18 Lessons From 18 Years of Life

By Sarah

From a young age, I adored the date of my birthday: November 1st. It’s in the midst of the fall season, when leaves crunch beneath my feet on the walk to school and the weather is crisp enough to light a candle. Also, it’s the start of November: the month of giving thanks. As a child, after hours of trick-or-treating on Halloween, I would settle into my bed and count the minutes down until midnight. 3… 2… 1… Happy Birthday!

This past week, I awoke on November 1st to a startling realization: I’m an adult. It was a joyful day, spent with family, friends, and laughter, but I couldn’t help but feel a sense of sadness. My childhood was officially over, like a candle that had burnt to its end.

Despite my adult life being fairly new, I can resolutely say that I’ve learned a significant amount in these past 18 years. Even just the period from my 13th birthday to now has been filled with bountiful lessons and experiences, including starting high school and everything in between. There’s still much that I can learn, but here are 18 of my favorite pieces of advice from 18 years of life. 

  1. Try to Get a Job Before Turning 18

I’ve touched on this in my prior post (“Why All Teens Should Get a Job”), but this is one of the most imperative lessons that I’ve learned. Getting a job has taught me copious amounts of responsibility, critical thinking skills, and everything in between, all of which will prepare me for my future adult years. It’s rewarding to work toward something, and I relish that feeling.

2. Blessings in Disguise Are All Around

So many moments that have felt like pitfalls in my life have ultimately led me down a beautiful path, proving to be “meant to be” all along. Today, when I encounter a challenge, I try to treat it as that: a blessing. Usually, there’s a silver lining somewhere that can transform into something impactful in my life.

3. Realize Who Your Ten People Are

I once heard a “ten person” analogy that has stuck with me. Imagine that you’re in the hospital and in need of support. Who would be the ten people in your life that would drop everything to come and help you? The important distinction here is not who you would want to come, but who will come. Notice the people in your life who are unwaveringly kind, supportive, and present. Those are your ten special people.

4. Take the Highlight Reels With a Grain of Salt

Social media certainly has its upsides — it’s wonderful for connection and is a medium to share any degree of information quickly. However, much of it is just a highlight reel — the happiest, most curated moments of peoples’ lives, put together into one idealized place. It may seem obvious to recognize that, but subconsciously, scrolling through social media is a constant comparison cycle. I have learned to take it with a grain of salt and to use it in moderation, ensuring that I have genuine conversations with friends and family often and present an authentic version of myself online. I always love when celebrities post honest pictures or topics of conversation, like supermodel Bella Hadid recently did. 

5. Talk It Out

Communication is key, as you’ve likely heard over and over. Still, I can’t stress this enough. I’ve learned that if something is bothering me, I feel more relaxed when I’ve expressed that to others in sharing my opinions and coming to resolutions. Some of my fondest memories have been conversations with friends, during which we’re all speaking over one another, desperate to share our stories and perspectives and bonding in the process. Talking is my favorite thing, and it’s therapeutic at the same time.

6. Get Some Sleep and Take Care of Your Health

This piece of advice may be basic, but it’s certainly easy to forget in the midst of a stressful time period. I usually try to wind down for bed around 10:30 (recently, I learned that going to sleep between 10 and 11 is the optimal time for heart health — the more you know!). In general, I take rest days, exercise daily, and ensure that I’m taking care of myself to the best of my ability. Usually, sleep or some food can solve many problems, and no assignment due the next day is worth an all-nighter and sacrificing your health.

7. Do Things at Your Own Pace

From the time we were children, we’ve been consistently reminded of the benchmarks we’re supposed to meet. “By this age, you should’ve finished that or started this.” Yes, benchmarks can be informative, but in general, as we get older, they push a specific lifestyle and set of priorities on everyone. Do things at your own pace! Everyone is on a different trajectory in life.

8. Balance is Key

Monotony is usually torturous, and it can be difficult to focus one’s energy on one thing too much. Make sure that you have balance in your life, and that you’re mixing up your experiences, activities, and conversations with a variety of topics and interests. No single thing should take up your entire focus; rather, you should put your efforts into a mixture of things. Soup wouldn’t be tasty if it were only the broth. It needs the ingredients and spices to be delicious — and so do all of us. 

