17 and Counting

December 17, 2022


I am 17 years old and I am terminally nostalgic; I am always thinking of my younger self. Maybe it’s memories of jumping through sprinklers, shouting and laughing on a hot summer day, or sledding down the tallest hill in my neighborhood on fluffy white snow. No matter the season, no matter the time of day, I look back on these memories fondly. This positive reflection of my childhood directly contradicts my feelings about the future. Unlike the past, the future has no restrictions. There are endless possibilities of where I could end up, what I could be, who I could be with. That worries me. What can I say? I’m a worrier. 

In an effort to quell my anxieties about the future, and give myself freedom to explore the past 16 and a half years of my life, I have decided to share some “life lessons” I have gathered along the way. My hope is that I will feel more confident in my ability to function as an adult. I also hope my stories will bring you, the reader, joy, and maybe a little heartache. I hope my stories are something you can relate to, even slightly. I hope, for a brief moment, I can stifle your fear of the future, too. 

So, for the remaining 17 days of this year, I will share 17 lessons I have learned throughout the love and the loss, the good and the bad, the trials and the tribulations of my life.

Lesson 17 – Dec. 15: Don’t Procrastinate

Probably one of the most ironic lessons I will be covering, as this section will be posted a few days late. But that is neither here nor there. 

If I was Rocky, procrastination would be my Apollo Creed. Well, if Creed had convinced Rocky that he never could have won their fight, to begin with. 

The bottom line is procrastination has been my downfall again and again. No matter how many times I acknowledge it and try to fix it, procrastination is almost as natural as breathing at this point. I procrastinate getting out of bed in the morning. I procrastinate driving to school. I procrastinate doing my schoolwork. I procrastinate doing my homework. I procrastinate going to sleep. I procrastinate. Period. 

What I can tell you, from a seasoned procrastinator, is this: at the moment procrastinating may feel like the best option, but it never is. We deserve lives with minimal stress. Do yourself a favor and get it done now.

It isn’t always as easy as just reminding yourself that ‘you will be less stressed if it gets done now.’ I know how it is. I know that no matter how rational you may be, sometimes procrastination will win. That’s okay. It is important to be aware of this temptation in our lives, and do our best to overcome it. That’s all we can really do.

Lesson 16 – December 16: Music and Media

There are many indescribable things that we encounter in a lifetime. The arts, as a whole, is definitely one of them. We are able to communicate so much in so many different ways. It brings me joy knowing that we can establish connections and create understanding through our own different forms of expression. 

Over the past year, I have been exploring music on a “deeper level.” It has been very interesting, to say the least. I realized that, for most of my life, I was only scraping the surface of music. I had never noticed the care that goes into writing and producing music; each beat, each word in a song was meticulously picked by the artist. I had viewed music as something that can only sound good, never considering that it could hold any deeper meaning. For that, I hold a lot of regret. I feel as though I have spent 15 years of my life not properly exploring this type of art. And there is so much to be explored. So now, I am trying my best to catch up by branching out into different genres and listening to albums in their entirety.

My advice to you is this: explore art as much as possible, whether it’s painting, writing, music or anything in between. It prompts creativity, it encourages growth and it can bring new perspectives. The opportunity to gain new perspectives isn’t something you should skip out on.

Lesson 15 – December 17: Value of Eating Alone

Meals have always been about connection. I eat with my family. I eat with my friends. I eat with strangers, who I hope will become friends or family. Basically, mealtime holds a great deal of importance to me. 

When my schedule gets busy (and it has been overwhelmingly busy lately), meals take on a different form. They usually involve takeout and eating as I rush around in my car. In this environment, there isn’t much room for connection and, oftentimes, I eat alone. At first, I viewed this negatively. I missed cooking dinners with my mom or laughing with friends at Panera. Though I still greatly miss this, eating alone has morphed into a time of tranquility. Having the opportunity to sit alone, and have a quiet moment of self-reflection is cathartic. 

We live in a time with very few moments of silence. I encourage everyone to try eating alone, to allow themselves these moments of peace. You are given the opportunity to think about yourself, your being. Learning about yourself, knowing yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give to you.

