1. Fearing people less. I think the stages of life go something like this: When you’re a young child, you’re fearless. You get older and start putting people in categories, some of which you fear. When you’re a teen, you may rebel but you’re still somewhat consumed by the thoughts of other people. When you start coming into yourself in adulthood, you start to shed off the idea that people should have such a stronghold on you. And it feels freaking great.
2. Dealing with rejection better. Sometimes life can feel like a series of rejections, all of which are intended to break you completely and make you afraid to even try. But here’s the thing: The feeling you have during (and after) rejection of any kind – they always go away, no matter how bad you thought it would be. And because that pain tends to be fleeting, we become more aware that those bad feelings we have when we’re rejected, they’re temporary not permanent. So we pick ourselves up a little bit quicker each time.
3. Caring less and less what people think of you. It’s worth it to care what some people think of you, especially people who have your best interests at heart. But I kid you not, there is nothing better than realizing whose opinions matter and whose don’t. And I assure you the latter is in the majority, and as you get older that majority just keeps growing. It’s a great feeling.
4. Knowing who our real friends are. The reality is we’ll probably keep in communication with people who we’re mild acquaintances with because that is life and not every relationship needs to make you feel like the person would die for you. But as we get older, I think we get much better at separating our friends – from those we can go to happy hour with, to those who are really going to be there with you when things hit the fan. Not everyone you thought would be there will be there. But sometimes you’ll be surprised by who does show up.
5. Managing our lives better. It sounds really uptight but there is a practicality to life that cannot be ignored – paying your bills on time, saving money for unforeseen events, making sure you keep appointments. When we’re young it seems really easy to blow things off but as we get older not only are people less forgiving of us, we become less forgiving of ourselves. It takes a while sometimes to get this part right but little by little, we edge closer to this practical aspect of adult life.
6. Being truly tolerant of people you can’t stand. Look we all know that we don’t like everyone we meet or know. We also know that not everyone who meets or knows us is going to like us. We know all of this in theory, and it can be a tough pill to swallow when we start knowing it practically. But in a world where we have to sometimes share sidewalks, rooms, neighborhoods, cities, and the earth with these people, as we get older, I think the best of us learn to simply endure the mild inconvenience of simply treating people cordially.
7. Leaving places where you’re not having a good time. Sometimes when we’re young, we suffer through situations where we can leave but choose not to because we don’t have the courage to just leave. This is another one of my favorite things about getting older – if I’m not having a good time in a place that I’m supposed to be having a good time and it’s not an obligation to be there, I peace out. It’s that simple.
8. No more FOMO. To be honest, I’ve never quite understood FOMO. I understand it in theory but the whole idea seems so juvenile. Still, I get that people have it. I think one of the great things about getting older is just realizing that a lot of what goes on when people are out is just the same old thing over and over again. Your friends go out, drinks are drunk, dances are danced, kisses are had, etc. Every once in a while you meet really, cool interesting people and have a really AMAZING night. But most times, you’re not missing out on much. Besides, everyone knows the best days or nights are the ones you don’t place.
9. Learning how to be with yourself. As you get older, you realize just how exhausting people can be. But not only that, you realize how fun it is to just do what you want to do, and maybe that means doing it by yourself. As you get older, I think, you get more and more comfortable with being in your skin especially when you realize your body, your soul, your mind – all the things that make you, you aren’t going anywhere. So you learn to work on it while living in it with all your imperfections.
10. Learning to walk away from people who can’t give you what you need (anymore). I think we spend a lot of our youth holding tightly to the things and people we are convinced that we know. But as we get older, we learn to just not hold on so tightly; to let go of people and things that just aren’t meant for us anymore. It’s painful and it will always be painful but as we get older, we learn that this pain is necessary to prepare us to let new things (and people) into our lives too.
11. Knowing when to just shut the hell up. Okay, I’d be willing to give you that not every single adult learns this but most of us do as we older. We learn that our opinions don’t always matter, and even when they do matter, they don’t always have to take front and center in a conversation. And you know what? We often become a better people for it.
