Here’s the thing, you guys.
I’ve been busy. Mind-numbingly, finger-numbingly, soul-numbingly busy. So I haven’t had too much of a chance to sit and pour myself out to count the blessings and mend the cracks.
As the academic year draws to a close as the calendar year draws to a close as this life of mine here draws to a close, I’ve just been plain busy.
But there’s something that’s been resting on my heart and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share.
You see, readers, I wrote you all a little something. What started out as an assignment for a class of mine quickly became a project, a banner, a motto, a war-cry.
I’m leaving this place – you all know that. But I’ve learned too much from life here to not share.
And so, this list was born. It’s almost cliche to write something like this – how many self-help lists dot the shelves of house and heart?
But still – it lingered – it weighed – it burst forth – the 20 things I learned in this life in this place, this place I may never call home again and this life that will never be the same with the new year 2014, that I hope teaches all those who remain, those who live beside me, and those who have yet to come.
The 20 things I learned from this hell, this battle, this home.
The 20 things I hope you carry into 2014.
I’d like to start with the number one thing life has taught me, the single most important thing (and hardest thing) that I have ever had to learn. All of you? You and I? We all know absolutely nothing. Nothing. And that’s okay. It’s okay to know nothing and to admit it. There will never be a time in our lifetimes when we will know everything. Sure, eventually we’ll all know some things. But right now, you all know nothing (1). Accept it, and try like hell to change that. The foolish are the ones who are arrogant enough to think they don’t have anything left to learn, that they’re too good to learn. The ones who are “too good to learn” are the ones who inevitably fail due to lack of care and effort. Don’t be a fool – life will straighten you right out.
Do not fear poverty (2). Don’t strive for it, of course, but never fear it. I’m an English major. I’m pursuing a degree in Humanities. I blog for fun, guys. I am constantly reminded that I may never find a job that pays well because of the demands of this economy. But my limited years so far have taught me that putting myself into physical poverty – or at least putting myself into a situation where I’m up to my eyeballs in debt and living strictly off of Ramen – while pursuing that intangible wealth that actually matters to me, that intangible wealth of knowledge and experience, is a beautiful thing. No one will ever be richer than the person who wants for nothing but to better himself rather than he who waits for his situation to become better. And I pity he who wastes his time and skills on pursuing otherwise.
Befriend each other (3). Look around at the people in your life – be it your job, your classes, your family, your grocery store. Those you know may not be here in a year. Those you don’t know have the potential to be your friend. Your teammate. Your roommate. Your lunch date. Your spouse. Anything can happen with a stranger, so long as you let it, so understand that every stranger also comes with potential. Life taught me this lesson a couple weeks into my freshman year of college, and didn’t waste any time making sure I understood how crucial it is to befriend each other. Life has a way of testing you and your friendships – any new situation, and you’ll find there are those who can adapt and those who cannot. You need people. You may think you’re okay on your own, but there will come a time when you will need at least one other person. I promise.
Let it surprise you (4). Let life completely and utterly shock you. Let your days be surprising. Sure, you may be screwed over more than once or twice, but that’s no reason to let something surprise you. Work with someone new. Take a course that doesn’t meet a requirement for your major. Take a left turn instead of a right. Accept that invitation. Just let yourself be surprised. 18 year old me would be surprised by where I’m living, who I’m living with, who I’m friends with, and where I want to take my life, and that’s okay. You are meant to change, so surprise yourself. You may end up liking the results.
Don’t be afraid of the weather (5). I met a girl in an elevator once who was dressed for a monsoon in the middle of winter when it was closer to misty and sweater-weather outside. Don’t fear the weather because there is nothing wrong with a good rainy afternoon. A snow day. A sunny morning. A breezy night. If you’re unafraid of the weather, there’s one fewer thing you need to complain about, and one more thing you can rejoice over.
Accept that there is a power behind everything (6). Whatever you serve – God, the Universe, Karma – serve it faithfully. There is a motivator behind and reason for everything. Find what you believe in, and serve it well. Accept that you are not in control, and find the beauty and comfort in knowing that. I’m a Catholic – but it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. But still. You need to find out who or what motivates your life. And find truth (7). I have lived in a world that is run by relativism, and it is dark. I have lived in a world run by those who run from the truth – the Truth – and trip over the consequences. Let relativism flounder in what is true and what is noble. If you don’t believe in any god, at least hold fast to truth.
