I turned 23 years old last February, and lately I’ve caught myself constantly thinking about how much I’ve grown (old, mentally and spiritually) in the last few years. So on this sunny April afternoon, while I’m sitting here watching cars pass down my street, drinking my iced coffee, I decided I would write down a list of 23 things I’ve learned through my (not so) short existence.
I know this is something we all do; is inevitable. But if you had any idea of how badly this affects your mental health, you wouldn’t be so quick to pity yourself. I used to compare myself to my friends and cousins when I was a little girl; I was chubby and I always wished I could be as skinny as they were. I would watch what they’d eat and then I would restrict myself from eating the things I wanted. I would save my favorite clothes for later because I felt like I looked ugly wearing them, and even though my biggest dream was to be a ballerina, I refused to take ballet classes because I was “too fat” for it. Needless to say this caused me many problems later on in life and it took me a long time to break myself free from this whole comparing myself to others thing. Even to this day I still do it every once in a while. I feel like I am 23 years old and I had done nothing with my life compared to others my age or even younger, but then I remember that we’re all in our own individual journey. So focus on you and the things that make you truly happy, and you may inspire someone else to do the same.
There was a phase in my life when I wanted everyone to like me, and I tried to be friends with as many people as possible. But with time I realized that when it comes to friends, you want quality, not quantity. And even though I know you’ve probably heard this enough times, you should really apply it to your life. I don’t consider everyone around me a friend, not even people from school that I’ve been seeing and talking to everyday for the last four years and a half. Many of them have talked behind my back, many others have gossiped about personal things that I told them thinking they could be trusted. Not everyone has the same heart you do, so protect it.
My uncle Giuseppe told me this about six years ago, when I was debating whether I should stay in the States without my parents or not. I felt like no one around me was supporting me on my dreams, and they were making me doubt myself too. But after my wise uncle told me this, I realized that if I didn’t stand up and fought for myself and my dreams, no one else would. I told my parents I wasn’t sure if I was going to succeed or not, but I certainly didn’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering “what if”. And even though it was hard, and things didn’t go as planned, I don’t regret making that decision. And I’ve been living my life keeping that advice in my mind ever since.
When I moved to the States, two of the first girls that ever talked to me were from Palestina. Their religion made them dressed different than the rest of us in America; they had to wear long sleeves all the time, and they couldn’t show their hair or legs. But they were happy and proud of it. And even though in the place they were from girls dressing like me were sinners, they never judged me. So I never judged them either. Still, people gave us all kind of looks when we would walk into the cafeteria, or when they would see us in the halls of school. No one really wanted to talk to them. And even though I knew it wouldn’t make me the most popular girl at school, I stayed friends with them, because I knew that deep down they were fighting the same insecurities as me. I knew they also struggled with the language, I knew they also missed home, and I knew they were working hard to be someone in life, just like me. So the next time you see someone different, next time you hear someone struggling with the language or just having a hard time adapting, give them a hand. Remember they feel just like you, and you never know what they are going through.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a place that hasn’t been touched (at least not to an extreme) by the violence that is slowly consuming Mexico. But I know there are places in my own country where there are bodies found every single day. A few months ago girls my age all across Jalisco were panicking: girls were disappearing, they were being kidnapped outside the university, outside their high schools. Can you imagine being a 23 year-old living in a place where people your age are suddenly disappearing? They are taking us. They are killing us. And there are countries like Venezuela where people are starving to death. Is not that there is no money, is that there is no food. A friend of mine recently visited Colombia and she saw first hand how people are crossing the border (from Venezuela to Colombia) just to buy food and then they return to their homes. There are places like Syria that have been completely destroyed by war. So if you’re lucky enough to have a family, people that have your back. If you’re lucky enough to have a home, and food. If you’re lucky enough to have a job so you can support yourself, please be grateful. Even though we tend to become ambitious, and we ask ourselves why can’t we have luxuries and all the things we want, remember that there are people wishing they could have at least half of what you have.
I know I’ve said it before, but this is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned: if you don’t go out there and fight for your dreams, no one else will do it for you. And going after your goals often involves change. During high school I moved a lot. That made me lose some of the friends I had made at first, and I spent most of my lunch breaks during my senior year hiding in the bathroom, waiting for the bell to ring, because I was too ashamed to seat and eat lunch by myself. Most of the people that I could talk to were adults: teachers, counselors. But even though it was tough for me, that was the time when I grew and learned the most. So don’t be afraid to put yourself in uncomfortable situations if you know it’s necessary to get you where you want to be. Like one of my favorite characters on TV once said: “destiny is for losers. It’s just a stupid excuse to wait for things to happen, instead of making them happen”.
