20 Things I Learned at 20

I derive inspiration from a multitude of aspects of my life. Music, school, my friends and family, pop culture… and, yes, Taylor Swift. She has been my role model since I first heard her hit “Our Song,” on the radio when I was eight years old. 

Say what you will about her—and I realize that no one is perfect—but she has, for the most part, handled the pressure of living in the spotlight with grace and maturity. 

Because of her, I took up acoustic guitar, got serious about my love of music, developed an affinity for sparkly dresses and cowboy boots, and have learned to embrace my tall stature (never again will I shy away from wearing heels). 

But more than a role model, Taylor has been the older sister I never had. I feel like I’ve grown up with her, listening to and learning from her songs that imparted insight based on various life lessons she’s learned over the years. 

In the buildup leading to her highly-anticipated seventh studio album, she released an essay titled “30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30” for Elle Magazine. I found her piece both delightful and poignant, sharing little details about her life as well as delving into deeper topics.

Constantly searching for ways to connect with her, I realized that Taylor and I are both reaching milestones in our lives—she’s turning thirty at the end of this year, and I’m a month away from turning twenty-one. Her article inspired me to take a look at my own life and to reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year of being a “twentysomething.” 

People say a lot about your twenties—they’re the most fun you’ll have, they’re the time for finding yourself—but I view them as a time for personal growth. While it’s important to look forward to the future and to opportunities for continued growth, it’s equally important to look back at your life and to see how much you’ve learned. 

So, in the spirit of giving advice in a Taylor-esque fashion, I thought I would share some of the most important lessons I have taken from my first year in my twenties. 

  1. 1. I make playlists for every mood I could possibly be in.

     

    And I mean every mood. I have probably 40 playlists on Spotify, ranging from chill study tunes (I can’t write an essay without listening to John Mayer), songs that remind me of home, to my favorite country tunes for when I want to get back in touch with my southern roots. I even add photos all in the same aesthetic that represent the playlist. Music plays such an important role in my life, and it’s kind of therapeutic to have it all so beautifully organized. 

  2. 2. There’s nothing wrong with saying no. 

    Because we are always available these days (through social media, texting, etc.), it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly on call for solving your friends’ latest crises. But you’re not obligatedto anyone. Realize that you can let a text sit unread for a while; you don’t have to respond right away. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with unplugging and spending some time away from it all. Sometimes you just need a little time to yourself. Maybe you’re not feeling up to going to that party or all you want is to burrito yourself in your coziest blanket and do a face mask. You don’t need a reason to prioritize your own wellbeing. 

  3. 3. Ice cream fixes everything.

    For the record, I may be biased since ice cream is my favorite food, but I have yet to run up against any problem that ice cream hasn’t at least slightly alleviated. There is nothing better than curling up in bed with a bowl of ice cream and watching some Netflix. Ben and Jerry are the best friends a girl could have. 

  4. 4. Things are not going to just fall into your lap.

    I’ve always been told that “good things come to those who wait,” but you can’t just sit around passively and wait for good things to suddenly happen to you. You have to fight for what you want. This applies to all aspects of your life. Want that internship? Reach out and prove that you’re the best candidate. Nothing is going to happen unless you actively do something about it. 

  5. 5. Protect your heart.

    My dad gave me this advice when I divulged to my parents for the first time that I was “seeing” a boy (whatever that means). Take the time to make sure you really know someone on a personal level before allowing yourself to fall head-over-heels for them. Unfortunately, not a lot of college guys are mature enough to know what they want in a relationship (as my middle school science teacher shrewdly said, “boys don’t get older; they get bigger”), so, trust me, you’ll save a lot of emotional energy if you try not to get too invested too quickly. 

  6. 6. Love is not sparkly and magical like in the fairytales.

    Songs and movies give us these unrealistic expectations for how magical falling in love will be. It’s literally nothing like that. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually never been in love before. But from my experience thus far, first dates, first kisses, and truly starting to fall for someone are not all roses and fireworks and heart eye emojis. But it’s so much better because it’s real.  

  7. 7. If you’re going to drastically change your look, do it in increments first. 

    I had hair down to my waist for years and suddenly decided I wanted to chop it all off, like, to my shoulders. My mom didn’t let me, and, at the time, I was kind of peeved. But I’m glad she made me cut it in increments so I was much more confident in what I wanted. That way, I could get used to each step of the way before making such a drastic leap. So maybe take baby steps to make sure you know what you’re doing. 

  8. 8. The key to self-esteem is valuing your time. 

    I always ask myself, “What would be the most valuable usage of my time?” It’s changed my mindset to realize how valuable my time actually is—it’s like the gold standard. There is no better way to boost your self esteem than to see your time as a precious asset. And it’s true; you only have so many hours in a day to be productive, so spend your time wisely. Get your work done. Spend time with people who prioritize you, too. Plus, this also helps with procrastination. Instead of wasting your time in a useless YouTube hole, why don’t you just get your work done now so you have time later to relax? 