There is no such thing as failure, only great mistakes (8). Make them. Make as many mistakes as needed to finally learn something difficult. Learn from your mistakes. Let the guilt teach you what to do next time. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat (9). Is the strongest man the man who holds a great weight without dropping it, or the man who convinces himself to pick up the great weight again after dropping it? Strength is not measured by how many times you succeed, but in how you handle yourself after you fail. Never be afraid to admit defeat, but never be afraid of trying again. Paradoxically, the strongest man is the one who admits he is the weakest. Try again (10). Even with the same results, you are not the same person the second time. You are under no obligation to be the same person you were a minute ago. So keep going.
Group projects are not useless unless you are useless (11). This one is for all my college aged buddies out there, so listen up. There really isn’t much I can say about this one. Stop complaining – welcome to the real world. Work together. Don’t be useless.
Do not limit yourself (12), and don’t put a limit on the things you can do. You were all made for greatness, and limiting yourself doesn’t help anyone. Do not put a limit on what you can do, what you can learn, who you can befriend or help. Do not limit others (13). Not only will they probably resent you for it – a lesson I learned the hardest way, because I can no longer call those I limited my friends – but you will also miss out on another opportunity to be surprised by those you love.
There will always be another (14). Another test, another course. Another party, another night to sleep. Another friend, another boy. Another home, another paycheck. Another professor, another year. It doesn’t end. There is always another. Look forward to it. Look forward to the fresh start 2014 brings.
Don’t let anyone hate you for something you can’t control (15). People hate me for being a Millennial. People hate my parents for leaving the Millennial a sucky economy. Or for the weather, or the traffic, or when sucky things just happen. Everyone hates everyone for very poor reasons. But that’s life.They call me entitled. Self-absorbed. Irresponsible. Too reliant on technology. Simply because my generation looks like this at face value. Don’t let what they say become who you are – be your own person. Control what you can control, and let them bother themselves with the things that can’t be.
Responsibility is not taking care of a houseplant or a pet fish successfully (16). Responsibility is accepting consequences, communicating, asking forgiveness, forgiving. Responsibility is not trying, giving up, and letting your parents fix it. If you can’t take care of a plant, at least take care of yourself. Keep yourself alive. Sober. Healthy. Sane. Then work on a plant.
There is no such thing as time (17). Time is a unit of measurement that was constructed by man to measure, obviously. As such, time does not need to be managed (skip the time management books, seriously), but rather, time must be made. You can make time, did you know that? You are all powerful enough to manipulate time to create a time for what is important. Make time for your friends. Make time for your homework. Make time for a couple seasons of Grey’s Anatomy during finals week. Do not let your time be run by a clock.
Do not – I repeat, do not – ever forget your mother tongue (18). Read more books. Magazines are great, Kindles are fancy, and video games are fun. But you need to sit down and pick up a good, musty, crackling-spine book and read it. Master a language – master two! Understand the nuances of grammar and the melody of syntax. Learn the definition to fancy words and then use them to impress all your friends. It’s a cool party trick, at the right parties.
Let yourself be attacked (19). Obviously, stand up for what you believe in, but allow yourself to feel pain, to suffer. Let yourself be attacked. You will be humbled. You will be empathetic. And you will be made stronger for it.
Let God (20). Let Him strengthen you, enlighten you. Let Him rip you to pieces and build you back again. Let Him teach you. Let Him mold you. Let Him.
2014 is sickeningly close. I’m struck by how many pages I’ve ripped off of my calendar, how many steps I have taken on that campus I called home for 5 semesters, how many friends I’ve laughed with, arms I’ve been hugged with, hands I’ve been fed with, words I’ve been consoled with.
2014 is excitingly close, dear readers. Take this 20 things I’ve learned the hardest way – the things I am still learning – and run into the winds of change with your battle cry.
The adventure of 2014 waits for your commencement. Don’t be late.