Yesterday I turned twenty-one. It isn’t a big deal legally – if I wanted to, I could have been drinking three years ago – but I think it does seem to represent a sort of culmination of growing up, something I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of in the past few years.
As such, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learnt in my twenty-one years in this world. I’m not so sure if they’re useful to anyone other than myself – but so much of these things I have learnt from my family, my friends and my mentors, so I’d like them to know that they have, indeed, taught me a lot.
I’ve learnt that family isn’t always perfect, and sometimes takes you to places you never thought you would end up. It can be hard and painful and distant, and even though you can’t really say it was worth it, you end up wiser and more appreciative in the end. I’ve learnt that you don’t stop being part of a family when you move out of home, and although the physical and emotional spaces you occupy change, they never stop being there.
Family doesn’t have to be blood, either. It’s who you open your heart to and make your home, and who does the same for you.
I’ve learnt that you can live without friends and be happy on your own, for a time – but in the end, having friends is one of the most wonderful things about life. I’ve learnt to love making friends and keeping them, to enjoy having people in my life, especially since starting university. I’ve learnt that I can be a good, loyal friend, and that being someone’s friend is just as valuable and wonderful and someone being my friend. I love knowing that I have people I can invite to birthday parties and special events in my life, people who will make an effort.
Friends are worth it, and I have them.
I’ve learnt that love truly does surprise you. That you fall in love when you really are expecting it least, and where you’re expecting it least. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that there are so many more ways of loving and being loved than we’re lead to believe. Love is bigger and broader and more wonderful and more varied and encompassing. No-one can define it for you but yourself.
I’ve learnt to stand up and be heard, to be passionate and dedicated, to fight and feel strongly and unashamedly. I’ve learnt the value of compassion, and opening my mind, and accepting other people’s experiences. I’ve learnt to be an activist.
I’ve learnt that people mess up as well – that I mess up and that it’s not the end of the world. That it’s ok for me to admit defeat or walk away from something, to conserve energy for something else, to prioritise what to be passionate about and what to dedicate time to. I’ve learnt that not always being able to help myself doesn’t mean that I feel less strongly about it, or that I’m any worse a person.
I’ve learnt that I don’t always have to be the rock. That it’s ok to feel anger and sadness and vulnerability and insecurity. That I don’t have to push things aside rather than deal with them. I’ve learnt – slowly and recently – that talking about things sometimes works a lot better than hiding from something, even if it is a lot harder as well.
I’ve learnt that if you love something enough and dedicate yourself to it enough, you can generally make it work out for you. I’ve also learnt that that’s an incredibly privileged way of seeing things, and that it’s not that easy for everyone, because we don’t exist in a vacuum.
I’ve learnt that society tells you a lot of stuff about how you’re meant to live, who you’re meant to love, and what you’re meant to think. And that most of that is ridiculous and prescriptive and confusing, but powerful. And when you open your eyes to it, the whole world becomes endless with possibility.
Most importantly I’ve learnt that you learn things imperfectly, and you don’t ever stop.
I’ve learnt that you don’t have to grow up entirely. You can still run around in circles and pretend you have wings and roll in the grass when you’re twenty-one. And that dressing up will always be fun. 🙂