23 Things I Understand Now That I’m 23

Samantha Gades

It took me 23 years to finally start to understand who I really am. The sad part is, I know I’m not even there yet. I’m only just starting to get a feel for who I am as an individual.

Growing up, it can be difficult to find yourself. You’re young, naïve, vulnerable and easily-influenced. It’s all about “fitting in,” whatever that means. Dressing a certain way, looking a certain way, saying certain things and doing certain things.

Twenty-three years later, I’ve finally understood how sick that thought process is. The idea that we are all trying to be the same, when we were all really made to be different. In the way that we dress, look, talk, act, our interests, our opinions…we were all made to be different.

It wasn’t until that realization hit me that I realized who I really might be.

Though I’m still young and have my whole life laid out in front of me, I now am certain of the path my life has taken me on and am even more certain of the path I want to take moving forward.

1. Acknowledge. I now am able recognize my problems for what they are and feel comfortable acknowledging them all. There’s no longer a desire in me to run, hide or ignore, but instead, I desire to tackle these things head on.

2. Accept. Make peace with your past. You’re only human, you’re going to make mistakes. Your past, your mistakes…they don’t define you, they simply add chapters to your story. Understand the place you were coming from and the person you were in your past. Understand why you did what you did, and accept it. The past is in the past. They say “don’t look back, you’re not going that way,” but I personally believe it’s important to look back just to see how far you’ve come.

3. Understand. Listen, don’t get me wrong – I am opinionated. But I’ve come to understand that everyone has opinions and everyone’s opinions will differ. That doesn’t make me wrong, nor them. I’ve learned to stand my ground and stand by my opinions, but have a completely open mind – one that accepts and understand the viewpoints of everyone, whether or not I agree with it.

4. Apologize. I’ve learned you don’t get to decide when you’ve hurt someone else. Obviously, I never go out of my way to hurt anyone, but I of course have in my lifetime, as all humans will at one point or another. Whether or not I understand what I’ve done wrong, whether or not I agree with the other person, I give the sincere, genuine apologies they deserve because the feeling of hurting someone is the worst feeling in the world, and if you can’t find it in yourself to apologize, you’ve still got a lot of growing up to do.

5. …But at the same time, be unapologetic. One of my biggest pet peeves is a person who is too consumed in what others think about them. Truly, I feel sorry for these people. The ones who care so much about being liked by everyone. At the end of the day, you cannot and will not please everyone. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay. So, you should unapologetically be your authentic self. Always.

6. People will talk, but you don’t have to listen. It’s human nature to talk about other people and to gossip. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. Whatever they’re saying, don’t let any of it get to you. The people who have the most to say are always the people who know you the least. What others are saying about you is none of your business.

7. Forgive. Life is way too short. The people who talk behind your back, forgive them. The people who spread rumors, forgive them. The people who hurt you, forgive them. Everyone else is trying to figure out who they are and figure out their lives just the same way you are, and having that said, we’re all going to make our mistakes. It’s not worth getting stuck in petty, arbitrary drama. Hate is heavy, so let it go.

8. If someone wants to walk out of your life, let them. This one took a while for me to accept. Friends, boyfriends, neighbors…people don’t always stay, and no matter how much you’d like them to, no matter how much you try and make them, you cannot force someone to stay in your life. Make room for the people who want to be there. Why put all of your time and energy into the people who don’t care enough to give you their time and energy?

9. It’s OK to not be OK. When you feel like crying, cry. When you feel like screaming, scream. We were meant to feel real, raw emotion. Feeling these feelings just means you’re human, and it’s healthy to feel these things. We were not made to be indestructible robots. We were made to feel, so feel.

10. Be kind. You have no idea what anyone is going through in their lives. It’s actually very easy to come across as happy-go-lucky and carefree on the outside, but be dying internally. Your smile or your “how are you” to a familiar face could mean the world to someone and make their day. Be kind always.

11. There is never any room for judgment. Again, you have no idea what anyone is going through in their lives. The ones who smile the brightest, laugh the loudest, tell the funniest jokes and the ones who are the kindest are oftentimes the ones hurting the most. The ones who act out, say or do things we may not approve of, those are the ones who are lost, crying out for help. The last thing anyone needs is your cruel words, rumors or judgmental thoughts. Understand that everyone is going through something and it’s never acceptable to pass judgment on anyone.