Lesson 14 – December 18: Writing and Burnout

Writing has been a lifelong passion, which is why it is difficult to admit that I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. With three years of writing for our school newspaper under my belt, I have become increasingly critical of my craft. This is beneficial when I am in the journalism room writing something that will be published, but it isn’t the best mentality to have when I’m writing for fun. Being so self-critical takes the enjoyment out of writing. 

In an attempt to combat this, I have decided to write more outside of the journalism room. Anytime I feel myself slipping into a place of negativity, I step away and remind myself that my work doesn’t always have to be perfect. I have also made sure that each issue of our newspaper features a story I am excited to write in an attempt to avoid burnout. 

My advice today is this: your work doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t allow yourself to let go of something you enjoy because you believe it has to meet some standard. Art is art, music is music, writing is writing. There is no standard that determines whether something deserves to be done. If you want to go make something, get started. Life is short, and that’s coming from someone who still has more than ¾ of her life left to live. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there. Creativity doesn’t bite. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, think of little ways that can lead you back to enjoying your craft. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you unconditionally. Encourage yourself unconditionally.

Lesson 13 – December 19: Joy of Cooking

During one of my past entries, I discussed the importance of mealtime. Well surprise, surprise, cooking also holds a great deal of significance in my life. 

Growing up my grandma would always have a pot of soup on the stove or something baking in her oven. She fit the doting grandma stereotype completely, utterly, undeniably.

Back in 2018, she died. But today, I will refrain from going too in-depth about death and the grieving process. For now, I will leave you with this, my love for a lot of things comes from her, but especially cooking. It is a way for me to connect with her again. Cooking her recipes brings me back to the smells and sounds of her kitchen; it is one of the most cathartic experiences. 

 When life gets stressful I let go of the things that help me the most, especially cooking. Never do that to yourself. Remember that you deserve peace, happiness and laughter. Maybe try cooking a new recipe or painting or whatever floats your boat; do something for yourself. As we grow older, we get fewer moments that are our own. Take advantage of them completely.  

Lesson 12 – December 20: Rest and Relaxation

Growing up I developed this system: get your work done, then you can go play with friends. As beneficial as it may seem, this system has taken a bit of a negative turn as of late. It has morphed into prioritizing work over self-care, which, admittedly, should never be the case. School, job, managing a social life, all hold more importance than my “self.” This usually leads to burnout, falling behind in school, stress; it’s an awful cycle to be in. 

Thankfully, we are on winter break. This offers us the perfect opportunity to take care of ourselves and get back on our feet. I will caution you, do not demand perfection of yourself during these times. Usually, over breaks, I tell myself I will get this long list of tasks accomplished, I will develop a healthy sleep schedule, and I will become the ideal version of myself. Of course, it never happens. So, this is a reminder to set realistic goals for yourself, especially when it comes to self-care. I wholeheartedly encourage bettering oneself, but it can’t all be done in two weeks. We cannot be operating at full capacity all of the time; do not burn yourself out on self-care. Over break, give yourself the gift of uninhibited kindness and patience. 

Lesson 11 – December 21: Holiday Expectations

No matter how cliche it may be, the expression “there is no place like home for the holidays,” holds more weight this winter. It is starting to sink in that this will be my last Christmas living at home. I am about to go off to college, start a life of my own, become an adult. These thoughts have put more pressure on this holiday season: I need to make more plans, be more adventurous, experience everything I want to do in a lifetime in the span of two weeks. Obviously, it’s impossible for me to completely suck the marrow out of life by the time winter break ends, but that doesn’t stop me from having those expectations.

I have decided to meet myself in the middle. I will be a bit more adventurous than usual, but I shouldn’t expect myself to find the cure to cancer before winter break is over. I have a lifetime to experience all that I want, and nothing is preventing me from seeing friends and family once I graduate.

In spite of never wanting to admit that I listen to Billy Joel, today I will leave you with a quote of his: 

“Slow down you crazy child, you’re so ambitious for a juvenile…Where’s the fire, what’s the hurry about? You better cool it off before you burn it out,”  -Billy Joel, “Vienna.”

