16 Things I Learned By 16

by Zahra Ali 

Some people might find this list pretentious but I think these are lessons worth sharing. So here goes…

1. Writer’s block is a myth

I’ve been writing short stories and novels since I was about twelve years old. There’s room for improvement, especially with my earlier work, but through the years I often found myself in a ‘creative slump’ that many call writer’s block. In an interview with swoonreads.com, author Sarah J Maas said there’s “no magic to it, no special formula. There is no one process… beyond that: showing up.” Once I discarded the idea of writer’s block, I found myself getting rid of excuses to not write, and instead, I started showing up.

2. Procrastination is the devil.

Don’t fall into the clutches of Netflix, or Instagram or whatever else takes up your time. You’ll regret it once you actually have free time to spend and all you can think about is how you could’ve done that essay a lot better.

3. There are always two sides to the coin.

A good friend of mine often reminds me, that no matter what your situation is, there will always be people both more fortunate, and less fortunate than you. That doesn’t make your situation great, and it doesn’t make it terrible- it just is how it is. I’ve learned to acknowledge my freedoms for what they are, and be grateful for my life, as well as understand that every experience is valid.

4. “I am the one thing in life I can control.”

This is a quote from the song Wait For It, from the musical Hamilton. It strikes a chord with me (no pun intended) because, it took me a long time to realise this. I would often rely on other people to help me achieve my goals, whether that be teachers, friends or family. But the truth of the matter is, that only you can get yourself where you want to be. I realised that I needed to pull my own weight instead of waiting for others to help me, because my goals are nobody else’s responsibility but mine.

5. Nobody is obligated to like you.

There will be people who will disagree with you. There will be people who don’t like what you do, how you dress, how you write, what you think. But that’s alright. They’re not obligated to agree. And you’re not obligated to care.

6. Mother knows best.

You could ask anybody who knows my mother that if there was an award for ‘fantastic judge of character’ it would go to her. When I first met one of my closest friends in Year 7, it was because she said “that girl looks like she would be a good friend”. She was right. But it also worked vice versa. My mother once told me, “that person doesn’t seem trustworthy”. I ignored her, which was a big mistake. I learned to truly listen to her advice the hard way.

7. Stop screaming into the void.

The thing about opposite beliefs and opinions, is that they’re still beliefs and opinions. No matter how twisted or unfair somebody is being as they argue with you, they are just as rooted in their values and beliefs as you are, and no amount of ‘debate’ will change their minds. The best way to convince someone of something is through action rather than words alone.

8. Grades aren’t everything.

I expect good grades across the board however, that is ultimately unrealistic for myself. For example, I struggle with Mathematics. I am not going to get an A*. Perhaps you think this is a negative mindset, but the way I look at it is this: we all have strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging a weakness does not in turn make you weak, but can often be a weight off your shoulders as you take steps to improve. I’m not going to get an A* in Maths, but that isn’t the point of all my hard work. The point is that I truly tried my best, even when times got tough. (Hopefully I’ll remember that on Results Day).

9. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Everybody says it but it’s true. And really self-explanatory. Look after your money, kids (including myself).

10. On being a black Muslim woman.

It’s tough, sometimes. People won’t understand that ‘thing’ on your head, and sexism is going to affect you and racism seems to be everywhere you look, but, it doesn’t have to bring you down. Like I said earlier, I’ve learned that the best way to change people’s minds on matters, and educate people is to act, and try to show them that females can be strong, Islam is peaceful, and race doesn’t make any man superior to another.

11. Switch off.

The first thing I do when I wake up is check my phone. Last thing at night, I check my phone. I carry it everywhere with me and tell myself it’s for safety reasons, I take pictures of good food before I eat it and panic over losing snapstreaks. I’ve learned that it’s okay to switch off, and that not everything has to be documented. Some days can be tech-free.

12. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t like broadcasted.

Quit gossiping- it’s so detrimental. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it behind their back, and if you would be embarrassed for the world to hear something, consider the fact that maybe you shouldn’t say it.

13. You can have more than one life goal.

Life is both too short and too long to worry about sticking to just one thing. There’s time for a lot, and there’s too little time to miss out. 16 is very young, you have plenty of time to decide.

14. Rules are (mostly) reasonable.

When I was younger I would complain about rules, particularly in school, I mean, why shouldn’t we use our phones in class? But I’ve come to realise that most rules are there for a reason…probably because somebody did something terrible before they were implemented.

15. Try new things.

You never know, knitting could turn out to be your greatest passion. I believe that trying new things, and going to new places is so important, something I could do more of. A range of interests is always impressive. Who knows, maybe you could be the world’s first plate spinning gardener? Maybe?

16. You’re you, but sometimes things can be improved.

Being who you are is the best thing you can do. But you should also try being the best version of yourself. It’s something I’m still working on, but I think it’s something you never really stop working on, because there’s always room for improvement! •

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