20 Things I Learned About Life (for my 20th Birthday)

"There are two great days in a person’s life — the day we are born and the day we discover why." — William Barclay

Today marks my twentieth trip around the sun, and subsequently my days of being a teenager are over. While I don't particularly feel any different, I know that now is the perfect time for change. I've learned a lot over my life so far, and so here are 20 lessons that I've learned in 20 years.

1. Failure doesn't mean you did something wrong.

In life, you can do everything right and still fail. It's a lesson that I've very recently come to accept, but it's something that is important to internalize. You can't take everything personally, and you can't let your expectations shape your perception of reality.

2. Good things come when you stop chasing.

When you chase something in life, whether it's a job, or a dream school, or a romantic partner, you shouldn't fall victim to the chase. When you begin to obtain things that you attract, rather than the thing you think you want, is when you can achieve true contentment and happiness.

You should absolutely have dreams and aspirations for the future, and you should work hard to achieve those things. But there's a difference between working towards a goal and chasing it.

3. Leave nothing unsaid.

It's all too common to leave things unsaid in fear of your words being taken the wrong way. Treat every conversation like it could be your last, because sometimes it is. Say what you mean, mean what you say. It feels a lot better to ask yourself, "Why did I say that?" than "What if I had said that?".

4. Rewarding things take time.

Nobody, with the exception of a few lucky individuals, gets what they want overnight. You can't go to the gym for a week and expect results. You can't study for two hours and get frustrated when you aren't a genius. Lower your expectations for yourself, set realistic goals, and imagine how happy you'll be in a year from now that you started working on yourself today.

5. Heartbreak is the worst feeling in the world.

Not much else to be said. Whether it's the loss of a loved one, a breakup, or the right person at the wrong time, the heartbreak that comes with separation is truly horrible. Use it to learn more about yourself, and take all the time you need when it does come.

6. Surround yourself with people that care about you.

This might seem obvious, but it's something I learned the hard way. Take time out of your life to evaluate your relationships with your friends, family and peers. If any of the people in your life are inhibiting your ability to succeed or be happy, you don't deserve them.

I've been feeling exceptionally anxious as of late, and it wasn't until I reached out to my friends for help that I really understood what this means. The overwhelming support that I received from my friends was enough to make me cry. I appreciate all of the people in my life, and I'm truly lucky that I can say that.

7. You don't owe anyone anything.

As an empath, I value the relationships that I have with everyone, and it's difficult for me to prioritize myself over others sometimes. Knowing that you do not owe people anything in life is a great reliever of the stress that comes with keeping toxicity in your life. Selfishness leads people to take advantage of others, so it's important to prioritize yourself and come to terms that you don't owe people anything.

8. Give more gifts.

Giving gifts is a way to show people that you care about them that lasts. It's true that material gifts aren't necessary to show affection, but it feels great to give more than you receive (within reason).

9. Don't take life too seriously.

Whatever is the current source of stress in your life will be a distant memory in a year. It seems like yesterday that I was stressing about my SAT score, college applications, and felt like it was the most important thing in the world. Even as a teenager, my science tests would seem like a make-or-break opportunity. Nothing in life is meant to be taken seriously, except for the relationship that you build with people. Situations are just that: a situation. It is time-dependent. Spend less time worrying about things that will come to pass, and more on things that make your life worthwhile.

10. Put yourself first.

It's okay to want to help people. It's not okay to prioritize the needs of others above the needs of your own. Take mental health days, learn to relax, do whatever it is you need to do on any given day.

11. Keep a journal. Or, download snapchat.

Journaling helps you keep a log of your days, track your mental health through time, jot down ideas, and plan out your day. Additionally, I have abused snapchat's "memories" feature to give me flashes of the past from time to time. Both of which helps you keep track of your progress and your thoughts.

