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20 Things I Learned in 20 Years

Photo by Evi Arthur

Today, I turned 20 years old. Two decades, one score, a vicennial old. As I look back at the years in my old age, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about life. I am definitely no longer the person I was in middle school (thank god) and I am not even the girl I was in my senior year of high school. It’s funny how time changes things.

So, here are a few things (well, twenty things) that I learned in my 20 years. Some might be obvious, some might be random, some are definitely super cheesy, but these are the things I have picked up in my time on this Earth.

1. Be Yourself.

Cliche as it is, I think this is the most valuable thing I’ve learned in my extensive time alive. I used to try and change the things about me that stuck out in order to fit in better with others: my loud laugh, my random mumblings to myself, my ridiculous facial expressions, even the weird shit I didn’t notice. I used to think those things made me weird and would make it harder for me to find friends, and now I look back and think ‘any friend who couldn’t look past me talking to myself wasn’t a friend worth having around.’

The older I get, the more I realize that everyone else is just as weird and gross as I am. Everyone else has weird habits and sayings, everyone else makes stupid faces sometimes; just because your weird things are different than other people’s weird things doesn’t make them any weirder than other people’s weird things. (Sound weird?) They just make you you. Don’t be afraid to be fully yourself, lest you forget who you are at all (#deep).

2. Find the things in life that make you happy and don’t let anyone take them from you.

Never ever ever let anyone make you feel bad for the things you feel passionate about (unless that thing is murder or something). If something makes you happy, great! I’m so glad that you’ve found something that makes you so happy, hang onto it. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad or make you feel like you can’t talk about that thing that makes you happy.

3. Trust your Gut.

The first thing you learn in a self-defense class is to trust your instincts, and more and more I find how much that sentiment applies to other areas of life. If you feel like something’s off or something’s telling you not to do something, trust it. Trust your gut when it tells you something.

4. Perseverance pays off.

Hard work will never go unnoticed. It can get difficult, but it will never amount to nothing unless you give up completely. If you want something, work towards it, put 100% of yourself into it and it will pay off eventually.

5. Loving yourself is hard and takes work, but it’s worth it.

Self-love is something I have been struggling with for most of my life; it’s not easy. Being able to wake up every morning and be okay with what you see in the mirror is hard and it’s something that everybody struggles with; you’re not alone.

You will go through highs and lows, and things definitely get better after high school, but, if you’re like me, this is something you’ll wrestle with for the rest of your life.

Never give up on loving yourself fully. Do what you need to: get help, make concious efforts to change the way you think about yourself and the way you see yourself, find healthy ways to cope and relax. Whatever it be, never give up on learning how to love yourself, it is so worth it. You deserve all the love in the world, especially from you.

6. Vegetables are the worst.

Nothing profound here, I just still really hate eating vegetables after two decades of eating them and I thought I would have learned how to like them by now. Shit.

7. Some people aren’t worth it, you deserve better.

I spent a lot of my middle and high school years constantly trying to please people who really couldn’t care less about me. I was always trying to make myself funnier and more available and more interesting in an attempt for them to want to spend more time with me. It never worked.

And it wasn’t until a few years after our relationship ended that I realized how indispensable I was to them. I felt like I had wasted so much time, so much of myself, on people who didn’t deserve me.

So, don’t waste your time and energy on people who won’t give you any of their time or energy. There are people out there who are going to love and cherish you for exactly who are, and you’ll find them, it just might take some time. Don’t waste your amazingness on those who won’t appreciate it. You deserve better.

8. Never let others belittle or diminish your ambitions.

Whether you want to one day become the princess of Genovia or just want to go to school with a business degree, never ever ever let anyone step on your ambitions.

I have always been a big dreamer. When it comes to the possibilities, the sky is the limit and it has always been like that. But, the people I used to hang around often tried to convince me that my dreams were too far or too expensive or too hard to attain. And, if I’m being honest here, sometimes they were. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t achieve them, and I wish someone had been there telling me that at the time.

Maybe you are dreaming too big, but never take no for an answer until it’s your only option. Don’t let anyone belittle your dreams or your ambitions simply because they’re not willing to open their minds.

Never stop dreaming.

9. You’d be surprised just how many people out there are just as weird and gross as you are.

I know I kind of mentioned this at the beginning of my list, but I cannot stress this enough. Other people are so gross and weird! Like, I legitimately thought I was the weirdest person ever until I got out into the world and made more friends and found that they did more weird shit than I did.

10. Laugh.

I know I’ve talked about this extensively in other articles, but I cannot stress enough how important laughter is. When you can laugh, laugh your ass off. Laughter is really the best medicine and it’s free (which, as a college student, is gold). For a start, I recommend John Mulaney.

