13 Things I Learned Before Turning 13

First of all, credits to Taylor Swift for inspiring me to write this. Now, I’m turning 13 in a couple of months. It feels strangely significant — after all, I’m turning into a teenager soon, and that’s when people supposedly experience a lot of things, ranging from the first kiss to the first university application. (This is legit, pinky promise.)There are so many more opportunities as a teenager, such as watching a PG-13 movie when I’m actually 13. (I’ve watched the R-rated Leon the Professional and Annabelle already, but it’s the idea that matters.) At any rate, it’s going to be a wild, wild ride, and I’m super excited. But before that, I’d like to list the things I’ve learned as a kid. You could say this is pretty general, but I don’t think it lessens these lessons’ importance. So without further ado, I hope you read and enjoy what I’ve learned so far in my fairly short life.

ONE

Forgiveness is a virtue. I know this is cliché, but it’s true. Holding grudges isn’t just bad for the person who hurt you — it’s also bad for yourself. Sometimes, it’s not somebody else you need to forgive: it’s yourself. All friendships have bumps and turns, and it’s all about whether that friendship is strong enough to stay together by learning to forgive that determines if that friendship is worth fighting for. Personally, I don’t agree with the saying “forgive and forget”, because you can learn from those mistakes people made, and you can learn from how you reacted to those mistakes. For me, the more I try to block out a memory, the more vividly I remember them. Forgiving takes time, and you can’t just move on without firstly facing what happened head-on. Second chances are good. People can flourish and maybe start a new life. In the end, it all boils down to letting things go. You might not forget what happened, but eventually, you do have to let it go.

TWO

Being a dreamer isn’t a bad thing. There will always be people who laugh at you and call you naïve or unrealistic because you’re a dreamer. But the thing is, every single famous historical figure — like Malala, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Marie Curie, to name a few — succeeded because they had a dream, because they were dreamers. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, after all, was “I Have a Dream”. And he succeeded, in a way. I’m certain that someday, somehow, racism will be banished from the world. It’s simply a matter of time. Of course, being a dreamer isn’t enough; it’s just the first step. You have to take action and do something about it to make the world a better place. Yes, there are a lot of dreamers who worked hard for a better world and didn’t end up in our history textbooks, but without them laying out foundations — the carpet of possibilities for the future — the famous figures in our history wouldn’t exist; not without their help. So I hope you dream and act not solely for glory, but rather for the sake of the world’s 7.5 billion people, and the countless next generations to come.

THREE

Everything takes time. The average human lifespan is 79 years, and most of us spend at least 18 years getting an education. That’s approximately 23% of our entire life — not including the most important type of learning: learning from life experiences. JK Rowling worked on The Philosopher’s Stonefor over 6 years. The Great Wall of China was built over the span of 200 years. World War II took 6 years and 1 day to finally end after unnecessary bloodshed and pain and tears and horror. Break-ups take time. Succeeding takes time. Gaining straight-As takes time. Healing takes time. Dying takes time (your entire life is spent dying, from a rather depressing point of view). The point is that patience and a strong will is vital in times of difficulty, so that you can persist and endure. It’s not easy, and the end product isn’t always ideal, but as the saying goes, c’est la vie. All we can do is learn, build relationships, and smile through the tears and the pain. It will be worth it.

FOUR

Face your fears. We all have fears. They might be petty and foolish ones, like the fear of being rejected by your crush, or serious and sensible ones, ones that everybody has somewhere rooted deep inside them. There might, for instance, be the fear of death, like the one I once faced. Because after life, there is nothing. “The rest is darkness” said Hamlet, but that’s technically not true, because there aren’t colours in death to differentiate between. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi got me through my fear of death. (This is somewhat off-topic, but I recommend that incomparable memoir to every human — no, every organism that has the ability to read.) Instead of avoiding the fear of my inevitable end, I faced it. It doesn’t necessarily mean you accept a fear when you face it, though; I might spend the rest of my life wondering about death, but at least I don’t fear it as much as I once did. Do remember that it’s okay to be scared. I don’t think there’s a such thing as being absolutely fearless, unless you’re an alien. Fear is normal — it just proves that you’re human.

