I absolutely love the theme of this post, and funnily enough I think I skipped it for my 20th birthday last year! I think there is something so rewarding about reflecting on our experiences in life, and sharing them with others. I know that I love to read what other people have learned over the course of their lives!
This year has been quite a whirlwind for me–so many new experiences and a level of comfort in myself and my world that I hadn’t experienced previously. My birthday came quickly this year, and more generally the time felt as though it went by faster!
So without further ado, here are 21 things that I have learned at 21:
For many years my life stayed relatively consistent. I went to the same school for consecutive years, had the same schedule, went to the same places, etc. Any amount of change would be accompanied with undue levels of stress and discomfort. Sitting in the unknown was the most uncomfortable feeling, and I would run to the nearest form of familiarity.
When I got to college, it was all thrown out the window. I was in a new place with a new schedule, new people, new classes, new routines, changing routines, and new dynamics. Each day something would fill me with a sense of panic and discomfort, and I would fight against the desire to run and hide in the past. After a while, I started to become more comfortable with discomfort. I would allow myself to be in it, and to feel it despite the challenges. During my second semester I traveled on my own for the first time, staying with people I didn’t previously know and experiencing a new life for a week (on an internship). This experience created a new side of me, one that liked to jump in the deep end and learn how to swim in each current (this is a funny analogy because swimming is not my favorite activity…).
This year I became a part of so many new environments and experiences that I have honestly lost count. In fact, in the past few months the unknown has been the only consistent element of my journey. Every day comes with new challenges, but I no longer feel the need to hide in the known.
This past year–though one of the most challenging in many ways–has definitely been my happiest. My days were long, but always filled with sources of joy. My friends, my family, my college community, my classes (studying my passions), and my journeys.
I used to think that happiness was the ultimate destination–something that I would achieve sometime in the future. But happiness is the now, and it’s the everyday. The weather, a cup of coffee, laughter. Happiness is something we can choose to have, not aspire to acquire.
This might seem like an odd thing to say that I’ve learned–but vitamins have had such a positive impact on my health this year in particular. When I got back from my summer travels, I found that I was feeling quite off and more exhausted than usual. I did some research and started a new vitamin regimen, and wow has it made a difference! It’s also led to some funny moments (the surprise of airline agents when they see that half my carry on luggage is supplements…).
In my experiences this year, I have found that the universe seemed to bring me everything I needed at the most opportune times. This is not to say that these moments were purely magical and perfect in nature, but each moment gave me something important. From making networking connections with people at the same metro ticket kiosk to meeting other world travelers on a stalled train in Amsterdam (getting help from travelers who spoke Dutch to figure out how to get on another train after a long travel day)–even chaotic moments brought positivity in some form.
This year I was fortunate enough to discover local organizations that sell consignment and used clothing, and who use the proceeds to continue a cycle of community support. I have mixed up my wardrobe more times this year than consecutive years in the past, and have saved money while supporting organizations for change. I have also traded in my clothing for new outfits, and shopping has changed from a chore to something that I truly enjoy! I encourage you to find local consignment and thrift organizations to support–and to give your wardrobe a new look (and in doing so give someone else the chance to do the same)!
You may recognize this quote from a documentary that premiered on Netflix called Minimalism. One week in the spring semester I decided to give this documentary a watch and it completely changed how I saw my life. For a long time, material possessions were something that I was really fond of (I used to perseverate on things until I could save up enough money to buy them). The result? Bins and bins and bins and bins of things that I forgot I even owned. After my journey of shopping with a purpose, I started to question the value of owning something that you couldn’t actually use on a regular basis.
I was able to sell and donate so many items for others to use in more constructive ways (I had clearly forgotten about them, and thus they were not adding value to my own life). Soon I was left with items I used every day, and getting rid of four times as much as I acquired (and if I did acquire things they were usually consumable). The morning that I woke up after a weekend-long process of clearing out, I felt physically lighter. I switched on my well-used water heater for coffee in my favorite mug, and put on my favorite Spotify playlist (because clutter comes in digital forms too!).
