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17 Things I Learned at 17


As my 18th year of life dawns on me, I feel a lot of things. Some are good, some are bad. If you know me, you know I talk about them all the time. But I’ve never really put it all down in words in one, cohesive message. I’ve never looked for the collective good that 17 years has done me and what I’ve learned along the way.

1. You can always adjust to new circumstances

Whether it’s the beginning of a new trimester or a new school, starting over is rarely all fun and games. It’s hard to make friends and learn your way around. I’ve always hated even finding seats on the first day of class, so I don’t know how I survived some of the biggest changes in my life. But I guess all new things are eventually old news.

2. Writing things down is the only truly timeless hobby

I don’t expect everyone to share my strange addiction of buying (6) journals that I will realistically never fill, but I firmly believe that everyone should have one. It doesn’t make you girly. Not cool or uncool. It’s just the best catharsis when you don’t feel like sharing with the rest of the world. A physical representation of a memory. “Put it on paper, save it for later, tomorrow won’t seem that bad,” as Mike Birbiglia once said.

3. Learn to like tea

Tea is so good. Like SO good. It can be hot or cold or bubbly or milky. It can wake you up or send you to sleep. It can cure stomach aches or sore throats. If you don’t like tea, I’m not kidding-- you should acquire a taste. There is a type of tea for every scenario. Like drugs but better (safer) (not actually drugs).

4. People leave, and sometimes that’s good

Maybe you didn’t want them to, maybe you did. But if I’ve realized one thing about people leaving, it’s that they either come back, or you learn to live without them. There are no cases of just giving up and being sad forevermore. Independence is a strength we all have deep within, and even if you never consciously see that, it keeps you afloat when people leave. And sometimes, they have to leave in order for both of your lives to carry on.

5. The worst stress comes from not doing your work

I say as I write this, instead of doing my homework. But seriously, no matter how low-quality your work may be, it’s always worth it to at least try. The pit in your stomach that comes from getting ready to go over or turn in homework that you didn’t do is horrific. It happens to me about once a week. Every time, I think to myself, “This is horrific.”

6. Maintaining a clean room is an elusive goal

There is a certain catharsis that comes with a rage-induced cleaning session at 3 a.m. in the morning on a school night. It will never, and I mean never actually stay clean. But that makes for even more catharsis in the future, which will feel like an epic win at 3 a.m.

7. Shortcuts don’t have to be shameful

This is not me telling you to cheat on your next math test. It’s me telling you that the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned about work is to work smarter, not harder. It’s why I take breaks. Why I don’t rush things I don’t understand. Why I prioritize, and why I don’t always study for an easy quiz if I also have a paper due the next day. Don’t let people shame you for doing well even if they’re working harder. Hard work is valuable, but not a catch-all for life.

8. Standing in the middle of a hallway has not, is not and will not ever be the move

I don’t know who you think you are (yes, YOU), but if I ever see you standing in the middle of the gosh darn hallway during passing period again, I’m going to run you over, and I’m not going to feel bad about it. For too long I’ve relied on drafting behind tall people who clear my paths, but no more. I’m going to destroy you, because you are objectively wrong. Loitering is a misdemeanor. Stop standing, or worse, kissing, in the middle of my hallways.

9. These don’t have to be the best years of your life

“Best years of your life” is almost as high-pressure of a statement as “merge left now” or “You have 30 minutes for section C, begin.” These might be the worst years of your life. Or the best. Or painfully unmemorable and mediocre. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what they are as long as you make the best of what you have and try to leave your little legacy, no matter how small. You don’t have to do anything more than survive.

10. You don’t really know someone until you’ve seen their drafted tweets

The sheer volume of self-quotes, cadet teaching anecdotes, and inner monologues that come about from my twitter drafts is astounding. Twitter is a pretty laissez faire platform, so if you can’t even share something there… It's probably a doozy of shame. I don’t make the rules.

11. Everybody wants to rule the world (but can you blame them?)

People can be difficult sometimes. They get on power trips so easily, but at the end of the day, it’s me. I’m people. And so are you. It’s us, we’re people. We all want to rule the world because that’s human nature. We like winning and attention and rewards. The only reason we don’t wanna rule the world is because it’s way too much work-- but that’s perfectly okay. Because everyone eventually gets a chance to shine, and a chance to sit in the shade for a bit. There’s always a natural balance to things that keeps us from falling over from the weight of our crowns. Just let it happen.

12. Listening is harder than it seems, but more meaningful than it looks

One of the simplest yet best compliments that you can give or receive is about one’s ability to listen. Being a good listener involves a lot of self-control and good judgement that can be rare in today’s society. Sometimes I worry that I talk a whole lot more than I listen, especially when I get vibe checked by God and lose my voice for three days. But even so, I still need to get better at it. After 17 years of living, I know that listening can be just as powerful as good advice.

13. Even the best advice is conditional

Speaking of good advice, it’s actually a completely corrupt concept. PSYCH! Advice is great! But not everything you hear can be trusted, and certainly not in every situation. While being risky works with some people, it doesn’t with others. And where keeping quiet might solve one problem, it can amplify the rest. Tread carefully with the advice you’re given, because one thing I’ve learned for sure is that my friends are quiet often just as foolish as I am.

14. Unpopular opinions get more fun the older you get

I’m not just saying this because I wrote one of my college essays about hating cream cheese. I’m saying it because people were ANGRY about my essay on cream cheese, and it was hilarious. Even my fellow cream-cheese-hater claimed I stole her brand. My enjoyment of political arguments might be a weird debate-kid trait, but the little things are objectively a blast to get heated over. What I’m trying to convey is that I just want to upset the maximum amount of people regarding foods I despise.

15. Coming of age movies don’t get everything right, but boy do they hit different

I know I said don’t feel pressured to have the best years of your life, and coming of age movies don’t always express the other side of that, but boy are they fun to watch. Tears fall pretty often with me, but even more so because of these movies. I love seeing someone go through some of the same things I do, feel the same things I feel. Even when it’s sappy and unrealistic. I’m a cynic, but not really.

16. Late, late nights with your friends might hurt the next morning, but they’ll be worth it someday

The perfect insight to my life is that whenever I make morning plans, I’m always sure to throw in the “might sleep through it because of who I am as a person.” I don’t go to bed on time, and often regret it. But not when I wake up with a smile from the night before still on my face. The other day, I came home and my mom absolutely grilled me because of how happy I looked. I had been at the glorious McDonald’s for two hours with an array of people no less chaotic than “The Breakfast Club,” and it was maybe the best night of my life. Or at least of my month. Go wild-- sleep is replaceable.

17. You’ll want to freeze the time at 17

You will. No matter how much you wish for total freedom. No matter how much you hate the responsibilities you can’t escape. No matter how much you dread waking up another day. My 17th year of life hasn’t really been the best, but I barely know how to cope with the fact that it’s over. I’m excited to buy a lottery ticket (update: I won $3), register to vote, sign legally binding contracts and get my very own NyQuil. I’m looking forward to being a real adult. But I’m not as excited about not being 17. It’s the end of my childhood. My mistakes matter now. More than anything, there’s so much I haven’t done yet.

But as much as I want to freeze time, one bonus lesson I’ve learned in 17 years is that time doesn’t stop. The slowest days can still end too soon for comfort. Time keeps on ticking, and that means you can keep on living. Sure there’s a lot I haven’t done, but luckily my life expectancy is a little more than 17--or even 18--years. I can still make waves. I can still have even better years and learn another lesson or two along the way. Alessia Cara sure knows how I feel about time, but maybe I do have to move. Onwards and upwards.

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