FIVE

There is power in numbers. For example, look at the Avengers. They are never, ever alone. They beat Thanos together in Endgame. (Sorry, but it’s a die-hard nerd writing this. Mention of the Avengers is inevitable, pun intended.) Percy Jackson was never alone; he escaped Tartarus in The House of Hades alongside Annabeth with the help of Bob/Iapetus the janitor, Damasen, Leo, Hazel…Aelin Ashryver Galathynius defeated Maeve and Erawan in The Throne of Glass Series with the help of Rowan, Fenrys, Lorcan, Elide, Dorian, Chaol, Yrene…Frodo Baggins destroyed the ring in The Lord of the Rings with Sam and Gandalf’s help. Harry Potter destroyed Voldemort in the Harry Potter Series with the help of Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape…the list perpetually goes on forever. Not that success can’t be achieved alone (read: Marie Curie and her undeniable grit), but teamwork is a commended key to success. It’s easier to go through this weirdly wonderful thing we call life with the help and support of friends.

SIX

Nothing lasts forever. I learned this when I was ten, in the Beliefs and Tolerance unit in Primary at school; we were focusing on Buddhism at the time. It’s called impermanence. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time”. It’s nice to think that love lasts forever, but when the people who share that love are both dead, does that love really still exist? Is it a beautiful or horrible thing that everything ends in some form? If that love does continue after death, then how? Does this imply that souls live on after death? And then it gets all complicated, which I don’t want to delve into now, or else this will get way too long and messy and turn my brain into mush. Anyway — nothing lasts forever. My mum always says that people come and go; friends come and go. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Someday, the earth will be destroyed somehow, maybe because of us not acting in time against climate change, maybe because of a genetically engineered disease, maybe because of us savage humans causing a nuclear war (What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages? ~The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding)…the possibilities are endless. Someday, the universe we know so little of will end. All we can really do is enjoy and appreciate what we have in this current moment. Right now.

SEVEN

Respect others. This is something we usually learn once we begin our education: I vaguely remember standing on the bleachers in music class and singing a song with lyrics something like “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I love you and you love me”. But really — everybody deserves a certain level of respect. This doesn’t just mean humans; this right extends to every single creature with a biological heart. It is your responsibility and duty to respect others, not because you wish to be treated the same, but because they, as something that lives, deserves it. Respect others; respect yourself. Even if you hate somebody, maybe for something they did to you, you shouldn’t stoop to their level; instead, respect them. That teacher who gave you a crappy grade? That friend who stabbed you in the back (et tu, Brute)? That bully who made you cry during recess in front of everybody else? At the very, very least, please respect them. You don’t know what’s going on in their lives, you don’t know their motives, you don’t know them as well as they know themselves. Who knows? They might regret what they did one day. Anything is possible.

EIGHT

Gratitude is good for you. If you’re reading this, that probably means you own an electronic device, you can read the international language called English, and you’re a living human. There — that’s three things to be grateful for. Life is hard, and testing, and unfair, but you can always find something to be grateful for. Sure, we’re going through difficult times, with the Trade War and Brexit and all sorts things that adults worry and grumble about at the dinner table, but we can and will get through them. Yes, I daresay they are trivial; trivial compared to the more pressing problems of our world: climate change, gender inequality, racism…but be grateful. Be grateful that we have these opportunities to change the world for the better, that there will always be more to do! Life would be so bland if the world was Utopia! Carpe diem — seize the day. Be grateful, and thrive.

NINE

Everybody is fighting a hard battle. We’ve all met our fair share of people we dislike; they may be irritating, or clingy, or arrogant, or snobby, or stingy, or boring, or selfish, or something else. Everyone’s flawed, after all. But you should never judge people based on their worst mistakes. Give them a chance, since you don’t actually know what they’re going through. For you, it could be the colleague at work that’s a total snob. It could be the snitch at school that got you in trouble with the headmaster. But everyone — everyone — has a story to tell. It’s not always a pleasant one, either. But this is another reason you should respect others: you can never know what they’re going through. People’s motives usually have a reason.

