24 Things I've Learned In 24 Years
Last week, I turned 24 years old. Birthdays seem to get increasingly underwhelming the older you get, and the worst part about them to me now is the expectation the world has on you to "celebrate" in a certain way.
This year on my birthday, I celebrated not by splurging on gifts or taking the day off completely or indulging in sweets all day long. I didn't go out and have one too many drinks or stay up super late. Nevertheless, I was happy as a lark because my celebration was for 24 awesome years of being and becoming me. I celebrated myself and took just a few moments to stand still and look backwards at my life, and what I saw was a compilation similar to these 24 things that I learned in 24 years.
Tell me which one is your favorite! They range from serious to funny, fact to philosophical, so I'm itching to know which ones you appreciate most.
Here we go:
1. The universe has my back.
Call it God, fate, destiny, whatever you want. I wholeheartedly believe in the powers at play in the universe, and I know that she's got plans for me beyond my knowledge. When I look back at my choices, my path and where I am now, I know there is absolutely no way I could have gotten myself here consciously. I learned to trust the universe. She's got my back, always.
2. Welcome to life.
This has been a family lesson, honestly, and it's as true and wise as it is simple and stupid. Legend has it that my youngest sister was experiencing those pre-college woes (How do I make new friends? What if I fail a class? How do I pay open a bank account? etc.) and voiced them to my mom who (supposedly) said, "Welcome to life!"
A rough response, but the truth. I've learned that sometimes there is no consolation. There is no "kiss it and make it all go away." Sometimes, it's just life. Welcome to it.
3. We’re more alike than different.
Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I heard my dad say this one!
Each day (literally) this becomes more and more apparent for me, and learning that all of us everywhere, across the entire planet, are much more alike than we are different, has been a game-changer in the way I communicate with others and see other people's experiences. Rather than feeling distant and separate, I have learned to feel connected and that it's likely someone else does understand what I'm experiencing. Most things are tied back to the same basic feelings, desires and general frustrations, and it has been a comfort to me to remember that I'm never as alone as I may think, since we are all more alike than we are different.
4. Honoring who you are often calls you to places you don’t understand and can’t explain, but it's so important that you do so anyway.
This one's an OG quote by yours truly, and it took me not honoring who I was to learn it. BUT- now I am happy to say I have indeed learned that very often, staying true to who you are means doing some pretty crazy things in the eyes of others (and even your own eyes!) but there is nothing more rewarding or worthy in life than being truly, you.
5. Foil doesn’t always look like foil.
There is no hidden, philosophical meaning here (unless you want there to be one.) You know how you can't microwave foil? I literally learned that foil does not always look like foil, and that was an important lesson, because I nearly blew up my microwave once. I wanted to heat up one of those little Fiber One "dessert" bars a few years back, and the wrapper even said to try putting it in the microwave! What the wrapper did not say, however, was that it was indeed made of foil, so it was necessary to remove the bar prior to microwaving.
Just a heads up, y'all, foil does not always look like foil.
6. I can do hard things.
This is one of the coolest and most helpful things I've learned in 24 years, and I learned it so many times over. Now, whenever I am confronted with something and I think, "Man, this is going to be hard!" I remember that I can do hard things, that I've already done hard things, and it's a small lesson perhaps, but it has been so very necessary for me.
7. The distance from our solar system to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 25 trillion miles.
I read this in a book once and was in such shock that I wrote it down and consequently committed it to memory. Yes, this is one of the 24 things I learned in 24 years. TWENTY FIVE TRILLION MILES guys.
8. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.
How many times have you just been like, "Ugh! I want that! Why can't I have that!?"
A promotion, a body type, money, a new car, a certain lifestyle- whatever it is you want, have you ever asked for it?
When I was teaching but enviously watching others live the life I wanted, it never occurred to me that I could just ask for that life and maybe get it. I could ask the universe or just people that could help me get there. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask for what you want. It's simple, but it rarely crosses our minds.