11. Don’t let your world be run by boys.

If I could go back and tell myself one thing, I would tell myself to get over whichever guy I was crushing on at the time. Boys are not worth your time! I promise that guy you like doesn’t know what face wash is and shampoos his hair monthly; not worth your time. Work on you for a while and let the boys catch up when they’re ready. They do not deserve any of your precious time or emotions. Pinky swear.

And boys: you’ll get your shit together eventually, too. Don’t worry. Maybe start with showering more often, though.

12. Money doesn’t buy happiness but it does buy stability.

Those who say money doesn’t buy happiness are idiots. I mean, it doesn’t, you will never find permanent happiness through buying material things. But it does buy stability; it buys a roof over your head and full belly every night and the knowledge that you’ll have a place to come home to at the end of the day.

So, don’t put all of your expectations on money, don’t expect the world from your paychecks. But don’t blow it all on Candy Crush either. Open a savings account or something, please be smart.

13. Learn how to cook before you move out.

Learn how to feed yourself while you have your mom standing over your shoulder so you don’t have to harass google with dumb questions like “how do you cook rice?” and “how to tell when chicken has gone bad.” Cooking is hard. Living off of PB&J’s might sound great at the beginning, but it gets old really fast, trust me.

14. Dance.

I am quite possibly the world’s worst dancer. I have no sense of rhythm and usually end up looking like a limp noodle when I attempt to get down, but it hasn’t stopped me yet.

Dance! It’s fun! Whether you’re at a party or in your room at midnight in your underwear, dance your ass off. It’s honestly such a great stress reliever too.

As Meredith Grey would say: “Dance it out.”

15. Do what you want with your life.

It’s yours. Do what makes you happy. Don’t follow the guidelines that others have laid out for you, because you will never be content that way. Find what moves you and do it, find a place you are happy and move there. Life is short and a fiery end approaches sooner every day, (thanks global warming) so don’t waste a second of your life wishing you were somewhere else. Do what you want, we’re all gonna die soon anyway. (Kidding). (Well, sort of).

16. The Mitochondria is the Powerhouse of the Cell.

Quite possibly the only thing I’ve remembered after 14 years of science classes. Great.

17. Read a book!

I’ve always loved books, so this wasn’t something I had to learn over time, but as I get older I am more and more aware of how much of myself I got from reading. As a kid, reading was how I escaped from everyday life, how I made my friends, how I learned all the big fancy words I still like to use and try and sound smart, all that jazz.

Reading is different for everyone, obviously, but I have gained so much from spending all my time buried in books. I recommend trying it sometime. Whether you’re into anime or non-fiction books about whales, read!

And please support your local libraries!

18. Take a Deep Breath.

Those who are around me often must think I am just always exasperated because I am frequently taking big deep breaths.

Feeling anxious? Have a lot weighing on your shoulders? Try taking a deep breath! In through the nose, out through the mouth, you know the deal. It won’t solve all your problems (your student debt will still be there when you’re done, sorry) but it will help you to feel better even if only for a second.

Deep breaths, folks.

19. The world is not as bright and shiny as I once believed.

The only thing I haven’t enjoyed about getting so old (ha!) over the last few years is that I have become more cynical than ever.

Especially after watching the past few elections go by and after seeing so much indiscretion be rewarded with immense power (I won’t name names, but you should know who I’m talking about by now) I have become cynical. I no longer believe that the world is full of good people who do their best to do good things. I no longer feel safe walking out into the world alone because there are so many despicable humans out there.

I have come so far over the past few years, I have become so free and I don’t live my life according to the opinions of others, but I so wish I could take this one development back. I miss believing in the world and all its great possibilities. I hope one day to be able to have hope for my world again.

20. Despite bad things, try to see the good.

Although I now know the world is not rainbows and butterflies, I am always making conscious efforts to see the good, and I suggest you do the same.

There is so much bad out there that it can get you down sometimes. But I am, more and more, trying to find the good that people do for each other, no matter how small. When someone pays for the coffee of the person behind them in line or when people say please and thank you or when big hordes of people gather together to fight for the rights of those who can’t fight for themselves (that shit always makes me cry).

Try and find the good where you can, it helps to brighten the world some.

So, nothing that I have said here is revolutionary (look out Aristotle!) and I will not be writing a self-help book anytime soon either. But, I hope something I have learned over my years will help you improve your life some, even if it’s in a small way.

There are life lessons in everything you do if you’re willing to pay attention and learn. Sometimes the lesson is to always check your teeth after eating a salad and sometimes the lesson is don’t half-ass a final exam. Whatever the case, learn when you can and live during the moments between.

And in the meantime, I’ll see where the next 20 years takes me. Wish me luck.