17 Things I've Learned by Age 17

Op-ed

This year, I'm finally a senior in high school and there's a lot to reflect on. As a freshman, I always heard the seniors at my school tell me how high school would fly by but never believed them. But now, I finally see what they were talking about. It feels like just yesterday I was 14 years old listening to Taylor Swift's Reputation album on repeat. Now, at 17, I'm living in the midst of a pandemic, have gotten into college, and have certainly refined my music taste.

Needless to say, a lot has changed, and as my teenage years come to a close, I'd like to offer a reflection on all of my experiences, successes, and failures. And to all the freshmen reading, trust the seniors at your school when they say that time flies because before you know it, you'll be at your graduation ceremony wondering where all the time went.

1. Enjoy the small things

For a while, I felt the happiest when major events happened in my life such as getting my first job, receiving a college acceptance letter, or winning an award. And while these moments are important, especially when you've worked so hard for them, there are so many little victories that happen every day that you may not even realize. I've found that these small things, like my dog greeting me when I come home or my mom making my favorite dinner, are what make my life more enjoyable and worth living.

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, these small things are what matter the most. And so, when a major event happens in your life, never forget who or what helped you get there—it's usually the people you love.

2. If not now, when?

I know it sounds cheesy, but life doesn't go on forever. The world could come crashing down tomorrow, and just in case it does, I've learned to live my life by only regretting the things I didn't do or risks I didn't take—everything else is just a learning experience. And so if there's an opportunity that arises in your life that you don't think you should pursue whatever reason, be it fear or anxiety, I say go for it. Do it for the heck of it. Do it because you can. Do it because regret is far, far worse than failure.

3. Rejection is redirection

I'm going to be honest; rejection is one of the worst feelings, especially when you had to work up so much courage to even try. But don't let rejection discourage you from trying again. The way I look at rejection is that it closes doors that weren't suited for me and opens others that are. There are so many paths to your goal or dream, so don't give up when one doesn't work out. There's not a linear path to success, and the most successful people are the ones who can get back up after being knocked down, time and time again. So get back up, dust yourself off, and try again. In the end, you're the only one standing between you and your dreams.

4. Some things will never be the same, and maybe it's for the best

Sometimes I find myself reminiscing about old times, memories, and friendships. Most people would do anything to go back to “the good old days,” and while it's certainly okay to reflect on the past, don't let it cloud your future. The past will do everything in its power to hold you back, but you have to break through its grip to get where you want to be. The beautiful thing about the future is that it's undetermined, so go out and make new memories that the old you would have never dreamed of. Only when you let go of the past does your future begin.

5. There's beauty in uncertainty

Being in high school is hard, no matter how many adults tell you that they have it harder. For them, their future is already determined; they have made choices as to what college they went to, subject they majored in, and jobs they picked. For you, all of those things are still up in the air. And while you may see that as stressful and anxiety-inducing, there is beauty in it. Really, nothing is holding you back and you can create your own destiny right now. The future has never, and will never, be brighter. Use this time to explore your passions, things you love, and uncover what you want to do with the rest of your life, whatever it may be. I'm sure you'll find it if you look hard enough.

6. Hard work really does pay off

Sometimes we can lose sight of the destination while we're on the journey. At times, all the hours you spend on homework or working at your part-time job can seem pointless, and you'll begin to question whether the stress and anxiety will be worth the A or the extra money. If I've learned anything, it's that all the things I'm doing at the moment, be it course work or extracurricular activities, are stepping stones that will help me get to where I want to be in the future. And while I probably don't enjoy staying up really late to finish an assignment or picking up extra shifts at work, I try to remember that all these little things will add up and bring me to where I want to go.

7. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

There's one quote I've been trying to live by recently, and that's “do what excites you.” To me, all the exciting things I've done in my life were far past my comfort zone. Over time, I've learned that while being comfortable is, well, comfortable, it's not going to get me what I desire out of life. The more you branch out and try something new, the more fulfilling your life will become. And if you don't challenge yourself, your life will become stagnant. So, get out there—do what excites you.

8. Life's not about the final destination—it's about the journey on the way there

For most people, once they reach their destination or dream after a lot of hard work, they will never be truly satisfied. Instead, they will be working towards yet another destination, repeating the whole process again and again, and again. So if most of your life is spent on the journey, why not enjoy it? Instead of getting caught up in the future, learn to just be present. A technique called mindfulness is used by many people to help with anxiety, stress, and even depression. It's described as a state of living in the moment, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Find time every day to appreciate where you are right now and all the things that come with it. If you don't learn to live in the moment, are you really living at all?

