22 Things I Learned Before Turning 22

22 Things I Learned Before Turning 22

A few weeks ago I found a list in my old journal, written about a year ago, called "21 things learned before turning 21." It includes a lot of lessons about friendships—how they change and break and heal—and a lot about myself—that I’m more worthy, more capable than I knew before. It’s a list that represents a year of change, of beginning to break down walls that I’d built to protect myself from the world; but instead it was in vulnerability that the real breakthrough and freedom came.

This post comes out on my birthday, so if you’re reading it, I’m now 22—someone hit the Taylor Swift... While "happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time" feels like it’s been true for me for most of the last few years, 22 is the age when I’ll finally graduate, be freed from studying and let into the wild to find some grown-up way to spend my time. Exciting. Scary.

I’m a believer in constant growth. But so often I feel stagnant and stuck, and it’s only in the looking back that I can see how even the hard, lonely and boring seasons were working things out in me, niggling through me with their magic to reveal truths later, like bluebells nestled under the earth, waiting out winter. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been learning in the last 12 months; things that hit me brand new, or simply realised with a new depth that hadn’t sunk in before. So here’s a list.

A disclaimer, though: life’s lessons are cyclical. One thing I supposedly learned before turning 21 was that ‘broken hearts heal’. While I hold fast to the truth of this, heartbreak comes around again and again – in big and small ways – and that it even comes to an end is an easy thing to doubt when you’re in the middle of it. Some lessons are to be learned over and over, grasping their truth with a little more strength each time. Cue lesson one:

  1. Sometimes pain has to be waited out. This thought occurred while lying in bed with a pounding, nausea-inducing migraine. There was little to do except lie there in the dark and wait for sleep to come, knowing the pain would fade in a few hours. Even though it felt like hell. Like migraine, like heartache. Eventually, the headache will pass; eventually, I’ll stop thinking about the boy.
  2. What I’m craving isn’t always what I need. Seeking to fill an empty gap with whatever I can get my hands on first seems like relief but is short-lived: food, attention, Netflix… What I’m craving is probably more likely satisfied by something else – something a little slower to attain, less instant, more fulfilling.
  3. Life doesn’t stop changing. I thought the coming and going, constant movement of college days was limited to these few years; don’t things settle down afterwards? But I get the impression from my parents, my graduate friends, the people I see around me – that life moves in endless waves of old and new. I reckon change gets a little easier to manage as you learn how to wear it better, but I don’t think it ever stops catching you off guard, even just a little bit.
  4. Insecurity comes back. Don't expect to grow out of it (at least not by 22). You have to keep fighting it.
  5. Sometimes being thrown in the deep end with teammates who are really different from you, who drive you a little bit crazy, is the best thing that can happen. Embrace the humanity of being broken and frustrating and together for that time. You have no idea what you could learn from each other. Let ‘Cheap Thrills’ become your anthem because of that time it followed you round Paris, and let your memories of riding the metro remind you that laughter is sweet and friendship is a gift.
  6. Life cannot be entirely feelings-driven (much to my disappointment). It takes discipline and action.
  7. The older, wiser people you go to for advice can probably be trusted, even if you don’t like the advice they give. Remember why you went to them in the first place? They know things you don’t know yet.
  8. But other times, lessons have to be learned the hard way.
  9. Confrontation can be a great thing! Admitting when someone has hurt you is important.
  10. Joy is found in getting out of your own head, your own pain, your own life, and sacrificing for someone else. Serving tea and laughing over board games in a refugee camp; painting for days in a coffee shop for the family that’s become like your own; being the first to offer to make the beds, lay the table, do the washing up. Living for others is where life is.
  11. Clarity usually comes later. Overanalysing isn’t always excessive; mull things over. Allow them to sit. Let heartache unsettle you, unravel you and then work you out in the understanding of it. Let yourself learn. Understand better afterwards.
  12. It is actually possible to cry at a sunset. I did it twice this year.
  13. It feels really good to have friends who want the best for you, and care enough to tell you the honest truth. Surround yourself with people who love you this much.
  14. Go to that thing on a Saturday night. Don’t lock yourself in your room because you’re lonely and scared. Get out and be reminded that people love you, people are for you.
  15. Making a "sleep" playlist will revolutionise bedtime.
  16. Emotional boundaries are a thing (so I’ve heard. I’m yet to learn how to implement them well in my own life… maybe this is an ongoing lesson). Find them. Learn them. Harness them.
  17. Sometimes you know what’s good for you, and you know what you want, and you know that they’re not the same thing. Sometimes you establish boundaries and then want to cross them. Give yourself a grace period, and then get tough. You know better.
  18. Writing is holy business. Writing can heal.
  19. Summer in the Normandy countryside is heaven.
  20. Going to New Zealand will be worth the 36-hour journey (honestly). Similarly, flying on your own for the first time is one of those “huh, maybe I can handle this whole life thing after all” experiences.
  21. Cats are not as good as dogs, but they are still quite good.
  22. Pray. Pray. Pray. Even when you feel like you’ve forgotten how. God is faithful. Sometimes it takes losing him, shouting at him, ignoring him, wanting to throw things at him, doing the opposite of what he says just to see what happens (teenage tantrum style) and then coming back to him to see how his faithfulness is more certain than the morning.

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