17. A bit of luck
Growing up I was absolutely miserable. Being the fat kid in school, no attention from girls, very very few friends, more athletic family members who would single me out and pick on me. This went on through high school unfortunately.
When I was 19 things began falling into place for me through sheer dumb luck. I was (wrongly) diagnosed with ADD and the adderall they put me on caused me to lose 70 lbs in ~2 months, then the family came into some money as a result of a medical malpractice suite that killed my grandmother a few years earlier and my dad paid for me to study Japanese in Japan for 6 months.
Losing the weight and going to Japan were exactly what I needed to shake off my miserable former self. I had finally done something I could be proud of and it just kept catalyzing more and more positive changes in my life. It's weird to think I spent the first 20 years of my life hating myself, hating the world, hating my family, just as such a miserable guy. I love all those things now.
18. Parent’s divorce
It showed me that love is not magic. It's something that has to be worked at together. When one party can't or won't do equal work, the relationship fails. It feels amazingly good when it works and feels amazingly bad when it breaks down. The fact that my fairytale image of my parents marriage failure led me to (at least try to) have a more realistic view on life. No amount of want alone can make things happen in relationships. It's like carrying a really big fish tank: it's difficult with two people, and it's pretty amazing to move things along to new places, but one person can't do it. If someone isn't invested in moving it along, it will drop and break. And it's a real big mess to clean up and deal with all alone.
19. Getting a B in math
I locked myself in a bathroom stall and literally beat myself up for 15 minutes. I cried for many days afterward.
Soon enough, I got sick of living in this misery. I wanted to let go and accept it so I could just be happy. But to be happy in spite of such a grade would mean redefining my values.
Panicked, I looked up whether I could still stand a chance at Caltech, my dream university, if I got such a grade. The general consensus was "eh, pick somewhere else."
That was it! Not "no, you suck," not "no, Caltech wants smart people." Just pick somewhere else.
So now I've truly accepted the loss of my valedictorian status, as painful as it may be. There's nothing I can do about it now, and looking back, I can see that all this grade anxiety did nothing but crush my spirit. Now I centrally define myself as a friend, reader, learner, inquirer, helper, and daughter of God, identities that will endure my whole life - not as the tenuously hanging valedictorian.