9. At the end of the day, all you have is yourself

It's been a long and personal journey to find peace with who I am. For a while, I defined myself by my grades, accomplishments, and, most of all, what people thought of me. But over time, I've learned that all I really have is myself. Friends will come and go, experiences will turn into memories, and accomplishments will fade. And beyond all these superficial things lies you. You, at your core, are not defined by anything or anyone. You define your own life and destiny. So get out there, write your own narrative, because, at the end of the day, you're the author of whatever story you want to make. Start now.

10. Do what you love, not what other people want you to do

Something that I've had to come to terms with is that you can't please everyone. Even at your very best self, you still won't be good enough for everyone. And that's exactly why the only person you should try to please is yourself. Why should you live the life others want for you? No happiness can be found through that. Instead, do what you feel is right and don't let other people's negativity or doubt reflect the decisions you make. Sure, you can learn to appreciate their input and opinions, but you need to make your own decisions at the end of the day. It's your life, right? Be the main character.

11. High school isn't forever

While you're in high school, it might seem like it'll never end. But trust me, my friend, it does. And when it does, after four long years, you must remember that your high school experience is just a small blip in your life. To those who say that your teenage years are the best years of your life clearly have never been a teenager, and I promise you that it will get so much better as you become older. There's a whole world out there and boundless opportunities just waiting to be explored. So when you find yourself nearing the end of your high school years, remember that the best is yet to come.

12. There's a whole world out there—explore it

Like I said, beyond high school, there is an entire world calling your name. So get out there and explore new places and things. While we don't really know how much time we have left, we can make sure that every moment counts. And many of the best moments come from having the courage to try new things, explore new places, and meet new people. And while you'll do so many cool things in this big world in the future, never forget where you came from. Don't run from your past, simply step outside it.

13. It's okay to not be okay

I'm not afraid to admit that I've encountered some roadblocks in my life. In fact, we all have, and it's what unites us as human beings. Our struggles, while all different, share a common theme: they make us stronger. While it may not seem like it in the moment, especially when you are dealing with something difficult, it is okay to feel what you are feeling. You are allowed to be sad, angry, and tired. Let yourself be present and accept whatever is going on in the moment. Talk a walk, listen to your favorite song, eat some comfort food, and just let it out.

Once you accept your feelings and start to be proactive in finding a solution to what it is you're dealing with, you'll start to realize just how strong you really are. On the other side, what you've been through will better prepare you for whatever will be thrown at you in the future. But in the meantime, be present with where you are, find little victories every day, and if no one's told you yet, I will: it's okay to not be okay.

14. Tell those around you that you love them

During the pandemic, it's more important than ever to tell those around you that you love them. So much can change in an instant, and it's important to let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. For years, after every phone call with a family member, I've ended with a quick “love you.” That way, I know that if that was the last time I'd ever talk to them, I'd said what I wanted them to know the most.

15. Don't compare yourself to others—seriously

I've spent so much of my life comparing myself to others and realized that it's not really going to get me anywhere. I can imagine myself getting into that one college or getting that work promotion and simply having it magically happen: I've learned that if I want what they have, I'm going to have to put in the work to get there. At its core, this lesson is about doing and not dreaming. Stop dreaming about the life you think someone has because often, they see their own life a lot differently than the way you see it. And if you really want what they've got, go out there and take the necessary steps. But seriously, carve your own path of success.

16. Cereal is so much better at night

It took me 17 years of life to finally appreciate how much better cereal tastes at night, but I'm still looking to find out why. If you haven't already tried it, I'd encourage you to pour yourself a bowl of Special K at 9:00 PM. That's right, PM. You'll thank me later.

17. Never cut your own bangs again

Ah, good old quarantine haircuts. I needed to trim my hair and was only planning to take off about half an inch but ended up with full, blunt bangs, much to my mom's surprise. Now, I'll be trying to hide them for a year until they grow out. Don't do it, just don't...

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Norah Baldwin

Editor · 3 edited articles · 17 pitched topics · 3 writers helped

Norah is a high school senior from Boston, MA. She currently works as an editor for various international student-run literary and science research journals in addition to The Teen Magazine. In the past, she has also worked as a biological research intern, academic tutor, and swim instructor. She will be attending nursing school next fall and plans to specialize in pediatric neurology.


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