9. People are people.
Another silly one here, but actually, not really. I learned that people are just people. We often walk around expecting them to be something different, but really, people are just people. And they do people things. They mess up. They make stupid decisions. They're selfish. They fall short. But we shouldn't fault them, because people are just, well, people.
10. Rule number 6
I learned "Rule Number Six," which is "Don't take yourself so damn seriously." This one is from a book, but it's one of those parable-type stories, and the man in the story asks, "What are the other rules?" and the man who delivers Rule Number Six says, "There aren't any."
Learning to not take myself so freaking seriously has been a life-saver some days. And other days, it has been a life-creator.
11. The french language has no interdental fricatives.
Again, nothing fancy here, but learning this in my college French phonetics course was an aha moment on a couple of levels.
First, an interdental fricative is the sound you make when you pronounce the "th" sound. It's made by putting your tongue between your teeth (hence the "interdental" part) and it's called a "fricative" because it momentarily disrupts the passage of air from our mouths to the outside air.
Anyway, learning this changed how I saw other cultures in general. To know that a sound, something I was indirectly taught to produce my entire existence and utilized every single day perhaps hundreds of times, did not so much as exist in the mind or life of a French speaker... it made me understand how truly different our perspectives can be because of the knowledge we have, but don't even know we have.
Linguistics nerd moment = over.
12. Back up your computer.
If you haven't learned this lesson by now, consider yourself lucky, and just trust me on this one.
13. "All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you'll be quite a lot!"
Thank you, Dr. Suess. Another harsh reality that I learned after my first break-up, again during my freshman year of college, again during the year I lived in France, yet again as I moved to New Orleans, and am still learning as I continue down all the paths I wander.
As a very social person, this one was tough (and still is) but I'd rather have learned it than to have continued being frustrated by loneliness. I also learned that I am quite capable of not just existing, but excelling on my own, and for that I am thankful.
14. How to run (and walk.)
I learned how to walk some 23-ish years ago, I'm guessing, but I don't believe I learned how to run until about 2 years ago. My bother and sister-n-law decided to train for a half-marathon, and they welcomed me on board when I decided, "hey, that could be fun."
It was a long 14 weeks or so, but I learned how to run, which was really cool. I learned how to be completely alone for 10 miles on my own legs. I learned how to keep going, how to slow down, how to breathe, how to suspend certain thoughts.
Learning to walk has obviously served me immensely in 24 years, but learning to run took me so much longer and has served me so much differently.
15. A new language
I learned a new language! Back in 2008 when I started French class for the first time, speaking an entirely new language was an absolutely dream.
I DID IT though. I hold in my head a separate grammar, vocabulary, and phonetic system. This knowledge has changed more than just my communication with foreigners, I has changed my communication with people who speak my mother tongue. I'm very proud to know 2 languages, not necessarily for the practicality, but for the mindset it has given me.
16. Très souvent, au cours de notre existence, nous voyons nos rêves déçus et nos désirs frustrés, mais il faut continuer à rêver, sinon notre âme meurt.
In learning a new language, I learned how to say this, something that has stuck with me since the day I read it (and then later, by chance, heard a professor say it in class.) It says, "Very often, throughout our existence, we see our dreams disappointed and our desires frustrated, but we have to keep dreaming, if not, our soul dies."
Tattooed on top of my left foot is "Il faut rêver" which means "We have to dream" or "It's necessary to dream" and I got this permanently written onto my skin because of how deeply I believe it. It's true: we will often not make it. Our dreams will take different forms and change shapes, but we have to keep dreaming. Dreaming is what keeps me going. I love to dream- to imagine my life and then work it into existence.
(Check out the podcast to hear me read this aloud. It's très fancy. )
17. The world is huger than huge.
When I lived abroad and got to travel throughout Europe, I learned for the first time how big the world is. Of course, it's also small in a certain sense, but when I traveled, I realized how much of this planet is untouched and unknown by me, and it made me feel, for the first time, truly tiny (but in a good way.)
