It's hard to believe, but in less than 24 hours, I'll be turning 22 years old.
Naturally, I'm excited, as birthdays usually bring fun times and memories with family, friends, and a flurry of Facebook posts to read through. However, I'm also a bit contemplative and self-reflective this time around, as turning 22 also brings a lot of important life junctures with it.
My college career is almost over; I've got one more semester at Bradley before I graduate and become an adult in the real world. From then on, I'll have to get a job, move out on my own, and start doing all of the other things that are part of the experience of being an independent citizen.
With all of the responsibility that comes with growing older, it frequently prompts me to think diagnostically and ask myself this question: What lessons have I learned throughout my life that have helped shape who I am today?
It's a (fairly) simple question, but the task of coming up with a few solid answers is far from simple, as all kinds of experiences and influences have helped mold the clay of my being since birth.
For example, I've learned to say always say "please," "thank you," and "excuse me" whenever necessary during my interactions with others. I've learned that it's not polite to point, despite the fact that sometimes I still
manage to do it anyway for dramatic effect. Also, after a variety of painfully awkward experiences as a pubescent teenager, I've learned that a lot of girls don't really like it when you ask them out over text messages or MySpace. (My bad, ladies. I didn't know any better back then.)
But if we're going to look at things through an IMAX-width lens, I'd say there are three lessons that have had the most impact on me up to this point:
1. Trust God - When I attended Sunday School as a little one, I fondly remember ending each session with those in attendance, from children to adults, gathering in the large, white-walled fellowship hall of the church and reciting Proverbs 3:5, which reads "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lead not into thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy path."
I didn't really embrace the meaning of this verse as a kid, as back then it was just something I memorized due to saying it so much. As I got older, and really started to understand what it means to have an intimate relationship with God, it started to click for me that this was more than just a series of words stringed together because they sounded nice. Instead, it's an instruction for me to stop putting my faith in myself so much and to start putting it in the Lord instead. This isn't an easy thing for me to do, as I like to be in control of pretty much everything in my life, but it's proven to be more beneficial to me than harmful, which is why each day I learn a little bit more on how to step back and let God to do his thing.
2. Kindness is key - From a young age, I've realized that not every interaction that I have with other people in our society is going to be a positive one. It makes me sad to think about, but unfortunately, that's just how it goes. In order to come to terms with this realization, I've become a major proponent of the "Golden Rule", which is to treat others in the manner that I'd like to be treated.
I prefer to be treated with kindness and respect, so I make it my duty to do the same for everybody I come into contact with on a daily basis. It's draining sometimes, as some make it more difficult to be kind to them than others, but in the end, one act of kindness a day can positively impact someone for years if they allow it to, so I won't be stopping anytime soon.
3. Express yourself - I used to be a real "wear your heart on your sleeve" kinda kid growing up. I was quick to emotion and reaction and slow to a logical thought process; a combination which frequently got me in trouble and put in embarrassing situations. As the years went by, I purposely started to change that about myself. I began putting on stoic poker faces and became more quiet and introverted as a way to protect myself from people calling me "soft" or "sensitive." I wanted people to take me seriously, so in order to do so, I became somebody that I'm not.
I didn't notice it back then, but doing this was more hurtful than helpful, as I started to disconnect myself from my emotions, which ultimately took away from my ability to fully enjoy life's experiences. Life is a beautiful thing, so why should it be treated any differently? I'm re-learning how to embrace who I am and express how I feel every day that goes by, and quite frankly, I don't understand why gave any of that up in the first place. Life is too fragile to close yourself off from it, so I'm going to continue to be as open with myself and you guys as much as I can from here on out.
I could write a novel about the things that life has taught me, but I currently don't have the time or the attention span to do that. Instead, I'm just going to let my actions do the talking while I continue to take note of life's little lessons as I look forward to year 23.