On Being 17

One month ago, today, I was on a plane returning from the Just Peace Summit in New York. I sat in a window seat overlooking a sunset. Simply and profoundly, it was a dreamy site to see. I forgot about the week’s worth of homework I had to complete, I forgot about the emails in my inbox, about the unread text messages. I was at peace. Content. Meditative. Appreciating the sunset. Uninterrupted, I had been looking out the window for quite some time. I didn’t want this peace to end. How much time was left on this flight? I checked my watch:

30 minutes to go.
Is that really today’s date?
30 days until I turn 18?
… and then the crisis:


As I often do, I looked to my planner to reassure myself.


My planner, my rock, my reassurance. Embarrassing, I know :)

I frantically looked through the pages. I started looking backwards at past events, to-do lists, and goals. “Whew,” I thought. I have been doing things -- lots of things: Mock trial. Travel. Coffee dates. Homework. Flipping through the pages was a sort of reassuring reflection… until it wasn’t. I found unsettling blank spaces and emails I planned on sending, but never did. I found lingering homework assignments and missed opportunities for coffee dates. 

I always set high expectations. That is evident in my planner. I plan to do more than is feasible. I am too critical when I fall short, but I am slowly getting better. According to my planner, being 17 was very productive, but left room for improvement. To me, being 17 was similar to the sunset I watched on the plane: simply and profoundly dreamy -- it has been the happiest year of my life. Emotionally, I have grown so much. Some highlights: discovering my obsession with fungus at the Clark Scholars research program, skating to Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love in the ice show, watching my sister’s documentary Specks of Dust, launching InspirED, hugging Lady Gaga, meeting Jeni Stepanek and learning about Mattie's message of peacemaking. Being 17 was certainly not flawless. I made mistakes. I have regrets. I cried. I both lost and gained friends, valuable friends. I learned more about my own story. I did lots of thinking. I have lots more thinking to do.

Turning 18, in my mind, seems like some sort of intense and philosophical marker of adulthood. At least it did on that plane ride. I don’t think I am there yet. I don’t think I want to be there. I want to make mistakes. I want to learn more before I am “there.”


This photo was taken by my brother, Jonny, at Lake Michigan. I do my best thinking here.


17 lessons:

1.      I need to treat myself with the same compassion I give to others.  Most often, I am own my worst critic. I bully myself when I fall short of my expectations. I deserve compassion.

2.     Self-care MUST be a priority. I preach that “self-care is not selfish,” but putting that into practice is very difficult. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, I need to take better care of myself.

3.     Be boldly and unapologetically me. Too often, I apologize for things I cannot control. I apologize when I am vulnerable. Here is what I should be unapologetic about: needing alone time, celebrating success, overthinking things, telling my story, writing my feelings, sharing my feelings, doing what I know is healthy for me.

4.     I need to be nicer to my parents. My parents tend to see the best and worst parts of me.  For all that my parents have given me, they deserve a nicer daughter.

5.      Struggle isn’t relative. This is something I learned the hard way. I compared someone else’s struggle to my own. Any struggle is hard. Every struggle is hard. Instead of responding with judgment, respond to struggle with sensitivity.

6.     Gratitude is tremendous! I am grateful for sunshine. I am grateful for my incredible siblings. I am grateful to have clean water. I have countless blessings in my life, but I cannot just be grateful for my blessings. If I want to be a truly grateful person, I need to learn to be grateful for my struggles, my regrets, my weaknesses, for the things and people that cause me pain. I am grateful for positive and negative aspects of my life, because both have given me the capacity to grow.

7.      Friendship needs to be reciprocated. I am in no way a perfect friend; I am trying to improve. I have lost, gained, and repaired various friendships; the most important lesson I have learned is that I deserve the empathy, advice, and unconditional listening that I offer my friends (and the other way around). Reciprocation is key.

8.     The imposter syndrome is real and very dangerous. “I don’t deserve to be where I am and must be a fraud” is something I face daily. It is difficult to recognize my successes as well deserved. Taking small pride in my accomplishments is not selfish, it may lead to happiness. Speaking of… 

9.     Happiness is a verb. Happiness is hard work that requires consistency! That being said, there are tools to promote happiness -- I wrote about a few here.

10.   Not all relationships need saving. This is something I also learned the hard way. I try so hard to see the good in people. This sometimes leads me to being blind to unhealthy friendships. Reconciling a new beginning may be more important than reconciling a broken friendship.

11.   I need to be less judgmental of my feelings. I tend to judge what stresses me, rather than deal with it. Perhaps not all stress is created equally, but all stress should be addressed. Judgment is only an inhibitor.

12.  I can always “make time.”

13.  Listening is hard. Ever since watching my sister Azza's TEDx talk, I have tried to be a better listener. Being a good listener is hard work -- necessary work.  

14.  Kindness must be a habit. Kindness can be a part of my daily routine. Giving a few more compliments, telling a friend I care about her, or paying it forward -- these are small, easy acts of kindness that can promote happiness instantly. 

15.  Emotional learning is hard! Feeling the way I want to feel is like learning how to ride a bike. It is okay to ask for help; it is okay to make mistakes; it is okay to fall down.

16.  Genuine. I need to be that. I tend to say “I’m good,” when I am not. It is okay to not be okay. It is okay to ask for help.

17.  I have so much to learn.