With my birthday having just passed, I have been spending time reflecting on the 18th year of my life. I have decided that before I start looking towards the possibilities that lie ahead of me this year, I will cast one final glance behind, to acknowledge the experiences that have helped in my continuous development. During this process of reminiscing on the past year, I have realised there are a few important things that I wish I could tell my just-turned-18 self.

1) Stop comparing yourself to others. You are doing just fine.

I have struggled with lack of self-confidence for as long as I can remember. I feel compelled to blame the educational system in my home country for this, because it encourages students of all ages to constantly rank themselves against their classmates by placing utmost importance on grades. Interestingly enough, however, ever since I started University, this problem has become more acute, despite being in a much less competitive environment than the one I grew up in. Or maybe, because of such an environment. It could also be the fact that everything is so different at University to how it was in high school, and it has thrown me off-balance. Whatever the reason, my constant need to compare myself to those around me is a big strain on my happiness, and I have slowly realised over the past year that such a thing is not helpful in any way – at least, not when done in excess, which is what I have been doing. I am aware that comparing yourself to others can be motivational for some people, but as it has never been the case for me, this bad habit is something that I have decided to leave in the past. I am now more aware than ever that everyone goes through life at their own pace, and just because you feel like you are going slower than other people does not mean you are not going to get there in the end.

2) Cut yourself some slack.

Over the years, I have slowly become my biggest critic. Self-criticism is good, in small, regulated doses, but what I have been doing to myself lately has gone beyond that.Nothing that I do is ever good enough, I constantly feel like I could do better and that I fail to reach expectations. But whose expectations? Sure, there is a certain standard that I have to maintain in aspects such as Uni work, but that is nothing compared to the impossible standards that I set myself. I always seek out my shortcomings, always acknowledge my failures, always dismiss praise. Such a negative way of looking at things is going to get me nowhere. It’s a recipe for disaster – it will certainly hinder my personal growth and keep me back from improvement. Perfection is not achievable, and that’s ok. I have to realise that as long as I give it my best, there is no reason to feel disappointed. It will take work to silence the harsh voice in my head, but it’s something that is worth the effort.

3) Embrace homesickness.

Ever since I got to move to London as a child, I have found it difficult to define “home”.  As my English teacher eloquently put it, I am stuck between two countries, two nationalities, and two identities. I am both and none at the same time. It used to cause me a lot of worry and uneasiness. When I lived in London, I missed Bucharest. When I moved back to Bucharest, I missed London. It’s an unsettling feeling, to not know where your roots are. And yes, I don’t believe that our roots are necessarily in the place where we are born, I believe they are planted in whatever place we call home. Going to University, away from both “homes”, allowed me to gain a new perspective on the matter. For the first time, I started believing in the words “home is not a place”. Home is where you feel loved, comfortable, yourself, at ease. My home, as I have finally realised, is each and every person that I cherish in my life, friends and family. They are all my anchors, my roots. In their own special ways, they keep me grounded and create a sense of belonging. Therefore, being homesick is not as confusing anymore. And I am going to embrace the feeling differently than I did before, now that I finally know what “home” is to me.

4) Don’t fight a losing battle.

People leave. It is something that will inevitably happen. I have learned that better than ever once I left high school. As you evolve and grow, so do the people around you. Values change, perspectives shift, ideas get renewed it’s normal that, as a consequence of this, people end up growing apart. And I have come to understand that it can be more damaging to hold on to those who want to leave than to simply take the time to miss them once you shut the door behind them. It doesn’t do you any good to put in effort when the other person does not do the same. Therefore, let people be. Let them leave, let them stay, but never force them. It’s the least you can do, out of respect both for yourself and for them.What I feel like I have overlooked in this situation in the past year is the fact that you should also apply it to yourself. If you aren’t putting enough love into a relationship, it’s better to step away, and let the other person focus on people who invest as much love as they do. As a result of this, it is important to surround yourself with people who help you grow. The size of your circle of friends is not as important as the people who are part of it, and they should  not make you question your importance in their life, nor their love for you.

5) Embrace your natural beauty.

It has officially taken me 7 years to look past my acne. It’s been a struggle that I feel I have carried out for longer than that, however. Having acne has been the cause of numerous low points in my adolescence, when my self-esteem would be almost non-existent, and everything would come crashing down as a result. I have never been a naturally confident person – rather, I constantly feel like one of the most awkward human beings to grace the Earth. As a result, I don’t like drawing attention to myself. And having a face covered in acne always felt like it created the most unnecessary attention. People stare. It’s the truth. They might also stare if you have amazing skin, because who is not in awe at such a thing, but people will surely notice if your face isn’t flawless. For the past 5 years I have been constantly working on averting those looks from my face, but at the same time, allowing me the confidence to look at myself in the mirror and like what I see. And finally, I have achieved that goal. And I now move on to the next struggle – making sure I don’t fall back into my old habits. I have to allow myself the odd acne breakout without letting it diminish my self-worth and beauty.

Being 18 was an interesting chapter in my life, but it is now time to enjoy the next one.

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