15 Lessons From Turning 20 in 2015

2015 has been a Battlestar Galactica roller coaster ride for me. As we start chanting “New year, new me” for the next few days like we always do every year, hoping that our fairy godmother brings it to fruition, here’s some things that I learnt — though not for the first time per se, but definitely lessons that hit me real hard.

1. Shit always happens at the same time.

Growing up complicates life. Life was so much simpler in the past. While we used to freak out over a spelling test, drama is now pretty much part of our typical day. At best, I’m worrying about multiple project deadlines and pop quizzes. At worst, throw in some of the following; catfights, group fights, family squabbles, falling sick, boyfriends, girlfriends, grandparents, missing the train, and a pathetic bank account… I shall just stop here.

It can be very overwhelming. This semester was indeed very much so for me due to some not-very-smart decisions I made, but what kept me going was realizing that I’m not alone. I have family and friends by my side who keep me going. I’m not the only one fighting battles and chasing dreams. I became much happier when I realized I wasn’t on a solo trip as I found like-minded people along the way.

2. If it’s meant to be, it will be.

So don’t chase people who do not value you as much as you value them. Learn to let go. And always remember the people who stayed by your side during the rainy days.

This is the best time to make the most out of our lives —ironically— by doing crazy, stupid things because YOLO, because we just have to accept that this is when we ARE supposed to screw up, to pour our heart and soul into something or someone only to have it not amount to anything at all in the end.

You win some, you lose some.

3. Everyone needs a life anthem.

I love listening to rap, hip hop and the latest pop songs just to make myself feel cool when I’m doing house chores.

Whether you’re on the go, cleaning your room, running, in the shower, traveling, crying, studying, partying, or waking up for school, a good playlist can get you through anything in life.

My anthem of 2015 is hands down CROOKED by GD. It used to be Basket Case by Green Day, and many years before that it was Pork and Beans by Weezer. Find what works for you.

4. Life never goes according to plan, so just follow your gut.

I was all ready for a semester of chasing my dreams, raise my GPA while I ace the most interesting modules that would change my life forever… Nope. Didn’t happen.

My GPA dropped (if you must know, by 0.07. Try applying the same operation on your own GPA). Dreams died. Did I regret it? A little. Would I do things differently if I had the chance? Definitely. But I have to admit that the risks I took and the things I tried this semester has taught me so much.

While I wouldn’t advise others to do the same, I just wanted to know what was the worst that could happen if I did things on my own terms. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to end up with regrets that you can blame others for.

5. The best self-protection mechanism is confidence.

Good vibes attract good people, and vice versa. How to avoid drama? Keep away from toxic people and bullies. While nobody seeks them out voluntarily, they do inevitably cross paths with us at some point in our lives.

I used to spend much time and effort dealing with them in the past, but I realized how I carry myself can be really helpful in taking control of the situation. Bullies feed on insecurities and toxic people thrive on manipulation and guilt. So, believe it or not, it is possible to turn them off just by being confidently happy with your life and who you are. (You will repel them like how garlic does to vampires!) No one can coerce you into doing anything else or feeling otherwise.

6. There is nothing wrong with being quiet

… or loud, overly expressive, too shy, too weird, crazy, awkward and so on, and so forth.

At best they can be just tactless comments by friends; at worst they become spiteful criticisms that people throw at each other because of insecurities.

Who ever decided that (so-called) “nerds” can’t get multiple piercings, that (supposed) “jocks” can’t love pink and pretty ladies have to be demure? There will be many judgemental people around. But, if you are surrounded by a genuine, loving crowd, you will never have to worry about the hatin’ and judgin’.

While it’s good to listen to people with rich life experiences, and people who only wish the best for you… otherwise, you can pretty much choose to tune out everything else. Only we can decide what kind of person we want to be. Self-improvement is a must, but only if it’s carried out on our own terms, for the right reasons and for people who are worth it.

7. Learn how to charm and sweet talk adults (i.e. parents, teachers). You’ll thank me.

Once you learn the ropes, you’ll never want to let it go. There are many perks to getting on the good side of authority figures. For one, you get more leeway to explore possibilities and exercise creativity with the rules. Say your P’s and Q’s, smile. Don’t forget to “por” your dear senpai’s too, who are constantly passing down cheat codes and survival guides to clueless freshies. Making them feel good is the least we can do for all the guidance and life experience they are willing to share with us.