When I started Law School, one of the hardest things I had to deal with were some of my professors. They are all lawyers, and they have different kind of degrees and they all think they’re better than the others. There was this particular professor, who was really mean to everyone, especially to me. And even though he’s not that old (compared to the others), he has a PhD. He walks around like he owns the school, and he tries to hide his ignorance by humiliating his students. And I say “ignorance” because we’re all humans, we make mistakes and we can’t know it all. But even when he’s wrong, he can’t accept it. My point is that, this professor in particular thinks that his degree makes him better than the rest of us. But the truth is, he is not any smarter, or any more important. What matters in life is how you treat others. Being a doctor doesn’t make you better than a lawyer, and being a lawyer doesn’t make you better than a psychologist. Going to a University doesn’t make you better than someone who didn’t have the chance to continue with their education. So treat everyone with the same respect they deserve.
The first break up I ever had was a mess. The guy I had been dating had also been one of my best friends, so the thought of losing him hit me hard. I allowed myself to be consumed by anxiety and sadness, and I had a tough time letting go. A few years later I dated a another guy, that even though I did my best to be enough for him, he ended up hurting me really bad. What he did hit me hard too, and I allowed myself to be sad for less than a week (it was spring break), but after that I decided it was time to focus on myself and the things I wanted. So I made sure I was filled with tasks; working, doing my homework, assisting to conferences and doing online courses. I started to hang out with friends and family more often. This experience helped me realize that when you’re young, you need to take some time to get to know and love yourself. That way, when you’re ready to be in a relationship you know what you want in your partner, but more importantly, so you know what you deserve.
Dating was always strange to me. In Mexico most people still have a conservative mindset. So most women think that you have the right to date only one person, and that’s the person you’re going to marry and be with for the rest of your life. Now, if you’re lucky and find true love in the first person you date, then that’s ok. But being a little more realistic, that’s not the case for most of us. When I was younger I was afraid to talk to guys or accept to go out on a date with them, because I thought society would see me as “easy”. But as I grew up, I realized that it is necessary to know the things you’ll accept in a relationship, the things you won’t and the things you look for in a partner. For example, from my first boyfriend I realized that sometimes, just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’re meant to be together. From another guy I dated I realized that looks don’t matter that much when they treat you like a second option, and that just because they come from a “good family” doesn’t mean they’re good people. I learned from him that I don’t want an alcoholic as a boyfriend, that someone who truly loves you doesn’t call you stupid or grab you by the neck when you contradict them. And from the last guy I dated I learned that if they don’t give you your place and respect you from the beginning of the relationship, they never will. If you forgive them every time, it’ll all go back to the beginning. It’s a vicious cycle. But there are still girls and women out there that stay in toxic relationships because they don’t know better. So don’t be afraid to date, know your boundaries and remember to always put yourself first.
Since I was in high school, I always said I wanted to study Criminology. When I applied to WSU, I applied for Criminology and Criminal Justice. I had plans to go to Law School after I got my Bachelor’s Degree, but since things didn’t turn out the way I planned, and I ended up coming back to Mexico, I decided to go straight to Law School because that allowed me to explore other areas too. For example, since my area is criminal law, I need to know about forensic science, criminology, penology, etc. When I was in first semester I did a Diploma Course on Forensic Science, and when I was in my fourth semester I did a Certification Course in Criminal Profiling (another one of my passions). Now, as I’m about to graduate, I’m writing my thesis about the rehabilitation and social reintegration of the criminal in Mexico. But even though I knew what I wanted since a young age, I struggled a lot the first few semesters in law school. Is an enormous pressure to realize that whatever you chose to study is what you’re possibly going to be doing for the rest of your life. So I always told my younger sister that if she didn’t know what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, it’s okay to wait a little after high school. Get a job, take a course on something you think you’d like. Remember that you’re not competing with anyone else, so don’t rush into making those kind of decisions.
My first language is spanish. I grew up going to a Catholic, bilingual school, so I learned basic english. The music I listen to (mainly Taylor Swift) is in english, and I try to watch movies in their original language. And what helped me to really learn the language was moving to the States and going to school there. I was taught that it was necessary to learn english, so it was more of an obligation for me. About a year ago, the university decided to give us free german lessons to everyone that wanted to assist. The group started with about 30 people; after a year there are only 3 left, including me. It is sad for me to see young people, with nothing else to do but to assist to school, letting this amazing opportunity go. At first I struggled too because I felt like I was doing it for my parents and my grandpa (who speaks spanish, french and german), and I felt the pressure of them wanting me to learn. But once I started to do it for me, I discovered the joy that gives me learning a new language and a new culture. So if you ever have the chance to learn a different language take it, even if you never become fluent, there is a certain sense of accomplishment that comes to you when you realize you can at least introduce yourself and count to ten in a completely different language.