  9. 9. It’s ok to get overly excited about something you love.

    Everyone has something they’re passionate about. Whether it’s a favorite TV show, sport, musician, etc, it’s okay to unapologetically love the things you care about. People are going to judge you no matter what, so you may as well be the most authentic version of yourself. Who cares if they don’t understand? You do and that’s what matters. 

  10. 10. True friends will make time for you and stick by your side.

    This can be said for all relationships. Make time for the people who make time for you. And I don’t mean those who make time for you only when they’re drunk at 2am. The people who actually want to spend time with you will make it clear that they like you even when the beer goggles come off. 

  11. 11. Complimenting someone takes nothing away from you.

    While it can be fun to see what your long distance BFFs are up to, it feels like social media has simply become a platform for people to brag about how perfect they showcase their lives to be (and I’m guilty of it, too). People are just looking for you to hit them with that “like” or to comment how stunning they look. So just grant their wish. It detracts nothing from you, and it will make their day. Bonus points for complimenting someone in person—I find that those are even more meaningful connections. 

  12. 12. You can learn something from every relationship, failed or successful.

    …but especially the failed ones. Every relationship you’ve had—whether platonic, romantic, or familial—has served some purpose in your life. Identify what you liked about that relationship but also what you disliked. This will help you to understand what is important to you so that when someone truly wonderful comes along, you’ll be able to recognize it (and hopefully not mess it up). 

  13. 13. Going to the gym actually makes you feel better? 

    Crazy, I know. I’ve never been a huge athlete, but this year, I made it a point to start a regular fitness routine. On days that I work out, I have so much more energy, I feel happier, I’m more confident about myself, I focus better, I sleep better at night… Overall, I just feel healthier. It’s not even about “looking good.” It’s all about being healthy. 

  14. 14. You can never fully count on someone else.

    I know, this sounds grim. But, as an optimist who automatically assumes the best in people, the only consistency I have found in life is that people will always disappoint you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve counted on people to work on a group project or to follow through with plans only to find that they’ve flaked on me. So, you have to protect yourself. It’s alright to get upset, but take a deep breath, realize that you can’t control other people, and continue doing what you’re doing. 

  15. 15. Journaling can be helpful... until you’re just overthinking everything. 

    I started out this year journaling whenever there was something on my mind that I didn’t feel like I could vent about to anyone else. It was a great way to sort out my thoughts and feelings on various matters, until I realized it just started making me feel unhappier about these topics. I was overanalyzing every little thing that happened in my life and found myself complaining too often. So, I stopped. Now I just let things unfold without thinking too much about “what ifs.” I still journal if I need to sort out my thoughts, but I do it much more infrequently. 

  16. 16. No one else knows what they’re doing. 

    Even if they think or say that they do. Believe me, we’re all confused and don’t know what we want to do with our lives. If there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that things— feelings, ambitions, circumstances—always change. So, you don’t need to feel alone in that uncertainty of not knowing what your next step might be. We’re all trying to figure it out. 

  17. 17. Adults are just older versions of ourselves. 

    I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I thought all adults were so smart and mature and had everything together. Now that I’m starting this adulting thing myself, I’m finding that adults are really just older versions of the same kinds of people you grew up with. And I don’t know if that’s comforting or scary. 

  18. 18. Learning to balance my time.

    In college, it’s easy to let academics or a social life take over, but one of the keys to success is finding a balance between them. If all you do is work 24/7, you’ll be unhappy because you’re not giving yourself any time to have fun. But at the same time, you didn’t go to college to major in partying. It’s not always going to be perfect or easy. Sometimes things get out of hand, your social life takes over, and how much time you have to complete an assignment is how long it’s going to take. But this is a constant struggle that you’ll need to learn how to manage for the rest of your life. 

  19. 19. Chapstick is my best friend.

    I admit, it’s kind of an addiction… I keep at least two flavors with me at all times. But seriously, is there anything worse than chapped lips? It’s just annoying and so easily avoided. 

  20. 20. There is something to be grateful for every single day.

     

    Our society today focuses a lot on complaining. Social media has bred a sense of self-importance and self-centeredness in my generation—the amount of Snapchats or “finsta” posts I see simply complaining about such trivial matters is astounding. All too often, we get caught up in the craziness and stresses of our day-to-day lives and tend to resent the mundaneness of routine. 

But every day we have with those we love and care about is a gift. Every opportunity we have is something other people couldn’t even dream of. So, my final and most importantpiece of advice is to take a second every day to appreciate just one thing about your life. I’ve found it helps me to stay grounded and maintain a more positive outlook, especially when things get tough.