12. Change. People change. You will change. It’s part of growing up and growing as a person. I encourage you to change, to evolve. Challenge yourself to change, to be different and to grow.

13. Ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. Strong, in the sense that you understand that sometimes not all challenges can be faced alone. Anxiety, depression, self-doubt or insecurities are not meant to be suppressed and pushed far back deep inside you just to be neglected. Talk about these things.

14. Know what you want. Whether it’s in a relationship, or choosing a restaurant for dinner, know what you want. I think growing up means becoming more decisive in general. Yes, you’re still young and inexperienced, but you’ve faced hardships in life whether internal or external in your relationships with both friends and significant others which has brought you to a better understanding of what you want in your future relationships. Everyone who has walked into and out of your life has taught you something. With every failed relationship, you learn what you want, what you need and what you are deserving of in your relationships.

15. Disconnect. It’s okay to lose touch with certain people. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever, and you’re not meant to stay in others’ lives forever. Losing touch with people is normal, and sometimes healthy. Understand that anyone you have crossed paths with was meant to touch your life in some way. To help you learn or grow.

16. Work on yourself. This one may be one of the biggest for me. This one is when I knew I was growing up and finding myself. I looked back on the place I was, the person I was and the experiences that brought me to where I am and learned that not everything that I have been through has been perfect, fun or good. And although I cannot change certain things in my life in the past, or that will happen in my present or future, I am in control changing myself and bettering myself. I cut out the bad, focused on the good and am constantly making a conscious effort to be my best self moving forward.

17. Be honest. Be honest with your friends. Be honest with your family. Be honest with yourself. When you’re truthful, you put things in your past. Telling lies becomes part of your future. Even when it’s awkward, hurtful or uncomfortable, I’d rather feel the initial disappointment in someone being honest with me from the get-go, than the anger I’d feel later on when a lie came out.

18. Be self-aware. Even if it means addressing things about yourself that you may not like or are insecure about, be self-aware. This one, too, comes with time. It’s easier to be self-aware when you’re more in tune to who you are. Know what is good and bad for you whether it’s people, food, alcohol, even television shows…everything comes down to you making choices. Learn the good choices from the bad ones.

19. Stand up. I don’t consider myself a confrontational person by any means, but if I feel that someone is hurting my family or friends in any way, I will 100 percent stand up for them. I would rather be known as the girl who spoke her mind defending someone I love than the girl who sat back and kept her mouth closed in fear of being looked at in a certain light.

20. You’re not what other people say you are. It is so easy to get lost in translation when you’re trying to discover who you are. With everyone in your ear telling you who they think you are, who you should be or what you should be doing. Someone’s opinion of you is just that, their opinion. That doesn’t make it true. That doesn’t mean that’s who you are. Don’t let someone have that sort of control over you. People form opinions off of arbitrary things, rumors and twisted stories. It’s easy to let that all get to you, but don’t let it, because when you do, you let them win.

21. Date. If you haven’t found “the one,” please stop panicking. You’re only twenty-three. I’ve only been in two serious relationships in my life, both of which have taught me more about myself, and more about what I’m looking for in my next relationships. You’re young, you’re supposed to put yourself out there and date people. Don’t be closed off to any opportunities.

22. There is no timeline on your life. I have friends who are getting engaged, getting married, moving into houses with their significant others, moving to big cities and starting real careers as I sit in my apartment every weekend sure to not miss a single Harry Potter movie marathon. Listen, there is no timeline on your life. There is no rush. There is no timer that says if you haven’t done ‘X’ by age ‘X,’ you’re too late. Understand that everyone moves at their own pace and everything that is meant to happen to you, will. But it will happen naturally the way your life is meant to run its course. Don’t try to force anything. God laughs when you make plans.

23. Try new things. We are creatures of habit. I sit my ass on the couch every Monday night for The Bachelor and I’m on my third rerun of Gossip Girl. Your life is too short to be reliving the same experiences. Take a new class, go to the gym and for the love of God, maybe watch a new show…try anything and everything new to find what it is you love, and what you’re good at. You may find that it’s easier to find your passions, your drives and yourself by putting yourself out there and trying the things that appeal to you most. TC mark

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