TEN

Believe in yourself. As Demi Lovato beautifully put it in a rhetorical question: “What’s wrong with being confident?” Nothing! So long as that doesn’t turn into arrogance, try things out! You’ll never get anything done without first being confident and challenging yourself. Of course, that surge of confidence may result in utterly humiliating failure, but what’s life without embarrassment you can look back on and laugh about? If you don’t do something you want to do but are too scared or nervous or whatever it is to do it, you very possibly will regret it later on in life. Some opportunities only come once, so take them, and believe in yourself. It took Thomas Edison over a thousand attempts in order to successfully invent the lightbulb. If he’d given up somewhere halfway, I’d never be sitting under the warm lights of the school library today, typing this on a computer screen. Believe in yourself — stand by your opinions.

ELEVEN

Everything is going to be OK. Even when it feels like the world is falling apart. You know what I’m talking about; everybody says this stuff, like “there’s always a silver lining” or “you’ll always find the end of that tunnel”? Yeah, it gets exhaustive. But it’s true. You will get through life some way or another. It’s not the end of the world — not yet. You still have a lot of life to live, to experience, to grow. Keep going, keep moving, keep breathing. All the crisis we have in our lives are called crisis for a reason: it’s a period of intense difficulty or danger, not an ongoing, endless, lifelong struggle. OK? OK. (Glory, hallelujah, TFIOS fans!) I promise that you will make it, so long as you try. Just like Dory in Finding Nemo said, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” Or like Ariana Grande sang in breathin’, “Just keep breathin’ and breathin’ and breathin’ and breathin’…”

TWELVE

Question everything. Aristotle said to question everything, challenge our reality, and possibly find no good answers. But at least the enquiry was raised; perhaps you will solve it later in life. Don’t shy away from grappling with unanswerable questions you are curious about. Give in to that temptation. Ask Siri. Ask Alexa. Ask your parents. Ask your friends. Ask yourself. Figure it out! How will the world end? What is the meaning of life? What defines free speech? Is democracy good? Should Britain exit Europe? Should American presidents be allowed more than two terms in office? Do souls live on after death? Can immortality be achieved? If so, is it moral to be immortal? Just FYI, BTW, the answer to life,the universe and everything is 42. In his Analects, Confucius said that the ideal man is one that 不恥下問 (bù chǐ xià wèn), which describes a scholar who is not afraid of asking question. Who knows! Keep asking questions.

THIRTEEN

Live your life. Why? Um…well, we are going to die, like it or not. And we get about 22,075,000 seconds in our lifetime, and that’s if we’re lucky. I suggest you read this incredible post by Scott Riddle. (Please do give him a clap while you’re at it!) Life really is volatile; we have no idea how much time we’ll live. In Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming, her friend Suzanne died at 28. Paul Kalanithi died at 37 of stage-IV lung cancer. It’s not fair. None of it’s fair. But then, it’s not about how they died — it’s about how they lived. Nobody can say if I’ll get five more years to live or fifty. I might, as a matter of fact, die tomorrow, and there isn’t much I can do about it. We can’t control fate, whether it exists or not. The only thing we can really do is live. Sing, and dance, and laugh like there’s nobody listening or watching. Do you. Try things out. Have fun. Break unreasonable rules. Make contributions to your society. Change the world. Live a full life that will give you satisfaction at death. Again, we only get this one, short, fleeting life, so we might as well enjoy it. You don’t have to make ground-breaking discoveries that changes humanity’s perspective of the universe — it can be small things. We’re not all Albert Einsteins with IQs of 162, obviously, but we can do tiny acts of kindness that might make somebody’s day or week. I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend, and so are you. Now…go ahead and live your life. I will — tomorrow — because I’m up past my bedtime RN and I’ve gotta sleep. ‘Night!

Homo sapien at work.