5 Things I Learned By Twenty

ONE: Always listen to your Mother.

This is the thought that sparked the blog. Recently, I have found myself reviewing my past mistakes – most notably my relationships – and grumbling to myself, “Goddamn, she was right again.” We have a tendency to contradict advice coming from our mothers in particular, perhaps more so than the advice of our fathers (their advice tends to be few and far between.) To amend this suggestion for any lacking a mother, consider your strongest female role model.

Whether she is despised or adored, there always seems to be something about an older woman’s intuition that rings true later in life. My mother is particularly acute to analyzing personalities. “Manipulator,” she’ll mumble under her breath, “Victim-mentality. That one might be a little crazy. This one doesn’t have a very stable household… Be careful. Don’t get hurt.”

She has never, however, stopped me from forming a relationship – only once has she truly blown the whistle and demanded I stop speaking to someone. I often despise when she gives me advice, but I can’t help but consider her mumbling personality analysis when getting to know a person. When I finally disclose to her that she was right about his drug problem, her home life, his lack of drive, she frowns and looks off into the distance.

“I tried to warn you as much as I could. But I’m a mom.”

Never underestimate the knowledge of an older woman.

TWO: Every once in a while, do something You wouldn’t do.

I am an anxious creature – I overanalyze, self-reflect, and interrogate every aspect of a situation. Furthermore, I’ve developed into a scaredy-cat; not in the way of trying something new, but in the way of “If I do this, there’s a .0001% risk I could die or get cancer.” I am an admitted hypochondriac. My family has learned to smack me upside the head whenever I ask someone to “check this thing on my neck.”

So imagine my surprise when I found myself climbing through the window of a moving pickup truck at the front of a convoy.

This is something I’ve taught myself to do only recently, and something I’ve preached to many a friend who’s become tired of the daily grind: Do something [insert your name here] would never do… as long as it’s not, like, really dangerous, or might give you cancer.”

Now, I didn’t just recklessly climb out a window of a moving truck – there was a motive. East Coast Rednecks and Truck Mafia held their annual 9/11 Convoy to honor those lost and their families. New to the truck scene and a fan of photography, I hung out the window with my cell phone struggling to capture some shots.

“Why don’t you just jump into the bed,” my boyfriend snorted, not as enthusiastic as I (he probably thought I was embarrassing).

“Oh. Good idea.”

I warred with myself for a few minutes, but finally climbed into the back seat and jerked the window open. I vividly remember the struggle to wiggle my backside through the tiny window, my uncertainty as I clambered over the tool box and plopped into the truck bed.

When I was finally settled and ready for my photo shoot, a glorious moment unfolded: all the guys went wild. Wranglers had passengers hanging out the sides; lights flashed; one daring driver engaged the cruise control, sat in his window with one leg outside the vehicle, and posed for me. American flags fluttered in the wind like the capes of superheroes. It was a magical event.

Riding in the back of a pickup was a small dream I’d carried with me my whole life – once I was finally presented with the opportunity, I went for it. Slightly illegal? Yes. Dangerous? Sort of. Exhilerating? Absolutely.

Challenge yourself every once in a while. Not in a big way. Not in a small way. Just in a way.

THREE: Travel to lesser-known places.

Today I received an offer in the mail for a Southwest Airline credit card. Damn, I travel too much, I thought to myself. Barely 20, and the companies already know I’m subject to random bursts of wanderlust.

Growing up I was lucky enough to travel often – to places like the Bahamas, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas. I found great food, entertainment, and family bonding on these travels.

But, in a corn field in the middle of Nowhere, Arkansas, I found the thrill of treading through thick country mud and the broad smiles of southern faces in the middle of October harvest. And on a random street off Academy Blvd in Colorado I found the French vanilla pancakes so delicious I considered moving to the state. It was in a small bar in Toledo I found out I suck at billiards and on the top of a hill in Hancock, New York I watched the mist roll in from the valley below.

Travel often. Travel anywhere. Go places with no expectations. It will change you.

FOUR: Accept that your mind changes.

My Junior year of college has shown me surprising things. Old friends determined to become doctors have turned into business majors; business majors have dropped school to pursue a management career; geniuses flunked out of their Ivy League schools and burnouts have dropped their pipes and picked up college courses.

At the tender age of eighteen, no one knows who they might become no matter how certain the future may seem. Anticipating this, I had saved money by going to a nearby school. Suddenly, my passion to become a teacher shape-shifted into a passion to become a journalist. I have made friends I never expected to make, work a job I never thought I could learn to do, and let go of friendships I never thought I’d have to.

Accept that the only thing that knows what it wants is your heart. Listen to it, no matter how difficult the path it leads you down may be.


FIVE: Remember that YOU are in control of your mental climate.

This, of course, does not go without exceptions – such as mental illness, or unexpected tragedy. So often, though, I see people go about their lives with indifference. They are unfazed by their own successes, their own failures; their eyes rarely light up except when binge-watching Netflix. I often wonder what it must be like in the mind that lies behind those eyes. It must be lonely, I fathom; it must be restless.

I have experienced this restlessness, this stagnant misery that can’t be shaken because, well, everything feels so worthless. I’m working… for what? I’m going to school… why? It begins to stick and become a piece of your identity. People, especially those who normally go about life with high aspirations – people like me – might become frightened by this feeling. The gloom takes on a personality of its own.

Just as easily as it comes, though, it can be rid of. They say that if you fake a smile for long enough, it becomes genuine. They say that if you take the word “can’t” out of your mind’s dictionary, you feel empowered.  They say if you take eight deep breaths from your diaphragm your anxiety symptoms will ease. All of these tricks are just that – tricks – but I’ve found over time that if you believe, really believe, that your mind is in your control, it suddenly is. After that, anything is possible.

Take a moment today to recover your mental climate. Every morning, get rid of a couple clouds, wherever they may come from – friends, situations, unfinished obligations. You should feel inspired by your life, every day.

Twenty years, 5 lessons. So much more to learn.

– The Muse


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