17 Life Lessons to Learn Before 17

At the end of 2022, I celebrated my 17th birthday, and I took that as an opportunity to reflect on everything I’ve learned so far in my life. Our generation has faced many challenges in recent years, from the pandemic and virtual school to dealing with a social life that is now so prominent on social media. It hasn’t been easy! I decided to put together 17 lessons that I wish I had known before turning 17.

  1. It is never that serious!

Life is so, so stressful. But half of the time we’re making things out to be a lot more difficult than they are! Take a minute now and then to just breathe. Your friends aren’t mad at you. That one grade isn’t going to ruin your life. Whatever you’re feeling isn’t going to last forever!

  1. Make friends in each new environment you encounter.

I cannot stress how much this has improved my day-to-day life. I can point out at least one person I talk to consistently in each of my classes and extracurriculars, and it’s made getting through the day so much easier and more fun! Of course, it’s easier said than done to make friends than to put yourself out there and talk to people. Try to find people around you that seem to have similar interests, and give them a friendly compliment. Several of my friendships have started just from conversations about what we have in common. Having a person to talk to just makes the days a little brighter.

  1. Don’t feel like you have to say yes to everyone.

I am a natural-born people pleaser. If you’re like me, you’re prone to agreeing to do many tasks that you don’t have the time for or things that you simply don’t want to do. Despite your fears, people aren’t going to be furious with you for turning down an opportunity. Learning to prioritize your downtime and mental health is so important, and learning how to say no helps you to establish healthy boundaries with other people.

  1. Give yourself a break.

Again, life is so stressful! You deserve to have moments to yourself each day where you can just breathe and do something relaxing, like watch a show or practice a hobby. High school is hard! Don’t beat yourself up to get everything done right away if you’re sacrificing your sleep or mental health.

  1. Delete social media for two days (or many more).

Whether you acknowledge it or not, our generation is constantly on their phones. Our attention spans have shortened and many of us can’t go a few hours, if that, without checking for new notifications. I just deleted Instagram from my phone again to debrief for a few days, and I can already notice a difference. It doesn’t have to be a long break, but taking some time to be more conscious and aware of your environment can make a huge difference in how you interact with others.

  1. Put yourself out of your comfort zone.

We spend so much of our lives worrying about taking risks and doing things out of the ordinary. But how are you going to learn what you’re really passionate about or what you’re capable of doing if you only strive for what you know you can achieve? Putting yourself out of your comfort zone is a learning experience that’s important to any teenager’s development. What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe to you, putting yourself out of your comfort zone means confessing your feelings to someone. If they say no, it’ll probably hurt, but that’s better than wasting your time pining over them just to learn they don’t feel the same!

  1. Not everybody is going to like you (and that’s okay!)

Everybody wants to be liked by somebody, whether they acknowledge it or not. And feeling like somebody doesn’t have particularly positive feelings towards you is frustrating! But no two people are going to have the same opinions on everything. It’s impossible to be liked unanimously by everyone because somebody is going to disagree with you or not like something you do for whatever reason. So who cares? Spend time with the people who show you that they care about you and want to be around you. Don’t waste effort on anyone else.

  1. Don’t tolerate the bare minimum.

Guys. It’s 2023. If you’re still taking the bare minimum from the people in your life, you need to get rid of them. There are people who are going to treat you the way you deserve to be treated. Don’t settle for people who clearly don’t care. They aren’t worth it.

  1. Drink. Water. Like a lot.

Everybody tells you all the benefits of drinking a lot of water, but it seriously makes a huge difference. Every time I start drinking the actual recommended amount of water (which is more than one cup of water in the morning, guys), I notice that my skin is clearer and my mood is overall better. Drinking more water isn’t going to be the cure-all, but at least you can be hydrated while you get your life together!

  1. Find a form of physical activity that you really enjoy.

Physical activity releases a chemical in your brain called dopamine, often referred to as the β€œhappy hormone”. We all know exercise has multiple physical benefits, but these happy chemicals can also reduce your stress levels and improve your energy and mood. You can literally just go on a walk outside, it doesn’t have to be a high-impact activity. 

  1. Take care of your skin and hygiene.

Disclaimer: it’s completely normal and okay to have acne and/or blemishes! I personally just like to have skin that feels hydrated and clean. Try experimenting with a few different products and see how they affect your skin. Doing a skincare routine automatically gives me a confidence boost, even if I have visible acne or scars.

  1. Learn how to do your hair.

I’m still figuring out how to do my hair, but regardless of what texture, length, or color your hair is, you should figure out what styles and products really make it pop! Again with self-confidence, a simple hairdo can be just what you need to feel confident in your own skin!

  1. Start your work as soon as you get home.

If you have the option to go right home after school, you should start your work early. That way, you can get as much of it out of the way as possible and you have the rest of the evening to spend your time in a more exciting way! If you’re like me and have sports practice or work after school, I’d recommend showering and maybe getting something to eat before you start your homework. Regardless, pushing through and finishing everything early makes your life a lot less stressful later. 

  1. It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life yet.

Especially as an upperclassman, it seems like you’re always getting asked where you want to go to college or if you’ve started applying to schools, or what career path you want to follow. You might feel like you have to make all the important decisions about your future right now. But it’s perfectly fine to take your time figuring out what you want to study or where you want to work. Plenty of people change their majors during their time in university, and plenty of people switch careers after dedicating their time and money to a degree or field. You don’t have to commit to one thing without ever changing your mind. And you definitely don’t have to force yourself into a field that makes you uncomfortable or unhappy.

  1. Watch things that make you feel good.

I am genuinely concerned as to why all the media we’re exposed to nowadays is so incredibly depressing. Try to balance out all the heavy material you watch on Netflix and Hulu with some uplifting movies and videos. It’ll help your mood overall.

  1. Avoid the pressure to conform.

Conforming is so boring! The things that make people the most interesting, in my opinion, are the things that make them stand out from other people. Wear what makes you feel good! Pursue the activities that make you happy, not what everyone else believes should make you happy. Nobody else matters! Of course, if wearing what everyone else is wearing makes you feel good, do that! But don’t feel like you have to be the same as everyone else, because that just makes everything so monotonous.

  1. Do what makes you happy. 

The only person who can tell you who you are is yourself. Nobody else’s opinion matters as much as your own when it comes to how you want to spend your time. If people don’t like you for pursuing what you care about, then screw them! Life is short, you might as well spend it happily rather than following false dreams and never truly enjoying yourself.