When I think about turning 23 I get a knot in my stomach. I don't know why but it seems so much older than 22. I guess I thought I’d be “farther along” by now. I thought I’d be done with my undergrad and in medical school. I had a plan. My plan didn’t go according to plan – shocking. I didn't plan on being interested in literally everything I learned in undergrad, and I didn't plan on changing my mind so much. It’s a blessing and a curse to be addicted to education.
I fell in love with the intricacies of biochemistry in my second year and decided I was going to major in it. Then I took an immunology class and loved the complicated (ridiculously complicated) pathways. Same with cell biology. I was intrigued by the tight control and regulation that happens at a microscopic level. The only thing I didn’t fall in love with is physics (still hate it). Long story short I changed my major three times. Then, when I should’ve been wrapping up to graduate, I realized I could have a double major – if I just took a few more classes. More learning, done deal!! I was one statistics course away from a minor in psychology as well but decided I needed to stop somewhere.
With some room to explore other courses outside of science, I learned a lot about literature, women’s studies, and the socioeconomic and political factors underlying health. I know you’re not surprised, but I was immediately fascinated by the world on a macroscopic level as well. Okay, I know I’m probably boring you by now – but there is a point to this.
The point is, I am starting to become okay with the fact that I don't have a plan anymore. I still want to be a physician. But I also want to get a Master’s degree in global health, write a book, advocate for women and girls’ education, and also want to stop worrying about the future so much. I’ve realized that every “mistake” or mind-change I’ve made has led me to something I am truly passionate about. People always talk about a pivotal moment in their life that made them want to pursue something. I don’t think that’s usually true. Life doesn’t really work that way. For me, it’s been a series of seemingly insignificant events that have made me want to demand change in the world.
If I had gone with my original plan, I wouldn't be studying in England right now. I wouldn't be spending my twenty-third birthday in Paris with my best friend. Almost too good to be true! Accepting that my life doesn't have a linear trajectory has been hard. As a compulsive planner, letting go has been hard. And it still is. But honestly, nobody cares what anyone else is doing.
Which leads me to my 23 lessons in 23 years:
1. Nobody cares as much as you think they do
2. Stop comparing yourself
3. Drink more water
4. You’re allowed to say no
5. Spend more time in nature
6. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish
7. Read more books – all kinds
8. Everyone can benefit from therapy
9. Quality over quantity – in all facets of life
10. Be present
11. Don't be afraid to fail
12. Spend time alone and don’t feel guilty for it
13. Stop overscheduling yourself, you’ll burn out
14. Stay connected with people you care about
15. You are allowed to relax, rest is necessary
16. Really listen when people speak
17. Tackle the things that make you anxious, avoidance doesn't work
18. Find something to be grateful for every day
19. Listen to more podcasts, there’s so much to learn
20. You’re going to keep changing your mind, better get used to it
21. Meditate and live intuitively
22. You deserve healthy love
23. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be
The fun part of growing up is that you realize everyone is just as lost as you are. Nobody knows what they’re doing. And it’s kind of beautiful. I’m looking forward to making many more mistakes, finding little pieces of joy along the way, and ending up where I’m supposed to be. I’m looking forward to living intuitively, setting boundaries, and prioritizing quality over quantity. And I’m looking forward to a year full of learning – in and out of school.
I’m genuinely excited for you twenty-three.