12. Learning to not sweat the small stuff. Maybe because as we get older, our big problems get bigger and sometimes even more unpredictable, the things we used to fret about start becoming few and far between. Starting to know friends who are losing parents or facing unemployment without respite or have unforeseen health conditions, starts to be the things that keep your mind occupied. The silly troll on the internet or the person who takes forever at a cash register, all start seeming really insignificant.
13. Keeping a clean space. It may seem insignificant but keeping a clean space is really hard, especially when you live by yourself. But as you get older, the sight of messy clothes, dirty laundry, and disorganization just doesn’t seem like something you can brush off easily. So now whether you want to do it or not, you try to keep your space clean, or at least clean enough not to fill like you’re living in a human pigsty.
14. Getting better at saying no. “No” is important and it’s a word we think we should have available to us all throughout our lives. But the truth is when we’re young, saying no seems like a big deal sometimes. We don’t like to disappoint people, we want people to like us, and so we end up saying yes to things we have absolutely no interest in doing. Look, there are going to be loads of things in life you have to do for a significant other, a friend, a job, etc. But when you learn how valuable your time is – which most of us do as we get older – we realize “no” is our friend.
15. Learning to stand up for ourselves. The thing about getting older is you have less and less patience for not being treated well or given simple, basic respect. You learn to either call people out on it or remove yourself from their presence because it is destructive and bad for our self-esteem to keep taking crap from people. No, as we get older we just don’t take it anymore and it’s pretty great.
16. Moving on even when we don’t get closure. Closure can be a beautiful thing – just feeling that sense of finality in anything can give us reprieve; it prevents us from tossing and turning things in our head. But life doesn’t always work that way. We don’t always get that feeling of finality, we don’t always get to pick up the pieces, life goes on and we learn to go on with it. And you know what, I think as we get older we realize that this fate can be much better than brooding over something that we no longer have control over.
17. Not being so self-centered. The truth is when you’re young, people give you a pass on being self-centered. When you reach adulthood, your pass is revoked. If you don’t pick up on this soon, you will learn the hard way that life isn’t all about you. And it’s good that we learn it because it gives us perspective on so many things and the biggest gain, I think, is we learn not to take everything so personally.
18. Being more grateful (especially to our parents). There’s always that one person who has to say, “Well my parents were crappy so this doesn’t apply.” I am sorry, I really am – it sucks that people who brought you into the world didn’t give you what you needed. But I would say the majority, if it’s only a slight majority, learn that our parents did their best, and a lot of them did a damn good job. And it feels good to just be able to understand some of their frustrations and maybe even accept the fact that we were the cause sometimes. (Papa and Mama B if you ever read this, I want you to know you both deserve a freaking medal for managing to raise five sometimes stubborn and head-strong kids, and still maintaining your sanity through it all.)
19. Learning to believe what people do (and not necessarily what they say). It sounds really naïve of us when we think about it out loud, but a lot of us put a lot of weight into what people say. We want to believe that people actually say what they mean and mean what they say. But as we get older, we learn to look to people’s actions to form our opinions of who they are. Words matter (I write for a living for goodness sake) but we learn to see if people’s actions will match their words or not.
20. Learning to let go of resentment and regret, and to forgive ourselves and others. You’re going to do a lot of dumb things when you’re young. Especially when you’re young enough to make your decisions for yourself but not always old enough to feel like you can live with them. As we get older, we learn we have to be kinder to ourselves and to those we love and that means to simply stop re-opening old wounds. And if we can learn this before some tragedy happens, it is a gift. Because we’re reminded quite often that life is short and that none of us are going to be around forever, and some of us are gone far too soon. It’s a painful reality that makes us more appreciative of giving ourselves and others the gift of forgiveness and peace of mind.
21. Appreciating the little things. Look, there will always be people that are superficial. We might always be superficial about certain things. But as we get older, we learn that it’s not necessarily important to be hot or popular or know people that are. The people who matter will visit you when you’re sick or cry with you when you’re sad or just be with you in silence when the weight of the world is weighing so heavily on you that you just can’t find the words anymore. These people, my friends, it is these people who do these little things that are our truest treasure. And we learn to treat them like they are irreplaceable. Because you know what? They are.