Around a year ago, Taylor Swift shared 30 things she learned before turning 30. Back then, I was about to celebrate my twentieth birthday, so it was the perfect opportunity to write my version of that... Except I didn't finish it in time. Now that I'm turning 21, which is not as symbolic as either 20 or 30 seems to be, I suddenly felt the urge to complete this task for the year. Here's my twist: I present 21 songs with lessons that I am actively trying to pursue in life, not things that I'm fully practicing yet. So maybe "21 goals" might be more on point than saying these are lessons I've learned.
Here's the playlist to listen while you're reading:
1. Don't be scared of dreaming
And we become night time dreamers
Street walkers, small talkers
When we should be daydreamers
And moonwalkers and dream talkers
In real life
— Daydreamer, AURORA
We get older and tend to become focused on results, on short-term life objectives. But dreams shouldn't be limited to the images our brains project while we're sleeping: we should allow ourselves to have high hopes and nonconforming minds. Aim to change the world, even if it seems impossible.
2. It's never too late to start
You say too late to start
With your heart in a headlock
You know you're better than this
— Headlock, Imogen Heap
It's all about believing there's still time to learn something new or to begin something you always wanted to do. Past experiences can haunt us and turn us into preys of self-disbelief that things might work when they didn't before, but a dream never stops being worth pursuing.
3. There's no such "perfect moment" for anything
If you got something to say, say it right away
If you got something to do, do what's right for you
If you got somebody to love, give that love today
Know you got nothing to lose, there's no time to waste
If you got a letter for me, send it right away
If you know that you really care, don't hold your breath
— Send to Robin Immediately, Robyn
If I were to write about the feelings I nurtured for years before confessing them, I'd be writing an article at least ten times the length of this list. If someone hurts you, or if you love someone, tell them immediately. In a safer approach, find a balance between being protective of yourself and being bold.
4. Self-love comes first
If I could make you love me
Maybe you could make me love me
And if I can't make you love me
Then I'll just hate everybody
— I HATE EVERYBODY, Halsey
As Halsey herself said, these lyrics are "not advice." Instead, they are almost mockingly denouncing everything wrong with going headfirst into love without loving yourself first. It places you in the space of need for others' acceptance before you find your own when it should be the other way around.
5. Forgive and apologize
We just pick up, pick up and start again
'Cause we can't keep holding on to grudges
— Grudges, Paramore
I thought holding grudges wasn't a problem for me until I started paying attention to daily life situations that caused me discomfort. Instead of talking it out, I would hold those feelings in until they were too much, until I exploded. It's liberating to understand it's not fair nor healthy to revisit people's mistakes in your head when they didn't intend to do you wrong.
6. Face relationship adversities head-on
So don't brush it under the rug
'Cause when we get through the struggle
That's when we level up
— Level Up, Sigrid
On the same note of not holding grudges, you won't ever grow in a relationship if you're not willing to face the confrontations and have the tough conversations when they become needed.
7. Treat people with kindness
Maybe we can find a place to feel good
And we can treat people with kindness
— Treat People With Kindness, Harry Styles
There are no two ways around this one — the title is self-explanatory.
8. Don't let go of naivety completely
I would rather see this world through the eyes of a child
— Through the Eyes of a Child, AURORA
It's simple: grow up, but don't dismiss the kid inside. Learn to be mature, but don't be afraid to see the good in the world.
9. Your past doesn't define your future
The past can't haunt me if I don't let it
Live and learn and never forget it
Whoa, gotta learn to let it go
— Learn to Let Go, Kesha
Kesha didn't go easy on us with "it's time to practice what I preach." It's easy to say that you should move on from the bad experiences, but if you're stuck regretting past decisions, you can't go on with life without overthinking every move.
10. Time... heals
Tears on your pillow will dry and you will learn
Just how to love again
Oh my weeping willow, let your leaves fall and return
Oh darling, the seasons are your friend
— Death by Chocolate, Sia
When the world feels like it is about to collapse because you're heartbroken, it won't really. You can learn to pick up the pieces, no matter how hard it is. But then again, this was said by Sia, so I won't spend too much time explaining. You can't expect me to ever oppose something stated by Sia.