If you find yourself in a similar position, wanting to do everything you can to hold onto the people and places of Shawnee, remember Billy Joel. Remember that you have an unscripted future ahead of you and limitless potential. That’s a gift we shouldn’t take for granted.

Lesson 10 – December 22: Pro of College: New People

Recently, I have been trying to think of more “pros” that come with college. The one that sticks out to me the most is the prospect of meeting new people. The thought of being exposed to thousands of eccentric individuals with unique stories, perspectives and quirks; I just can’t help but smile. 

“Everyone has a story,” is a cliche that we seem to easily disregard because it’s hard to quantify. Millions of people with stories? Impossible. 

With each person I meet, I hope that I learn to appreciate the uniqueness of people a little bit more. 

Consider this a sign to meet someone new, to take that leap of faith and trust your conversational abilities. For a long time the thought of having to get to know someone, being vulnerable with someone scared the daylights out of me. But, time and again the “pros” of discussion have outweighed the “cons.” There is so much we can learn from each other, you just need to start a conversation. A simple, “How are you doing?” is always a good place to begin. 

Lesson 9 – December 23: Routines and Lack Thereof

I live a life that is consistently inconsistent. I do what I need to do to get school work done, make money, keep up a social life. I do what I need to do to survive. 

That’s how I have approached most of my time in high school, but I’m tired of just surviving. We all need a bit of structure in our lives to ensure that it is our life. Sounds silly, but when I operate without a schedule I let the things that I used to do for myself slip away. I adore painting, reading and biking. When school gets overwhelming those things never seem as important as meeting a deadline or completing an assignment. I’ve realized that in those high-stress, anxiety inducing waves of seeming nonstop work that is when we need time for ourselves the most. 

I want to go into college with a schedule. Nothing military-esc, but I need to make sure to give myself time to live my life. I encourage you to do the same. We are still young, but now is the time to start doing things for ourselves. Don’t live worrying too much about deadlines, assignments, etc. I would rather look back on my life and see myself doing more for me. Going into the new year, make sure you give yourself a little time for you.

Lesson 8 – December 24: Eating Chocolate

I have struggled with healthy eating in the past. I would eat too much and then go for longer periods of eating too little. My tumultuous relationship with food has improved as I’ve grown, but at times I still find myself not feeling comfortable eating certain foods, especially chocolate. It wasn’t until I watched British Vogue’s “In the Bag” episode featuring Angelina Jolie, that I started to recognize my unhealthy relationship with guilty pleasure foods. Angelina Jolie carried chocolates in her purse, referring to them as the “small pleasures in life.” Since watching Jolie’s interview, I have felt a bit more comfortable allowing myself to indulge. 

Now, how does my internal chocolate debate apply to you? Well, we all have guilty pleasures. Over break, I encourage you to eat chocolate, smell the roses, let your hair down, yada yada yada. Let yourself stop and experience the “small pleasures in life.” We deserve extraordinary, momentous moments of joy as much as we deserve little blips of happiness in our daily lives.

Lesson 7 – December 25: Changing the Process

Over break, I have pushed myself to spend more time working on creating new, well-planned paintings. I usually just dive in blind, with nothing to guide me other than (maybe) a color palette picked out. Sketching a draft for each painting before turning to the canvas has allowed me to implement more elements into my art; I can enhance the meaning behind my paintings by planning more thoughtful symbolism. 

My goal is to always convey raw emotion, and, for a long period of time, I thought sketching before painting would inhibit that process. Turns out it did the opposite for me. Creativity is very individual, so I understand how this might not be the most relatable thing to discuss. All I can tell you is this: even if you are happy with your art, music, etc it never hurts to implement something new into your process. You could love it or you could hate it, but regardless you will improve through the trial and error of trying something new.

Lesson 6 – December 26: Update – My Holiday Season

I have realized that I severely neglected the discussion of the holidays. So, in an attempt to atone, here’s a brief update on my experience this season.