It's astounding, and it's one of those things I have to take a minute to really wrap my head around, but learning how big the world is has been both a comfort and a curse. It's been motivating and debilitating at the same time, but I think it's important to know something like this and wrestle with it a little. It has provided me with a beautiful tension, and I know that many people can say the world is big without understanding how truly big it is.
I'm happy to have learned (or begun to learn) how huge this world really is.
18. We all speak different languages.
Even though we might all be classified as English speakers, we each might as well have our own subset of words and rules within English.
It's important to remember when we're speaking to people that everyone is speaking a different language. What means one thing to me might mean something totally different to you, and language is not about words but about meaning.
Just because we all have the same set of words does not mean we all have the same set of meanings for those words, and learning this changed my interactions with people immensely.
19. Speed equals distance divided by time.
In my senior year of high school, sitting in the second row of physics class, I learned that how fast you move is merely a measure of how far you go in a given amount of time.
My teacher was explaining why, when you're driving and attempting to pass a slow driver in front of you, you appear to be slowing down as you move over to get around, and thus have to hit the gas, even though you might have already been going faster (hence needing to get around them.) He told us that it's because you're having to cover more distance now that you have to move over (area that the other driver does not have to cover.)
What this taught me was not to pay attention to speed, but distance. I'm much more proud of having gone further than faster.
It doesn't matter how long it takes you to get there. It matters that you go. Speed is irrelevant. Distance is a much more reliable indicator of value, in my opinion.
20. Everything is a choice.
I argued with this lesson for a while, as the world and my family and mentors, etc., tried to teach it to me.
"But I did not choose to be picked on by her. I did not choose to not like my job. I didn't choose to get that speeding ticket."
It's easy to write things off onto other people, but at the end of the day, it's all a function of our own choices-- be it how we're seeing things, how we're acting, or what we've done previously to get us here.
You might not have chosen to be dealt bad circumstances, but you have chosen to see them as such. We can choose to see things as we please, and this means bad circumstances don't really have to exist except in our minds. Again, learning this has and still is, tough, but it's been so very necessary for the continuation of my happiness.
21. You can’t change people.
My mom told me once, "People don't change, and you can't change them." It was the worst news of my life at the time. I couldn't make someone do something?! I couldn't make someone understand something?!
Now, it is liberating to know that changing someone is impossible. I don't even have to waste time trying. I can speak in way that the people I wish were different could hear me, but I will never truly change someone, because you just can't.
22. Strong people are not mean. Weak people are mean.
I wish I had learned this in elementary school, but I didn't, so instead I spend time now trying to teach it to the young girls I mentor.
In the world, it can look like the mean people are the strong ones. Our bosses are mean because they have power. Famous people are mean because they're rich and famous. But meanness does not stem from strength, ever. Meanness comes from being weak.
I learned to have compassion for the mean people in the world, because they are the weak ones. Strong people do not feel the desire or need to be rude to others, because they are strong. It's weak people that resort to cruelty towards others in order to attempt to lift themselves up, so these are the people we need to be kind to, as hard as it is.
23. Sadness is a pool of passion looking for another container.
My dad said this to me in an email in 2015 in response to me being "sad" about my job, my life, my circumstances. He said exactly, "I'm sad that you are sad, but sadness is a pool of passion looking for another container."
Boy was he right.
All that sadness really was just passion looking for a place to go, and I remember this now when I get sad, and it doesn't change that I'm sad, but it changes the way I see my sadness. It helps me to see that this sadness is just a wonderful feeling--passion-- in another form, and it makes me almost excited to see where that particular sadness will take me.
24. How to ride a bike
Lastly, one of the 24 things I've learned in 24 years is how to ride a bike. I learned to ride a bike on Gilbert Drive in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I remember my dad telling me that it would be so much easier once I got going, that even though my tendency might be to slow down, I should keep pedaling, because that would help me stay balanced.
I didn't understand how that would help, but about 20 years later, it makes perfect sense.
Just keep pedaling. Just keep going. Once you're rolling, things are infinitely easier, and getting started is always the hardest part, just like riding a bike.