9. Look at Your Life With Humor

On a freezing January day, I slipped out of my car with tears staining my cheeks, withering into embarrassment with the words from my driving instructor: “You failed for going ten under.” Now, I can only laugh at this once-devastating event that was a little ridiculous (don’t worry — I passed the second time and upped my driving confidence). Looking at my own life with humor is a gratifying way to remain positive. 

10. Stop Caring What Others Think

Seriously! This is a big one. As a child, I would project my insecurities onto others, assuming that they were constantly judging me. They think my outfit is weird. They don’t like what I have to say. I have come to learn that these thoughts are only harmful and rarely have any substance. It’s okay to take different viewpoints into account, but no one should obsess about the opinions of others. I have felt much freer without the fear of external judgment.

11. Material Items Never Give You Lasting Happiness

When I got my first paycheck, I was thrilled. I immediately went over to the mall and bought myself something new. Buying things is gratifying, especially when a job enables me to do so, but material items bring me very temporary joy. A purchase makes me excited for about a day but generally doesn’t serve any meaningful purpose in my life. I’ve learned to save the money that I earn for experiences with friends and family, which provide me with more fulfillment and continuous joy than an item of clothing. I mean, shopping’s still fun — I just like to switch it up as well.

12. Forgiveness is Key

You may have read my past post about the Amish (“Carry On With Compassion: Learning From the Amish Experience”). Forgiveness is huge to me. I’ve learned that every drop of resentment in my heart is only souring myself. Learning to let things go, give others grace, and truly forgive is a skill that I am still working on but that has brought me lasting peace.

13. Center Yourself on the Moment

As a senior in high school, my life is passing by me at an expedited pace. I have found myself focusing on the moment, reminding myself that these Friday night football games, sports practices, and senior traditions are a season of life that I’ll miss in the future and that I’m blessed to be able to experience. Appreciating them during the moment will commemorate them in my mind and make moving toward the future much easier.

14. The “Will It Matter in Five Years?” Rule

This is another rule that puts everything into perspective. When I’m feeling stressed, dejected, or any overwhelming emotion, I ask myself… will this matter in 5 years? More likely than not, it won’t. While this isn’t minimizing my struggles, it is putting them into the broader scope of my life. For the most part, something that may seem so significant in the moment is truly a speck in my life.

15. Find a Good Playlist and Learn to Develop Your Music Taste

I can’t stress this enough. Until I was maybe 15, I listened to anything that was on the radio without refining my music taste. Music is something that expresses any emotion and has refined my perspectives and opinions (I mean, Taylor Swift’s songwriting speaks for itself. Have you heard the 10-minute version of “All Too Well?”). I love making playlists for every emotion, which I whip out and get into the feels with. Most recently, my playlists have been titled “Happy,” “Cry,” “Granola,” “Christmas,” and “Songs I Just Like.”

16. Learn to Rise From the Ashes

Learn how to rise from the ashes. I love to tell this story. In April of 2019, at the tail end of my freshman year, I announced to my coach that I would be late to practice due to an invigorating meeting: student council results. Sitting in the auditorium, I waited in anticipation as the sophomore student council election results were read off in alphabetical order. Long story short: I lost. Dripping with disappointment, and wishing that I could sink into the floor, I took down my posters and wiped the shame from my face. Life goes on. While I was stung with the news of my loss, I can confidently say that it was a turning point in my life, one that led to my increasing involvement in my community, my flourishing sense of identity, and my acknowledgment of my impact. As a junior running for another position, I had more experience, more confidence in myself, and a recognition of how to recover upon failure, which ultimately led to success in that election. While I still look back on my freshman experience and cringe at how unflattering my campaign picture was, I can only laugh and feel thankful that it worked out the way it did. Failure is hard, but rising from the ashes is what incites the most change.

17. Cherish Your Childhood

I am someone who loves to keep things. I struggle to throw away any art pieces or stories from my childhood. Thus, stacked in my closet are boxes of writing, pictures, and memories, encapsulating my childhood into a few square feet of space. When I’m feeling particularly sentimental, I love to go through those momentos, cherishing everything I’ve seen and done. 18 years have gone by fast. It makes me emotional sometimes.

18. I’m Continuously Growing Every Day

These lessons are just little things that I’ve learned as a (barely) adult. In the next 18, they will evolve, change, and hopefully, I’ll have 18 more to share. To this day, I am still learning how to be the best version of myself, and I don’t have all the answers. However, I can definitively say that I’ve grown significantly, and I am incredibly thankful for every person who has shaped me to be who I am today. 18 is just the beginning!

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