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Life Lessons From an Almost 20-Something

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If we're to believe what movies like Mean Girls tell us, our teen years are supposed to suck. Welcome to seven long years of catty drama, piles of homework and awkward acne, right? The end of my teen years are in sight -- I turn the big 2-0 in just a few months. While I can't deny I didn't experience my own fair share of teen atrocities, I'm making it out the other side unscathed. Here's what I learned each teen year along the way.

Year 13: Never say anything online you wouldn't say in real life.

My best friend and I have practically been joined at the hip since we were toddlers. But somehow, I let an ugly combination of middle school drama and raging teen hormones get the best of me. I got jealous of her and started writing nasty comments about her online, even if I would never be rude to her face. I ruined our friendship for years; I wish I could get that time back. Lesson learned: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it at all -- especially online.

Year 14:Try something new.

At 14, I traveled to a Japan without speaking a single word of Japanese, started high school, and tried out for a new sport, diving. More often than not, out of my element and completely winging it. But before long, I stopped getting lost between every class and started getting high scores at diving meets. There's something to be said for trying something that completely terrifies you. After you conquer the big things, small, daily stressors become a piece of cake.

Year 15: You're beautiful -- embrace it.

I spent far too many hours as a teen counting calories and stressing out over every pound. I told myself I wasn't thin enough, wasn't curvy enough, wasn't pretty enough -- but when I look back at photos now, I don't see a single one of those so-called flaws. Next time you're criticizing yourself in front of the mirror, take a step back and try to see what everyone else sees: a beautiful, healthy, strong girl. That's exactly what you are.

Year 16:Relax!

When I was a junior, I had a horrifying fear that if I didn't study hard enough for my SATs, I wouldn't get into my dream school, so I wouldn't get my dream job, so I would be completely broke and would end up on the streets. Spoiler alert: I didn't get a 2400 and I'm doing just fine. The college application process can feel like a pressure cooker; even the sanest students can get caught up in the hype. As hard as it may be, do yourself a favor and relax! Take a night off from studying and hang out with your friends. Your SAT prep book will be there tomorrow, I promise.

Year 17: Step up.

One of my favorite high school memories is serving as co-captain for my gymnastics team. I loved how good it felt to know that I made a difference on the team, even if it was something small, like leading warm-up or making team hair ribbons for our big competition. There's a fine line between leading a team and becoming a bossy control freak. Leadership isn't something you learn in the classroom -- so seek it out and learn to walk that line yourself. (And if you need balance lessons, my fellow gymnasts and I can help you out.)

Year 18: Kiss a few frogs.

As far as teen boys go on the Disney spectrum, a fair number of them fall closer to "frog" rather than "prince." Most will not understand the importance of shoes, buy you a walk-in closet full of ball gowns, or invite you to live in their fancy castle. But that's okay -- you're young. Even if that cute guy from math class turns out to be closer to frog than prince, you'll be smarter for next time around. Now's the time to have fun and not spend too much time worrying about that "happily ever after" ending.

Year 19: Hold onto your teen years for as long as you can.

During my freshman year of college, I juggled an internship and a job on top of a full course load. My boyfriend was a recent college graduate living in the "real world," complete with a finance job and an apartment. My freshman year didn't revolve around Greek life or tailgating; instead, I went to New York Fashion Week shows and hung around coffee shops. While I loved my freshman year, I wish I had spent a little less time indulging in my newfound "adult" freedom and a little more time being a typical college kid -- dorm parties, school spirit, and all. As exciting as my first year was, I have the rest of my life to grow up. Why rush?