11. Don't see situations in mere black and white
And I guess we fell apart in the usual way
And the story's got dust on every page
But sometimes, I wonder how you think about it now
And I see your face in every crowd
'Cause darling, it was good
Never looking down
And right there where we stood
Was holy ground
— Holy Ground, Taylor Swift
When we get out of certain circumstances, we tend to create a picture of them that's either great or terrible. But even in bad situations, there are always lessons to be learned.
12. You can't win easily — and if you do, that's an exception
But if you're ever gonna find a silver lining
It's gotta be a cloudy day
— Silver Lining, Kacey Musgraves
There are days when things don't go our way, which can honestly feel like the end of the world. There's a lot of fighting and losing involved in getting to your moment of glory, but it's completely worth it, I promise.
13. Be grateful
Taken for granted, almost everything that I would have died for
— Looking Up, Paramore
Maybe you've been born in an environment of privilege. Or maybe after all the struggle to get where you wanted, you forgot all it took. Either way, keep your eyes open to the reasons to be grateful for what you have. There are more than a few, even if you can't see it when it gets tough.
14. Don't be scared of being open
If the only other option's letting go
I'll stay vulnerable
— Vulnerable, Selena Gomez
One of the things that could top my list of "most difficult things to do" is to allow myself to be vulnerable. Putting an effort into hiding your struggles from the people who love you isn't going to make you stronger, just make you seem invincible though you're not.
15. Sincerity is scary, especially being honest with yourself
The truth runs wild
Like a tear down a cheek
— HEAVEN, Troye Sivan
The lyrics for HEAVEN feel like a warm hug after so much time questioning and sabotaging feelings. It's so confusing when you feel alone and when you don't know who to turn to, or how to find comfort in your skin. But just as a tear runs down a cheek, the truth can't be held back once it decides to be let out. And just like that, the relief eventually finds its way.
16. Respect individuality and embrace your own
I've had enough, enough, enough
And this is my prayer, I swear
I'm as free as my hair
I am my hair
— Hair, Lady Gaga
Each person finds their way of expressing themselves and it's hurtful to see them being reproached because of that. It shouldn't be hard to accept our differences and be there for each other, right?
17. You (should) never stop improving
I didn't know I was broken 'til I wanted to change
I wanna get better, better, better, better
— I Wanna Get Better, Bleachers
Even when everything is going your way, you can't get stuck in a place of conformity. Challenge yourself, healthily and thoughtfully, to be better than you were before. It shouldn't be a competition but a desire to keep learning, because if you're open to, you'll never stop.
18. Maturity doesn't come naturally with aging
We can talk it so good
We can make it so divine
We can talk it good
How you wish it would be all the time
And I've never felt more alone
It feels so scary, getting old
— Ribs, Lorde
Getting older does not give you the answers in the world. It's increasingly finding new doubts and trying to cope with knowing you'll probably spend your whole life trying to find the answers. Just as you dive into your newfound freedom, you need to be cautious not to drown in your responsibilities.
19. Stay true to yourself
Sometimes I wish that I could change
But not for me, for you
So we could be together forever
But I know, I know that I won't change for you
'Cause where were you for me when I needed someone?
When I needed someone
When I needed you
— When I Needed You, Carly Rae Jepsen
As someone happy in feeling useful, it's sad to acknowledge not everyone will be willing to do the same thing. The biggest lesson you can take out of that is: don't change yourself just to fit other people's expectations, because that is very prone to lead to disappointments.
20. Focus on what matters
Choose your battles, babe
Then you'll win the war
— Choose Your Battles, Katy Perry
In the era of digital "cancelation", shouldn't we agree to fight for the more pressing causes? It's saddening to see someone being completely shamed for a single mistake when all that effort could be put into trying to change the minds of people who are not actively trying to be better.
21. Have faith in your work and yourself
You'll never know until you try it
And you don't have to keep it quiet
And I know it makes you nervous
But I promise you, it's worth it
To show 'em everything you kept inside
Don't hide, don't hide
— come out and play, Billie Eilish
I didn't think a lot about Billie's words when I first listened to this song, but the message felt clearer with time. The thing is, if you don't put yourself out there, you'll never have the chance to improve. It's scary to let people in your world, but if you don't, you'll never know. Your art is worthy of being seen by others.