I often wonder why it took me 25 years to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Then, I realize it’s probably because I’ve already done most things at least once and survived.
There are so many times I remember speaking to older mentors who told me a lot of the things I go through are age-related. They told me once I got older, the problems I found so tough to work through wouldn’t seem that big at all.
I have to say, it’s pretty accurate advice. It took me a long time to really get a grip on my emotions and my reactions to the sh*tty parts of life.
For a while, I thought I’d never get to where I am now: stable. For the first time in years, I feel anything can go wrong and I can handle it.
While I reflect on the changes I’ve made, it’s hard to pinpoint what made the difference. There's no doubt I have developed healthier coping skills.
But quite honestly, I think it’s because I’ve already lived the firsts of life.
I’ve spent so much time mourning the end of my firsts, it never occurred to me I’m kind of happy they are over.
Here are six "first" experiences we all need to go through in order to become fully functioning adults:
1. “There is nothing like your first love.”
In our culture, we put so much emphasis on our first loves.
I get it. It's an amazing feeling being in love for the first time, with absolutely zero baggage from the past.
Some days, I would kill to be able to experience that again.
But then, I think about the heartbreak that came with it and how absolutely unprepared I was for it. When I think about the breakups I’ve experienced in my adult life, I still knew I would get over them after enough time had passed.
I have enough accomplishments under my belt now to know I have value outside of the person I'm dating. But during the first time, I had none of that.
Or rather, I didn’t have the coping skills necessary to see that. I just felt pain.
2. “I remember when I drank my first beer.”
The first time I drank beer, I got made fun of for crying.
I drank way too much, was way too young and desperately wished I was back at home watching a movie with my mom. I made sure everyone knew it, too.
The room was spinning, and I wound up throwing up.
I will always remember drinking my first beer, but I'm very happy I’ve moved on from it.
3. “I got my first big girl job!”
Oh, the anxiety. It was like high school all over again: navigating where to park your car, what to wear, who to talk to and finding people to sit with at lunch.
Except this time, you needed to pay attention and actually work for the money to pay for your expensive apartment.
Questions in your head go something like this: How often do people get fired?
What happens if I do while I’m leased into my apartment for a year?
If I make a mistake, is that the end?
I didn’t learn about online marketing in college. Will my manager be mindful of a learning curve?
Starting a new job is always scary and anxiety-provoking, but by your mid-20s, you finally realize the world isn’t out to get you.
Your manager just spent at least a month trying to find a good fit for your position, so the odds of him or her firing you over one mistake in your first three months are slim.
You’ll always try to do your best, but you aren’t going to have a panic attack every time you slip up.
This is a beautiful thing for your mental health.
4. “But wait. Mom and dad are really driving away now?”
I’ll never forget the moment my parents dropped me off at college.
I was alone in my dorm, and I knew no one.
It really is a crazy feeling. You can't wait to go to college and be on your own, but during that first half hour after your parents' departure, you feel sad and scared. I really will never forget that moment.
It was a defining moment for me.
While it was necessary for my growth as a human, I would not choose to go back to it.
It took me a while to get used to a life without them. While I’m glad I did, it wasn’t a fun process.
5. "No one ever broke up with me before."
When I entered my 20s, I found myself single and ready to casually date. I didn't want to be in a long-term relationship, but I found myself unable to cope with the ebb and flows of single life.
If I went out on a date and the guy didn't want to go on a second date, I would be devastated, even if I didn't really click with the guy.
I just couldn't handle knowing there were aspects of my personality someone didn't find charming.
What parts were they? How could I change? How could I make him like me?
It's happened enough times now for me to understand it's not always personal. Someone else will come along who will admire the aspects of my personality the previous person wasn't into.
6. "He was my last mistake."
The first time I had a one-night stand was a meaningful experience. By meaningful, I mean pretty sh*tty.
The guy never texted.
I felt used, and to be honest, I started to understand why people referred to these experiences as mistakes.
While I try not to do this often, the first one-night stand was an experience I wasn't ready for.
Going in, I really didn't think I'd have feelings afterward. I thought I could do the whole no-strings-attached thing.
Hey, it's okay for some people. But I know now it's not for me.
Still, if it happens in the future, I'll know now to chalk it up as a mistake, rather than berating myself for sleeping with a guy who isn't calling me.
There are so many more firsts.
The first time I drove a car on my own. The first time I was able to go to the bar. The first New Year’s Eve away from my parents. The first time I traveled with friends.
The list goes on.
There will be firsts for the rest of my life, but I feel like I got a lot of the major ones down.
I’ll always be nostalgic for the past, but it’s nice not to be so new at everything. I now have a good idea of how I usually respond to things.
I can now make adjustments in my life in order to cope in a healthier way.
For once, it's nice.
I've survived enough firsts to know I'll survive all the rest, too.