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20 Things I Learned at 20

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I am no longer a teen. Yesterday marked the beginning of a new decade of life that will bring new adventures and memories my way. I can’t believe I get to finally say I am in my 20’s. That absolutely blows my mind. I am so grateful for every day I have lived up until now. Life definitely has not been easy, but I have learned and gained so much from my experiences and look forward to what’s to come. As my 20th birthday came to an end, I decided to reflect on some of the most memorable lessons that have shaped my life and wanted to share those with you all.

  1. You need to love yourself before you can love anyone else. It’s quite simple actually because if you can’t learn to love yourself and truly not need anyone else to feel loved, then how can you love someone else? I have definitely had to learn this the hard way, but you need to be able to rely on yourself to feel love and no else to give that to you. 

  2. It’s the little things that truly matter. About a month before my birthday, I thought I would be spending it alone in quarantine with no one around. I don’t usually make a big deal out of my birthday anyway, but I really was not looking forward to spending the day alone but that quickly changed. Two of my closest friends came to my rescue and spent the entire afternoon with me (socially distant, of course), walking in the park, eating cake, and just enjoying each other’s company. It was such a small yet meaningful gesture that made my entire day. I didn’t need a big party (wouldn’t have been possible anyway) or a plan to occupy my whole day; all I needed was good company and beautiful weather to make it such a memorable birthday. 

  3. Comparison is the death of happiness. Over the last few years, I have recognized how hurtful and detrimental comparing myself to other people can be on my mental health and well being. Everyone is on their own path and what success looks like to someone else may not be what success looks like to you. Everyone has their own goals, expectations, and aspirations. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing; stay in your own lane and you will be absolutely fine.

  4. It’s your life, do what makes you happy. You only have one life and you don’t want to look back on it thinking, “what if?” Do not let other people hold you back from pursuing what you know will make you happy just because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. In the end, remember that your life is what you make it.

  5. You can only plan for so much. I think 2020 has taught all of us that sometimes you can’t plan for anything. I know saying “go with the flow” and “take it one day at a time” is cliche, but in times like these, sometimes that’s all you can do because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

  6. It’s really not that serious. I am 100% guilty of overthinking the smallest things that really aren’t that serious. It’s not the end of the world if plans don’t work out or something doesn’t turn out the way you had expected; it happens to everyone! Try not to blame yourself or push the blame onto someone else because usually that just makes things worse. 

  7. Worrying about the future doesn’t do anyone good. Sometimes all you can do is take it one day at a time. Nobody knows what the future will bring so there is no use to stress yourself out about what’s to come. You can only do so much to set yourself up for a successful future, whatever that might look like to you, but sometimes it’s better to just have no expectations at all. Try to live in the now and embrace every day for what it is. 

  8. True happiness comes from embracing who you are. Loving myself and embracing who I am is something I still struggle with on a daily basis but am improving on as well. Self-love isn’t something that’s achieved overnight. I know it seems as if some people came out of the womb as confident, self-loving individuals who don’t care about what anyone else thinks, but they have bad days too; everyone does. Just keep in mind that we should never apologize for who we are.

  9. Being open and talking about it does wonders. I am not always the most open and transparent person when it comes to personal problems because I didn’t want to burden other people with my problems or acted like they weren’t that big of a deal. However, sometimes the best thing you can do is to talk to someone whether it’s your best friend, your mom, or a therapist. Expressing your feelings and being honest with those around you is not only how you can find a solution to those problems but when you feel like you can be honest with people, you can be yourself. 

  10. The only way to know is by trying. Too often do I talk myself out of taking any risks because I am worried about it not turning out the way I want it to or because I just don’t think I can do it. I have come to realize that the only way you can know how it is going to turn out is by going for it. Even if you fail, at least you will know and be able to move on from it instead of looking back and regretting that you didn’t try. 

  11. Nobody is perfect. No matter how perfect you think someone else is and beat yourself up because you aren’t like them, all I can say is that they are nowhere near perfect; no one is. Then again, I will also claim that everyone is perfect in their own way. What I am saying is that comparing yourself or striving for perfection often leaves me disappointed and unhappy. No matter how hard you try, it will never be enough because perfection is just not realistic. 

  12. Failures are the best learning experience. Nobody likes failing or admitting that they messed up but that is when you often learn the most. We are human; it is in our nature to mess up. Your first failure will not be your last but that is okay. Sometimes it can feel like the end of the world when we don’t get it right on the first try, but you just have to pick yourself up and try again. 

  13. Expect the unexpected. When I expect an experience or relationship to turn out a certain way and it doesn’t, I find that I am left more hurt than I would’ve been if I would have just gone into it with an open mind and open heart. Everything will work out the way it is supposed to and sometimes you just have to sit back and let the universe do its thing. 

  14. If it wasn’t meant to be, then let it be. Things don’t work out for a reason. Whether it’s a job, friendship, or relationship, if it doesn’t work out, sometimes it’s for the best and better things await you. 

  15. Not everyone will like you but that’s ok. When I look back at my high school self, I am often saddened because I was the definition of a people pleaser. I let just about anyone walk all over me and I would never stand up for myself because I was scared of being disliked. I had a voice but didn’t think I could use it or that it wasn’t meant to be heard. However, college has taught me that you are your own person and why are you going to allow someone else to dictate your happiness? Don’t let them.

  16. Do not take anything or anyone for granted. It is easy to take what we have in life for granted, especially when it’s the people or things we are surrounded by everyday. Sometimes you don’t realize how special someone or something truly is until you no longer have them. I honestly never thought that I would miss college as much as I did when I, like all other students, were forced to leave campus when the pandemic broke out. However, over the course of the summer and having to do online classes, I wanted nothing more to be back in New York with my friends. From that point on, I told myself that I would never take anything in life for granted again. 

  17. Everything happens for a reason. All of the lessons that I have learned seem to have a common theme that throughout life, what happens, happens. If it’s meant to be, it will be, but if it’s not, it’s not because that’s just the way things are. It may be hard at the moment to end a relationship you thought would last forever or get fired from a job and feel completely lost, but I truly believe that new and better things await you. 

  18. Feeling lost is normal. You’re not always going to have the answers, if you did, life would be boring. It is okay to not have everything figured out because no one really does. All throughout high school I felt so behind because it seemed as if I was the only person who didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life when, in reality, everyone was in the same boat. It may seem like your friends have it all figured out, but they too have their own questions and uncertainties; they’re just better at hiding it. 

  19. Invest in experiences, not things. Things are temporary, memories that come from the best experiences of your life will last you a lifetime. Invest in yourself and in what will bring you everlasting happiness. 

  20. Finally, live life to the fullest. Do not do what society tells you! If you don’t want to work that 9-5, you don’t have to! If college isn’t your thing, then don’t go (save yourself the money)! Don’t do something just to fulfill someone else’s expectations of you when your life and your happiness should be the priority! It may seem scary to go off the beaten path when people will judge and criticize you for doing so, but don’t let that stop you from living the life you were meant to live. 

Happy birthday to me! However old you may be, what are some life lessons you’ve learned up until this point? I would love to know!


Jana Clark

Manhattan '22

Jana Clark is a senior at Manhattan College majoring in Communication with a minor in Environmental Studies. Her passions include writing, photography, and health/nutrition! One day she hopes to work for a nonprofit organization where she can be part of the effort to end the marginalization of vulnerable communities and fight for social justice. You can often find Jana volunteering, at the gym, or exploring different parts of the Big Apple.
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