1. Your first friend.
It’s hard to even remember the world before you had a real friend. Friends tend to come at the age when you first start really understanding everything around you, and they start to illuminate the world in a way you can’t understand by yourself. Until your friend, you’re pretty much in your own little world with your comfy little family unit. Everything is familiar, everything is a known quantity. Then you meet someone whose parents keep Fruit Roll Ups instead of Fruit By the Foot, someone who doesn’t play all the games you like exactly the way you do, and your whole world turns itself on its head. Learning to compromise, be a good guest and host — it’s all incredibly intimidating (but necessary) for someone who is still combatting not regularly wetting the bed.
2. Your parents.
As obvious as it seems that your parents shape who you are, the moment when you look at something you do and sort of freeze in mid-motion and think, “Holy shit, I am literally becoming my parents,” is never quite prepared for. Whether it’s that weird way you eat your ice cream or the way you snap at someone instead of actually telling them what’s wrong — we’re all constantly in the process of Animorphing into our mom and dad, and it is absolutely terrifying.
3. Your first heartbreak.
Getting rejected, whether by someone who never gave you a chance or someone with whom you spent years of your life, is something that changes you forever. We have a tendency to play a little fast and free with the people we date until we realize how much being turned away can emotionally destroy someone. Having to realize that, no matter how badly you want someone, they may simply not want you back and there is nothing you can do about it, is amongst the most humbling experiences you can go through. It may be inevitable that you have to hurt someone’s feelings or let them down, but if you’ve had your heart broken, you’ll be sure to handle theirs with a little more care.
4. Your favorite teacher.
There is something incredibly moving about a teacher who not only teaches you the subject, but teaches you how amazing learning can be. We all have a teacher that we remember long after we’re out of school — someone we want to keep in touch with, someone we want to make sure understands the impact they had on our lives. A good teacher will show you an interest or talent you’d never even considered, or perhaps even decide the career path you take for the rest of your life. And most importantly, with them, you never feel like you’re working. It’s not just “You kids fill out these worksheets and watch this tape of Ice Road Truckers while I nap off my hangover,” it’s actually being excited to learn something.
5. Your childhood idol.
Depending on who you decide to idolize when between the malleable ages of five and 13, you may end up being the literal best or worst person ever. You might have fallen for the Spice Girls and, ever since, harbored a soft spot for feminism and heinous platform booties. You could have loved Sum 41 and Avril Lavigne and ended up adoring skateboards, stud bracelets, and disobeying your parents (while still being at home by 9 PM on the dot). You could have even followed after Bubba Sparxxx and Insane Clown Posse and ended up cooking meth and dodging child support. It’s really whatever floated your 11-year-old boat!
6. Your best friend.
A best friend will teach you that there is family in your life that you will get to choose, and who will love you not because they have to, but because they want to every day. You will argue, life will get between you, but your inside jokes will never make you laugh any less hard. Going through life after having met them, knowing that you can find people like this, makes everything seem just slightly less bleak.
7. Your first roommate.
I know many people who, due to a traumatizing Craigslist-or-dorm experience, have sworn off cohabitation entirely. There are always the stories floating around about the rando roommate who goes through your stuff, doesn’t pay the rent on time, leaves dishes everywhere, and generally smells like the suffering of small animals. And even if you do know the person, there’s no promise that you won’t discover an onion-like sphere filled with layer upon layer of horrifying nuance that make you promise to find the money to pay for a studio from now on. I may not have lived it, but I understand it, and I stand with you in living solo solidarity.
8. Your first boss.
So much of our expectations in the professional world come from our first real boss: the way we negotiate, the treatment we expect, the bullshit we put up with, and the way we relate to our superiors. Few things are more disorienting than getting used to a cool boss who treats you like a full-on human being and not some weird indentured servant and actually listens to you, only to move onto a less well-dressed version of Anna Wintour. If you happen to get an amazing first boss, hold onto that ride as long as it will take you.
9. Your object of envy.
The person who does better than you — who drives you to do better yourself — can often bring more out of you than you would have thought possible if you hadn’t met them. How many of our achievements are based, at least in some small way, on proving things to people? And what better source of something to prove is there than someone who is doing all of the things you want to be doing? Just one look at their Facebook is like a slap in the face to stop looking at alpaca videos and do something with your life. In the moment, it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re always just a step behind, but it’s nice to see the fierce competitor that was lying dormant until they came along.
10. Your single self.
The unfortunate truth is that some people will avoid, nearly at all costs, being alone for any extended period of time. We all know that person who has been caught up in some kind of relationship from the age of 15 to the age of whatever day this is, and it’s hard not to be like, “Come on, bro, go do something by yourself for at least a week or two.” But it really is essential to get used to your own company (and anyone who’s gone out to dinners/movies alone without a book to read can attest as to how weird one’s own company can be sometimes). We see ourselves in an unfiltered way, feel the freedom to do whatever we want with our lives/time, and generally mature in a completely independent way. It might be scary, but it’s so worth it.