I used to think that things could make me happy. By giving them up I released a burden I never knew I carried.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago (now that I think about it, it was probably a few months ago and time just keeps flying by like that). After traveling for months on end (and to still be traveling), home has become a concept more than a location. I used to think that going home was returning to where I grew up every so often while in college. But home became so much more. Home became my friends, my family, my college, my college town, multiple states, multiple places. Home became something that I could create anywhere–a concept that travels with me. Long discussions with friends and family, making new connections, reflecting on my experiences, creating the familiar in the unfamiliar.
2017 has been the year of solo travel for me, and one of the questions that I often get is about feeling alone. I have rarely experienced feelings of loneliness during my travels, and have actually found it to be an amazing way to connect with others and make new connections internationally! I also enjoy being able to take the time to reflect on my experiences!
A few years ago, I was not at all a fan of spontaneity. I am a planner at heart, and for a long time I thrived on established schedules. But when I think about the best moments in my life, most of them came from spontaneous decisions and have left a lasting impression! I’ve learned that there is a wonderful balance to be found between planning and going with the flow of life.
This year I started a commitment to a meditation practice, and it has changed my life for the better. The breath is something that is always with us, but that we are hardly aware of. Our breath changes as we experience different things, and can often be a root indicator of stress. By controlling our breath we control what we let into our emotional lives.
This goes with spontaneity, but is also a reference to travel. I have had the best experiences when I arrive with a loose plan (lodging and some logistics). I arrived in Amsterdam with very little sense of what my week there was going to entail, and I left with some of the best memories and new friends!
This is something that I learned over the course of my college career so far, and I am so glad that I did! There is definitely a difference between being busy and having a schedule full of things that you love to do. When you fill your time with things that add value and meaning to your life, you find that the days, months, and years fly by!
Laughter is underrated–it can turn your day around and make you feel connected to the world once more. When was the last time that you laughed so hard that you cried and couldn’t breathe? Make it a goal to laugh at least once every day!
Since becoming a blogger I have noticed creative blocks more than ever, and over the course of the year have discovered that seeing creativity inspires my own. When I feel lost creatively, I look at all of the amazing work that creators of all mediums are doing. It inspires me to try new things, which often sparks new avenues of creativity!
This year I have embraced adventure more than ever, and it has inspired me to find it wherever I go. No matter where I am, I find that adventure is out there! (Love that quote from UP!) Live the Adventure is originally from creator Louis Cole, and I love what he has done (along with so many others!) to live a life of adventure and purpose!
It costs nothing to be kind, and kindness has a way of brightening the world like rims of water on a pond. Kindness is a ripple effect, and something that we can always use more of in this world. Everyone displays kindness in different ways (I love to connect with people every day, and I show my compassion towards animals with my vegan lifestyle). Embrace your own kindness and share it with the world!
I have been on a long journey with self-love, and only recently has it been a positive one. It took me years and years to embrace qualities and aspects that I could only see as flaws, and to accept myself as I truly am. When I made that switch, it’s like the lens I saw my life through completely changed. Everything was brighter, lighter, and happier. It is a hard journey to follow, but it has completely changed my path and how I relate to the world.
I learned this the most this year, though I have always thought it to be true. Everyone that you meet has something to teach you. Regardless of anything, everyone has experiences to share and wisdom to impart. Listen to the stories and experiences of others, and you will find connection and knowledge is abundant!
You can never show enough appreciation, and oftentimes it can make a huge difference in someone’s day! It is so easy to take the support and love that we receive on a daily basis for granted, and expressing your appreciation can help you stay grounded in gratitude and happiness.
Whenever I feel like I have lost my direction in any aspect in life, I like to journal and write down my dreams and goals. It helps me to think about what I really want, and inspires me to start taking the steps to get there!
Sometimes it feels as though we are too small to make a difference, but we are strong. We have the power to change the way our world works. Find what you are passionate about, and follow the path of change. I went vegan for this reason, and I have never looked back. Sometimes it may feel impossible, but no voice and no impact is too small.
I hope you liked this post! I loved reflecting on what I have learned, and I would love to hear what you have learned over the years of your life! I am currently quite busy on my semester abroad, but I hope to post as regularly as I can and keep you all updated on the happenings!
©2017 The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.