If you still have your parents around, your siblings and even your grandparents be grateful. When we’re young sometimes we feel ashamed to have them around so much, we think they’re annoying, and we’d rather spend more time with our friends than with our own families. But if I’ve learned anything in the past few years is that we never know when it’d be the last time we get to see someone, and sooner than you think life’s going to take you to a different road, and the you’ll wish you had the time of the world to spend it with them. From movie nights on saturdays to afternoons out in the country, I love spending time with my family. I’ve even come to a place where I appreciate more a quiet, relaxing day at the beach with them than one full of drinks and music with my own friends.
It’s not easy to train the mind to have only positive thoughts. It’s almost impossible; we all get angry or annoyed or sad from time to time. But I recently found out that meditading, when it’s done right, helps. I’m not an expert, but I do know that your power comes from your mind and your reality is a reflection of your thoughts. So if you don’t like where you are, if you spend most of your days hating what you do, maybe it’s time to change something. And you can start with your mindset. You can find easy meditation guides on youtube and do one when you wake up or even before you go to bed. Once you start to enjoy meditation, you’ll see that it actually makes a difference.
This one has been really hard for me. I never really took care of my body. When I was a teenager I struggled with an eating disorder, sometimes not eating at all, and then I would binge-eat just to throw it all up. It was a toxic cycle that went on for too long. Then, there was a time where I was actually eating healthy and exercising constantly, but lately, with school consuming my time and energy I stopped. I’ve also noticed that stress causes me anxiety, and anxiety makes me want to be eating. I’m trying to get back on track, but I can’t wait to be over with school on June so that I can really start to take care of myself. As for my skin, I try to wash my face every night before bed and every morning when I wake up. I also exfoliate and put on face masks every once in a while. Moisturizing and sunscreen are also very important (although I need to remind myself of it more often too).
Just remember that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel (Maya Angelou). When I was twelve years old, a boy my age told me that I was so ugly no one would ever love me. I’m sure he wasn’t evil. And I’m sure if he had known how much that comment would affect me for the next few years of my life, he would’ve never said it. We need to start spreading more kindness and love through the world, and we need to teach younger people and kids to do it. Remember that your words have consequences too, and most of the time we don’t even realize it.
My dad taught me this one. He knew how to say no when I wanted to buy something I didn’t really need, but with books he always said yes. Even to this day he still comes home every once in a while with a new book he wants me and my siblings to read. Books are one of the few things in life that you can buy and be sure that they’re going to have a good impact on your future. There is always at least one new thing you can learn from a book. And I’ve always said that a book is also the best gift you can give to someone.
The last heart break I had was about two years ago. Ever since I haven’t been dating at all. Yes, it was THAT disastrous. I spent almost a week locked in my room, feeling like if I had anything to eat I would throw up, feeling real, physical pain. I allowed myself to be feeling sorry for myself for only a week because I knew that I was going back to school, and I wouldn’t let people (especially him) see me humiliated. And the one thing that made me get out of bed and regain my girl-power (besides my mom, obviously) was music. I’ve always had a deep connection to music; a single day can’t go by without me putting my earphones on and having a moment, just me and my music. I think music, no matter what genre you listen to, really does heals your soul. At least that is what it feels like to me.
A mexican president once said something like that: “el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz”. And it’s true. One of the first things that you learn in Law School is that, yes, we all have rights, but they are limited. My rights end at the point where yours begin. My rights aren’t over yours. So what this mexican figure tried to say was that if we could all learn to respect each others’ rights, there would be peace in the world.
I’ve come to the realization that when someone hurts me, it’s important for me (and my mental health) to forgive them. Even if they don’t deserve it, even if it still hurts, you have to learn to let go of grudges. But it’s also important to learn to ask for forgiveness. We’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt someone. You don’t lose absolutely anything by saying you’re sorry when you know you’ve made a mistake.
Don’t ever let failure define you or even worse, discourage you. You’re going to be told NO too many times in life. And it’s going to feel like the end. But remember, if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. I’ve learned this the hard way, but now I finally get it: if a door closes, you open another one or a window or whatever, but you keep going on.
I started my Diploma Course when I was eighteen. I wasn’t even in law school yet. Most of the people taking it with me were about to graduate or they were already lawyers. They were older than me, and I felt really intimidated. But then I remembered I had heard this quote somewhere, so I reminded myself of it everyday before class. You’re supposed to be learning all the time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And don’t ever think you know it all, ‘cause most likely, you don’t.
Even if it’s in your own country, in your own state. Chances are there many beautiful places around you, you have no idea they even exist. I love going to new places, even if they’re close to where I live. If they’re historical places, I love them even more. Outside Mexico, I’ve only been to the States, but I’ve visited many lovely places there too. I do have a travel bucket list; I just think that traveling gives you a different perspective of the world.
It’s okay to worry about the future, and school and all your responsibilities. I know I do. But when I realized that I’m only as young as I’m ever going to be, I started really living. I try to save up money for my future plans, but I also try to enjoy this phase of my life as much as I can. So go out with your friends, have a few drinks (if you legally can and always taking your precautions), dance like no one’s watching and just live. YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.