Lessons from 2020

1. Don’t compromise yourself for other people.

Not even your friends. In fact, if you have to force yourself to like something to make them like you, then they’re probably not your friend to start with. I remember, in middle school, I had a K-pop phase. But did I really like K-pop? Hard to say. I did it mostly because I wanted to stay friends with that cool popular girl I went to elementary school with. It’s fine to samp

le things other people like, but if you listen to alternative and indie, don’t forsake your Halsey and Maggie Rogers for some mainstream rap you know you won’t like just to make conversation with him. It’s not worth rewriting yourself for someone else. Remember, you write your narrative on your own terms. Always.

2. Rely on yourself.

If I learned anything this past year, it’s that, in the end, you can only rely on yourself. As cynical as this may sound, no one is obligated to help you. There’s always some interest at play, be it money, power, love, what have you. When I was alone in quarantine in a country where I don’t belong, who did I have? Me, myself, and I. So don’t expect people to come to your aid, even if you asked. Friends and family help you because they love and care about you, not because they have to. With that said, be grateful when they do, but don’t assume that they always would.

3. Trust your instincts.

Even when reason tells you otherwise. Sometimes your gut/heart knows better than you think you do and, of course, over-rationalizing and over-analyzing can do more harm than good. I’m not saying completely forgo reason, but you gut/heart sees signs your mind doesn’t necessarily recognize or remember and that’s when your subconscious is on your side. So if someone’s vibe is just slightly off, or if you haven’t wanted to go to a certain club’s meetings in a while, maybe they’re just not for you. And vice versa. If, for reasons you can’t explain, you feel a certain connection with someone, or a school, a field, a hobby, maybe you should just go for it. It’s how I made some of my closest friends; it’s how I’m got to study in this high school I do not want to ever leave; it’s how I found writing. Sometimes just a feeling is enough, especially in terms of people.

4. Read read read.

The proverbs are right—there are hidden treasures in books. And if years of (serious) writing have taught me anything, it’s that you have to read to get better at writing. Read and read broadly. Read classics. Read New York Times Bestsellers. Read magazines you pick up for free at salons and read the self-published short stories and blogs. Just pick up a book and keep reading. It’s how you collect inspiration for your own stories. It’s how you grow as a writer, scholar, and person.

5. Self-care is not selfish.

I’m not saying that this past year is when I finally learned to love myself, but I will say 2020 has taught me, or rather, forced me, to take care of myself; with everything going on, I had to do something to keep myself together, or at the very least feel a semblance of togetherness. There were some trial and error, for sure—I experimented with a range of activities from watercolor, making smoothies, making rosewater and flower dye, to reading in the back yard, hula-hooping to Norwegian indie music, journaling, and following eye-makeup tutorials. I found a few things that work and I’m glad I tried the others that don’t quite help me. At least now I know. And while it took me some time to realize, I know now that, as much as I feel like I don’t deserve the luxury of self-care, especially when others have it much worse than me, I actually do. We deserve to take care of our mental health. We owe that much to ourselves. Sometimes, it might just be 5 minutes in the sun or a short walk, but that could be enough to boost your mood for a day. It’s a start.

6. True friends are there.

Remember how when all the flights got canceled, your best friend opened her home to you. How when everything seemed uncertain, your friend texted if you had a place to stay. How every week your roommate spammed the group chat to remind everyone of your Zoom function; instead of pizza parties, movies, and poker, now you play Cards Against Humanity and Pictionary, laughing still. How you Facetimed your friends for hours, sometimes past midnight, played games with them over Discord, ran to them when you first got back to campus, six feet apart still. Remember how they cheered for you when you walked up to the outdoor stage on the Garth to finally perform a spoken word poem in person, cheered so loudly you could barely hear yourself for a second before you could grab the mic and laugh behind your mask and thank them. While you must learn to rely on yourself, know that true friends are there, always.

7. Be kind.

To yourself and others. If you could be anything in this world, then be kind. We’ve all gone through enough this past year, and we deserve some kindness, from ourselves and from others. So to make that happen, we have to lead with example. Start with small acts of kindness. Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror in the morning. Write people notes and texts to remind them they’re loved. Even strangers. Call up a friend, your family, classmates, co-workers… Spend some extra time with your pet. This world can be a lovely place if we all try to love each other. You just have to start showing your love, somewhere.

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