This weekend I turned 19—yay! Among the celebrations and cake, I’ve found myself reflecting on the past year of my life. It’s been an interesting one: from moving away to university to beginning my studies in journalism to trying to make sense of these crazy political times. I’ve blogged throughout it all, of course, but I haven’t been blogging for my entire life (could you imagine?). I’ve learned a lot this year, both about myself and about life. I’ve also learned a lot in other years—so I decided that, to commemorate my 19th birthday, I would share 19 things that I have learned thus far in my life.

1. I am happiest when I am writing. I love getting into the rhythm of writing every day—be it fiction, blog posts or even just journal entries. I could be super busy with schoolwork and studying, but if I can make time to write then I am happy. Writing doesn’t feel like work—and that’s how I know it’s what I truly love to do.

2. Hard work pays off, even if you don’t see the results right away.

3. On a similar vein—what seems like a failure is often an opportunity to be redirected to something better. I can’t count the amount of times that this has proven true in my life. When one door closes, another one opens; you just have to be willing to move past the closed door to explore the new opportunity that lies ahead.

4. Yes, you will make friends. This was my primary concern going to a university where I could count the number of people I knew on the fingers on my right hand. My worries haunted me for the first few days after I moved into residence—and then, at journalism orientation, I met my now best friends. I think my worries actually propelled me into being more social, though. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change anything.

5. Being kind, compassionate and optimistic are strengths—and don’t listen to anyone who tries to tell you differently.

6. Set big goals and then break them into bite-sized chunks. I love Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s quote, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” If you can balance big dreams with achievable mini-goals along the way, you can work towards achieving amazing things!

7. Never underestimate the power of honesty. Whether it’s being honest with a friend, or even being honest with yourself in your own thoughts, there is power in telling the truth.

8. Both inside and outside of school, life is full of learning opportunities.

9. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. And sometimes it does. Life is weird—but, in the words of Oscar Wilde, “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

10. It is going to be OK. It sounds like such a cliché, but it’s really true. At the beginning of this year when I was moving away to university I wish I would have known how happy I am now. My year was more than OK—it was fantastic. And knowing that that experience, which I was worried about, turned out to be fantastic reminds me that other things that I am concerned about now can, and quite probably will, turn out to be great, too.

11. Leaving your comfort zone is the best way to grow. It’s challenging, but it can really pay off to jump and find your wings on the way down.

12. You can’t always be happy, but you can make a conscious decision to be positive. Positivity is a mindset that can eventually help you find happiness.

13. Similarly, you can’t choose what happens to you in life but you can choose how you react to it. (Hint: reacting with optimism helps.)

14. Work hard, but don’t forget to find time to relax. This is something I struggle with sometimes—I can get so focused on my goals and my endless to-do lists that I convince myself that relaxing is a waste of my time. But it’s not—I’ve learned that if I relax then I have more energy to be productive! It’s a win-win.

15. In the words of Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

16. You never know how what is happening now will impact you in the future. The not-for-profit organization I’m currently working for during the summer is where I did my placement during high school. Obviously in high school, I had no clue that I’d come back as an employee—and yet, here I am!

17. “Take it day by day” was a piece of advice my dad gave to me when I was feeling overwhelmed at the beginning of this year. I like to think about, and plan for, the future—but it’s also important to focus on taking each individual day as it comes.

18. Laughter makes everything better. I have an affinity for puns and bad jokes. Sometimes (most of the time) I’m the only one who laughs, but I don’t let that discourage me from trying to make others laugh!

19. Be kind. The world needs more people who are kind not because it poses some benefit to them, but simply because they have good hearts. Your kindness could make a huge difference in someone’s life, and it could have an incredibly positive impact on the world.

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