12. All emotions are valid. Some just aren't as pleasant as others.

I don't trust someone who is happy all of the time. Nor do I believe that you should feel happy all the time. There's a stigma around talking about your emotions and feeling sad or anxious, but all emotions are valid. As one does, I learned this the hard way, and I found that sadness is the brain's way of resetting your expectations and coping with loss.

13. Social Media is inherently destructive. The creation and spread of creative content is wonderful.

I don't think there's anything worse for people's mental health than social media. The dopamine feedback mechanisms are engineered to drive up engagement, which forces people to watch content created by many different types of people. For some, this content is wonderful! I love finding funny and educational videos on YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. But for others, looking at content from models and influencers, it can give them a false sense of displacement.

What am I doing wrong? Why don't I look like that? Why isn't my life as good as theirs? are all questions that one could ask. That, on top of cyberbullying and the addictive and flirtatious nature of snapchat (which, by the way, has perfected social engineering with the addition of snapstreaks) can send people down dark paths. Social Media can be a tool if you let it. You can consume it, or let it consume you.

tldr: social media bad. some content good. some content bad. use wisely.

14. Learn to listen. It makes interactions much more meaningful.

"I already told you!", is something I hear frequently. I've always had a poor memory, but as of late I have been practicing the art of intentful listening. In many conversations, you'll talk for the sake of talking. I find myself wanting to fill silences, and so we decide to talk. But when you begin to really listen, and remember the small details of conversations you had months prior, you make a profound impression. Learn to listen.

15. You don't need to have everything all figured out.

Frankly, nobody has everything figured out. It's okay to have uncertainty in your life, and a little stress is a good thing! A capitalistic economy tells us that we need to have our dream profession chosen from a young age. We are asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?", before we know all the options. Take time to watch that netflix show. Stop worrying about what you should be chasing, and do things that you love. Attract the energy that you want in your life.

16. Honesty truly is the best policy.

Nothing good comes from a place of dishonesty. Be honest with people who care about you, because if they're in your life, then they'd better be prepared to help you when you're down. Additionally, actions have consequences, and the intention of your actions has little to do with the outcome. In any relationship, stay true to your values while being honest in your intentions. Nothing feels worse than being led on, or finding out someone you care about has been hiding something from you.

17. Find and follow a passion.

For me, one of my early passions was the competitive world of professional yoyoing. It gave me a community, goals to strive towards, job opportunities, travel plans, and so much more. Now that my primary passion is Computer Science, I try to surround myself with people who are of the similar mindset. I'm lucky that my profession of choice and my passion coencide, but even if they didn't, it's important to find something in life that you're passionate about. If you don't think you have anything, then you haven't failed; you've just found a whole bunch of things that you know you aren't passionate about!

18. The most important relationship is the one with yourself.

Self love, I've come to learn, is one of the hardest things to accept. It's difficult to love yourself when you're constantly comparing yourself to others, or even to previous versions of yourself. When you come to accept who you are in the present moment and truly enjoy your own company, you are ready to accomplish so much more.

It's also worth noting that you cannot love someone into loving themselves. It's a healing process that everyone must do alone.

19. Never apologize for being yourself.

It's never worth it to change yourself to be more attractive to other people. Everyone is different, and self-growth is a healthy part of life. But when you begin to be someone that you're not to "fit in", take a step back and re-evaluate the people that are causing you to make these changes.

The only person stopping you from being the person you want to be is yourself.

20. Measure the right things.

People will measure their wealth, their weight and their possessions and evaluate their life. But life isn't measured by the money in your bank account, or your body type, or your material belongings. I think that if I've learned anything in my 20 years on earth, it's that I choose to measure my life by how happy I am, how strong my relationships are with people, and my potential.

Final Thoughts

Turning 20 is scary to say the least. It's going to be weird to write a '2' in front of my age, and it also means that this is the decade where I'll experience the most professional growth. But things like this in life are meant to be scary. Birthdays are a wonderful celebration of life, and I'm excited to begin the next chapter of my life.

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