The Year of Learning


You gotta fall. You gotta get back up. You gotta fall again. And you gotta get back up.

I matured a lot this year, (even though I still can’t cook and I still have to call my mom to ask how to write a check). But I’ve learned just how fragile time is and how valuable the strength of family can be. I’ve learned that age is nothing but a number and that in order to be loved, you must love yourself. I’ve learned success comes with many sacrifices and that inspiration comes from all around. I’ve learned to surround myself with talented and ambitious people and to be honest about love, even when it hurts. I’ve learned a lot about life and love, but most of all, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

For the first time, I had my own place—a little studio apartment in Chicago right on Lake Michigan. I found living alone was great on nights when it was just me, my record player, and a glass of wine. But I also found it was lonely during the quiet and darks nights when I couldn’t sleep.

For the first time, I lost someone that was close to me—my grandpa. He was so much more to me than just family. He was my biggest fan, my role model and my best friend. He took his last breath on a cloudy summer day in July and that was the final goodbye. I discovered the only people who could really cure a shattered heart was family.

For the first time, I wasn’t a teenager anymore—I turned 20. On my birthday I panicked because I felt like time was moving too fast and in no way was I ready to enter adulthood. But then I took time to reflect on all the people I met and everything I accomplished and I couldn’t help but become overwhelmed with a sense of pride and happiness. I realized turning 20 wasn’t something to be scared of, it was a milestone to be proud of.

For the first time, I was reckless with who I loved—I hurt people I loved who hurt me. My irresponsibility took over me and I wove traps I couldn’t easily escape from. It was my desperate attempt to find out what love meant but in that process I found out more of who I was and who I didn’t want to be. I discovered love was something fragile that takes time.

Behind all the lessons learned, I feel like I’m slowly understanding the way the world works. I may still not fully understand the meaning of love and I may not know how to resist things I know I shouldn’t have—but I’m learning. Life isn’t meant to be safe.

I've spent so much time letting go of all the negativity in my life and focusing on myself and my happiness. Because in the end, you will always be too much of something for someone: too loud, too smart, too confident, too weird, too edgy. But if you round out your edges, you lose your edge. You are meant to be different and spontaneous. You are meant to be yourself, sometimes it just takes some time to figure that out.

So here’s to 2016 and a look back on some things I learned this year:

“Stand tall and be strong”

When I was younger, all I wanted was to be beautiful, now all I want is to be intelligent and respected. I want to burn hearts with brilliance and engulf souls with compassion and understanding. I want to be loved for my thoughts and respected as a woman and nothing else. Because I am so sick of sexist comments and catcalls on the street and not being able to do anything about because I fear retaliation. I am sick of growing up in a male-dominated world where there are still too few women in elected offices, and too few running Fortune 500 companies. And of course, no woman has ever been elected President of the United States. Thankfully, at an early age I was exposed to a brilliant woman in power—my mom. Because of her, I always aspire to be more and become more.

“Always make time for yourself”

No matter what it is, take time to do things you enjoy. Don’t let school overpower your life. Schedule your day and make room for things you love like getting take-out from your favorite quaint, little restaurant. Or surrond yourself with a bunch of candles, put on some smooth jazz and lower yourself into a relaxing bubble bath. One hour a day is always manageable. You like to write, do it. School and work is no excuse for giving up on things you love. Always remember to put yourself first, always. No matter what.

“Don’t stop reading the news”

As a journalist, this is basically my life, but I’ve come to learn that it’s an essential part to understanding everyone’s differing opinions. A lot of the times, the media doesn’t give the full objective story due to the fast-pace newsroom pressure and competition. So do your research. Read read read. Form strong, intellectual opinions. Hold your ground during conversations. Because you are never too naïve or young to debate about real-world issues. If you go into it with an open-mind and a strong background, people will listen. Yes, my opinions might change a little from different experiences in the future, but no one can ever tell me my opinions don’t matter—they are mine.

“To know your weakness is strength”

I realized that to be more alive, I had to be less afraid. So I did, I lost my fear and gained my whole life. I am stronger now. So when he texts me out of the blue three months after I walked away, it’s okay if my heart pounds a little, but I won’t tell him I miss him. And when he tells me how good I look in my favorite dress, it’s fine to hide it in the back of my closet for a few months. Because some people believe holding on is a sign of great strength, but I believe it takes much more strength to know when to let go and to never stop loving yourself so that when someone treats you wrong, you recognize it.

"Family is so much more than people you're related to"

When my grandpa passed away last summer, my heart broke in a million pieces, but my family was right there to pick them all up. Family is not just here to love you, but to watch out for you. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame. Not work. It's heartbreaking that the body can't last as long as the love between two people. But it's also kind of beautiful that love transcends beyond time. I still think back on the stories my grandpa and I shared—from his famous football days to his adventure around Chicago—and those memories will forever have a place in my heart.

“Trust the plan”

Trust the timing in your life. The women I admire so much for their strength and success, did not get there because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong, and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. So just relax. You will become an adult. You will figure out your career. You will find someone who loves you like you have never been loved before. You have a whole lifetime; time takes time. So don’t worry, you are going to find yourself when you are meant to find yourself. Some women choose to follow men, some people choose to follow their dreams. I chose my dreams.

Always remember, be good to people even when they don’t deserve it. How they act, reflects who they are, but how you react, reflects who you are. You need to stop doing things for someone when you find out it’s expected rather than appreciated. Realize the difference between loving someone and loving the affection they give you. When it’s over, leave, don’t continue watering a dead flower. Don’t judge someone because they sin differently than you. Remember getting no message, is also a message. Hold his hand, instead of waiting desperately for him to grab yours. Don’t ever believe your parents don’t understand your struggles, they just made sure you never felt theirs. And always do what you enjoy—go up to your rooftop and find peace in the sun setting behind the city with a fresh cup of coffee. You’ll thank me later.

Lastly, if you don’t find everything you’re looking for in 2016, I hope it finds you. I hope you let go of all the wrong ones, so you can embrace the right ones. And I hope this year brings you happiness and that somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. Just go to that edge of your soul and jump!

“Everything you are going through is preparing you for everything you asked for.”

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© 2018 by LAUREN KOSTIUK

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