My family celebrates Christmas, and following tradition, we have family dinners on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This year we had chicken pot pie on Christmas Eve. Nothing crazy or something that could really warrant a story, of course until I felt like I had just been sucker-punched in the stomach. That silly pot pie had given me a mild case of food poisoning. I would have been fine. I could have just moved on with my life, but, as luck would have it, my extended family was also planning on serving chicken pot pie for their dinner. I was absolutely dreading the thought of eating another bite of anything remotely similar to pot pie. It put me in a bad mood all day. I simply couldn’t go to Christmas Day dinner. It would be too much for my, weak heart and stomach. But, you know what? I showed up and had a fantastic time with my family. Looking back, I wouldn’t have missed it for pot-pie, the world, or anything in between. 

Let my chicken pot pie adventure be a reminder to try to go into situations with a positive attitude. It makes the experiences so much better. I know that if I had just let the pot pie situation go, I could have had a much more peaceful and positive morning. I sincerely hope each of you finds a bit of joy this holiday season.  

Lesson 5 – December 27: People Come and Go

Throughout my 17 years, I can confidently say that the opportunity of growing close to new people is one of the greatest gifts. Each person has their own unique experience and lessons they can teach you. During my time at Northwest, I have met some very interesting individuals. Some have brought me new music, new perspectives, and/or just been there to lean on when times got tough. All have changed me for the better. All have helped me grow. 

I fear going to college mostly because I don’t want to lose those connections. Upon thinking about it over and over, I have come to this conclusion: people come and go, and that’s a part of life. However, nothing is forcing me away from these people. We can always continue to talk over text or call, we live in the virtual age after all. Our friendship doesn’t immediately die as soon as we graduate. 

If you feel the same, I believe the best thing to do is to not worry too much about it. Whatever happens, happens. You will still have all the good memories with those people, and nothing is stopping you from reaching out.

Lesson 4 – December 28: Appreciate Familiar Places

I am thinking about attending college in Chicago. While the idea of a new city excites me, I worry about not having a familiar place to fall back on if things get rough. Subsequently, my appreciation for Shawnee has grown greatly. There are places in this town that house great food, great people, great memories. It will be difficult to move on if I choose to go so far. 

I think we should try to appreciate what’s around us a bit more. You never know how long you’ll be somewhere until you’ve moved on. Find beauty in Shawnee, Kansas. There is definitely something to appreciate about this town.

Lesson 3 – December 29: Completed College Applications

My college applications are complete. I feel like the battle is finally over. It’s no longer in my hands. I applied to seven different colleges; two to three for each city I am interested in. When you go through the college application process, do not feel as though you have to apply to seven or more different colleges. I am a nervous person, who clearly likes having many backup plans. 

All I confidently say about the college application process is this: do what feels right to you. When you write your college application essay, be truthful. Don’t write about what you think the applications office may be looking for. Stories become great when people write from personal experience. Also don’t allow yourself to stress as much as I did. College applications and the college you attend do not determine your future. There is a great place for everyone in this world. College is just a different path to finding it.

Lesson 2 – December 30: Growing Up

When I was younger, I was determined to never grow up. But through growing up, I have had the pleasure to learn that it’s a part of life. One of the people closest to me taught me a very valuable lesson that is as follows: always try to be excited about the future. There are endless possibilities, endless routes you can take, endless amount of things I could become. There’s no reason not to be excited about the future. Also, and maybe, most importantly, continue to dream big. 

I remind you to try to think the same. Growing up isn’t something to dread. It’s a part of life, and life is too short not to try to make the best of what we got.

January 1 – Endnote

Thank you for reading my word vomit over the past few weeks. I hope that this has helped calm your own anxieties about the future, even though our paths may not be similar. 

My biggest takeaway from this is probably to let yourself dream, hope and absorb the world around you. This blog has been a way for me to think through things that have been more than a thorn in my side. Give yourself that same resource. Journal, rant in voice memos, type on a google doc, just don’t let your thoughts get away from you, don’t let them be silenced. As I’m sure you’ve learned, one of my favorite things about people is the stories they have to share. Give yourself the same courtesy you give others. Let yourself tell your own story.

I wish I could bestow more wisdom, something earth-shattering or transcendent perhaps, but, alas, I am only 17. I will soon be 18, then 19, then 20. I will continue to grow and learn and experience. Thanks to this space, I feel a little less worried about my future. Growing up is just another part, of the many, many parts of life, we will experience.

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