8. Time to grow up

Children look at me all starry-eyed. Juniors from school ask me for advice. More situations and people are popping up, expecting us to have the answers.


We all have that big sister or big brother figure we used to look up to in our childhood. It could be anyone — teachers, older cousins or siblings etc. Call it a life debt, there’s no where to hide but it’s our turn to be that person for someone now.

9. If you can’t love them, befriend them.

This works wonders in almost any aspect of life from homework to the weather to relationships. It works on practically everything as long as you are able to find the silver lining in every cloud. Hate studying? Make it more enjoyable with music, good food and great company.

10. You can’t choose your family, but you can learn how to deal with them.

There are thousands of articles online teaching us how to get rid of toxic people. But it gets real iffy when they are actually family members. It’s a personal choice but there are people who choose (with good reason) to cut off contact completely to protect themselves.

I know I would be much happier if I had a heart strong enough and a good enough reason to do that too. But I don’t. And sadly, I do think my family takes advantage of it sometimes.

Is it morally right? Is it fair? Will it make me happy? And who’s to judge? These questions haunt me almost everyday.

But not all hope is lost. Growing up means we become smarter and more resilient. We see what we love and hate about family dynamics. We are at the age now where we know how to treat others right and vice versa.

Believe it or not but we do get better at learning how to love others without losing ourselves.

11. Age is really just a number.

This can work both ways. On the flip side, this is the time when we realize age does not really make a person more mature, which explains our disillusionment with adult figures, with how unfair and inefficient the world can really be. I don’t really have any advice for this. This is life. Though I do wish I can play a part in making it better for as many beings (human and non-humans) as possible in future.

It took me a one year to get over the age barrier in university because I couldn’t see my batchmates as anything other than “my sister’s friends”. It was just really weird for me to be in the same classroom as the people who used to pinch my cheeks and chased me around school. Just. No.

But I got past that eventually, and now the age gap between some of my closest friends and me range from 0 to 5. I guess what makes people click really depend on many other factors like personality, life experiences and compatibility in values and beliefs.

12. How lucky I am to be surrounded by people who let me be me.

I am so spoilt by the people in my life that it kind of kills my motivation for any personal development.
This is why I still cannot find my own way around school. It’s also why I never have had to back down from a fight. They give me courage to stand up for others, because I know I am spoilt for choice with people who will do the exact same thing for me given the situation.


13. What it means to live for myself

What’s something I would stay up all night for? What do I love to do even when I’m alone? For years, the only thing that was able to motivate me was people. I took very long to find ways to make myself happy that didn’t involve people in my life. I thought maybe I’m just a people-driven person… till I realized one day I was very, very wrong.

And as cliche as it gets, I went on my first independent trip to Japan with a friend. It was very liberating and therapeutic experience for me. I was ticking off my bucket lists, indulging myself in a place so foreign yet so familiar. Clothes and shoes fit me here, and depending on how I dress and how I speak, I can choose to stand out or just fit right in. I got to know myself better. Turns out, deer whispering, navigation (with prior preparation), conversing with friendly Japanese are just some of my newfound talents.

14. When I fake it, I do make it.

Shakespeare once said, “All the world’s a stage”. There will be so many personas to adopt and so many roles to play. There’s the intern, the leader, the babysitter, the teacher, the tourist-who-knows-nothing, the tourist-who-must-make-it-back-home, the negotiator etc. etc.

Learning how to handle life like it’s hollywood is a skill that will last for life. It’s like how you can never forget how to ride a bike. If you can internalize these roles and make them your own, your oscars moment in life will come in no time.

15. Somehow, things just works out in the end.

Life makes you want to pull your hair out, jump off a cliff and occasionally kill someone. Let nature take its course. Everything happens for a reason, but it does get better every single time. When one door closes, another one opens. When one person leaves, someone better will come along. But the bottom-line is, all that will happen only if you keep going. So, don’t do stupid things to hurt yourself.

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Ong Shi Man
Ong Shi Man, or as her friends like to call her, Smong, is currently majoring in Communication Studies in NTU. Writing gives her a voice and it is highly rewarding that the simple act of sharing can resonate and help many others. It was only the first semester of her freshmen year when she was given the opportunity to try public speaking to her course mates during lecture, where she gave a heartfelt motivational speech titled 5 Things I want to tell my friends right now. You can watch it by clicking on 'v' below!


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