difficult. It took me a very long time to realize that it was my friends that were coming and going while one boy was the constant. I am lucky that he was so patient with me while my brain ever so slowly made this connection.
5. Now, with that being said, this by no means implies to put all your eggs in one basket and to rely solely on this one person. That is what I would call relationship suicide. Putting my boyfriend first, for me, means something like not ditching out on our plans because my friends decide to get together last minute. But remember, it’s still so important to have friends and spend time with them often. It’s all about balance.
4. Life can be short. Don’t waste a minute letting someone be a part of it that doesn’t deserve to be. Friends don’t put you down, make you feel badly about yourself, or refuse to work things out when you two are going through a rough patch. They just don’t. And if they do, it’s time to let them go (and refer to lessons 23 & 22!). Although you love them, you need to love yourself more.
3. “Consider the source.” That’s what my co-worker told me when someone said something that hurt my feelings. Some people are ruthless and don’t think twice about what they say... and neither should you.
2. Not everyone has the same perspective as you. I feel bad because I get short and frustrated with my friends sometimes. I have to remember that they haven’t been through what I have been through, so they don’t know what I know. And they are lucky for that. Often times I wonder if my little outbursts of irritation stem from pure jealousy. I used to joke that I was a 40-year-old trapped in a young girl’s body because of my high level of emotional maturity at such an early age. I know that deep down I am in many ways envious of my friends’ untarnished hearts.
1. Forgive. Maybe not initially, but eventually. Forgive your friend who didn’t come to your mom’s funeral after you had argued a few days before; forgive God for taking the person you love from you long before you were ready; forgive yourself for letting that anger linger longer than it should have. There is no better feeling than waking up with a clean slate and an open heart.
Here's to another year of lessons and learning!