20 Things I Learned in 20 Years

It’s finally Libra season, the time of year I (and thousands of others, I’m sure) have been anticipating the most. It’s all with good reason, because my birthday is right around the corner. This marks my 21st year around the sun, which means I can legally drink alcohol. 

Don’t get me wrong, that’s totally cool—I can finally order a Cosmo and let my inner Carrie Bradshaw live. But I also realized that I’ve endured many emotions over the years that have gotten me to where I am today.

It’s about more than just ordering drinks at a bar—it’s about growth.

So, without further ado, here are 20 things I learned in 20 years.

  1. 1. It’s okay to not be the best at everything you do.

    Growing up in the gifted program, I constantly received praise and validation for just about anything I did. I felt on top of the world and like I was good at everything. That is, until I started high school and found out I couldn’t do math. This doesn’t just apply to math, but everything else I’m not well-versed in. Despite the constant desire to be successful at everything, I have been so stressed over things I simply cannot do well. Some things just aren’t for everyone, and that’s okay.

  2. 2. Don’t expect anything. Ever.

    I’ve learned to no longer expect anything from anyone. If you don’t have high expectations, you diminish your chances of being disappointed when things don’t turn out as planned. This may not be the best piece of advice, but it’s worked for me.

  3. 3. Just because someone is in your life for a long time doesn’t mean they have your best interests at heart.

    If I had known this ten years ago, I would’ve run with it and never looked back (granted, I was only 11, but still). There have been so many instances where I find myself thinking of certain people that had been in my life for years. Some of them were incredibly distasteful and never really treated me the way I deserved. Others just didn’t bring any real meaning or purpose to my life. There are other times where I’ve only known someone for a few weeks, and they’ve been there for me more than someone I’ve known for six years. Time does not equal effort.

  4. 4. Treat yourself every once in a while.

    I definitely don’t take the “treat yourself” mantra lightly. I work hard for my accomplishments and put in an immense amount of effort when it comes to my personal relationships. Sometimes, I deserve to treat myself, whether it be grabbing Chick-fil-A for dinner or having an impulse shopping spree on ColourPop.

  5. 5. Not everyone is going to have your heart.

    What I mean by this is that not everyone is going to look at situations the same way you do. They aren’t going to feel things at the magnitude you do. Some people won’t go out of their way to do things that you might consider a big deal. Some won’t give as much as you do without receiving something in return. No one has your exact mindset, and therefore they won’t understand things in the same ways you would.

  6. 6. Be a little more spontaneous.

    I’m what I like to call a control freak—it’s honestly a miracle that I’m not a Virgo when it comes to this trait. I thrive on planning everything I do and penciling in events and assignments in my ban.do planner. I like to be ready and arrive early, and I like to know information ahead of time. As a planner, it’s hard to step out of your comfort zone and be a little spontaneous. I recently decided to go see Kim Petras live with a few friends because... why not? You’re only young once and you should make the most of it.

  7. 7. Not everyone in your life is permanent.

    In your youth, and especially in your 20s, it feels like your group of close friends becomes your chosen family. Sometimes, these friendships may last forever, but there’s a chance that they won’t. Maybe they’ll only be there for you during a certain phase of your life, and then you’ll just never see them again. It sucks, but sometimes we just outgrow and drift apart from certain relationships—and that is completely normal.

  8. 8. Taylor Swift albums hit different while driving aimlessly.

    This one isn’t as serious or insightful as the other items on this list, but it had to be mentioned. I’ve been a long-time Taylor Swift fan and have listened to her entire catalog under all kinds of circumstances. There isn’t a need for a certain destination—just lose yourself in the music while watching the sunset on the road. You have to admit that screaming along to “You Belong With Me” or “All Too Well” while going down the highway just does something that therapy can’t.

  9. 9. Being “married” to your career isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    We’ve all seen the “workaholic-who-doesn’t-have-time-for-love” trope be outplayed in every Hallmark holiday movie imaginable, but... perhaps points were made. I’ve constantly put romantic relationships on the back burner because I’m so driven by a need to succeed in my potential career. While you shouldn’t lose sight of your career and should always work towards your goals, it isn’t everything (it took a lot for me to even admit this, as I’m a workaholic myself). You shouldn’t have to give up love for success. Why can’t you have both?

  10. 10. Always be prepared for a night out.

    You know I had to make a nod to turning 21, so here it is. I’m definitely the mom friend of my group, and as I’ve picked up maternal habits, I’ve made a point to look out for myself too. Drinking alcohol can potentially cause heartburn in certain cases, so I always bring a pack of Tums with me when I know people will be drinking. I also pack makeup wipes, Ziploc baggies for jewelry, false eyelashes, and hand sanitizer, because you never know when you’ll need ‘em.

  11. 11. Buy the overpriced coffee, don’t look at your bank account.

    And I mean this for anything. If your heart (or stomach) really wants something, go after it. It’s hard to imagine that a single cup of coffee truly impacts our life that much, but think about it. If we waited for everything we dream of doing, we’d never actually get to it. So at the end of the day, being $5 down on your bank statement very well might have been worth that hour with a friend. Similarly, changing your major or going after that job, no matter how hard, will always pay you back in the end.

  12. 12. Your favorite song will change, much like everything else.

    Now I’m not saying you magically wake up at 21 and look different, but I can definitely guarantee you that who I am today is not the same person I was five years ago. Five years ago I was putting on a concert to “Best Song Ever” by One Direction. While I’m still absolutely dancing around my room with a hairbrush, my tastes have grown. It’s like anything else—friends, interests, hobbies, songs. Embracing the things that change around us is good—not something to fear as we get older.

  13. 13. No one will remember your bad hair day.

    That day in tenth grade when I forgot to wash my hair after marching band practice and had to wear it in what could have very well been the world’s ugliest bun? No one remembers. Everything little thing I obsessed over growing up—the way I messed up talking to the cute boy in my class, the way I tied my Converse, the way I covered my mouth to eat—they don't matter today. Those things were so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, and I wish I had realized it sooner.

  14. 14. Likewise, no one cares.

    The bad hair day? Bad outfit? Tripping in the science hallway? People don’t remember and I can guarantee you they definitely don’t care. No one is staying up at night thinking about our embarrassing moments. We worry so much as young adults about how our embarrassing actions are perceived by others when in reality, people probably aren’t thinking twice about it.

  15. 15. “No” is a sentence in and of itself.

    If there is one thing I wish I could go back and explain to my teenage self, it would be that saying no to anything (and I mean anything) is a sentence that does not require an explanation. “Sorry I can’t, I have a doctors appointment.” No—cut that out. No one needs to know why you can’t. Sometimes you’re busy, sometimes you simply don’t want to. I wish I’d known how to simply say no and leave it at that, without experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt.

  16. 16. You’ll love many things, and that’s going to be difficult.

    Coming into college, I had absolutely zero, not an iota of a clue of what I wanted to do. I was passionate about a lot of things—space, literature, politics, history, math. And was there a way to combine them all? No. I have spent the last three years attempting to figure it out, and truthfully I still haven't. I’m so scared of running out of time that I haven’t sat down and figured out exactly where it is I want to go in life. People always tell me it’s not too late to change my mind, and I’m hoping that’s true.

  17. 17. Worrying only means you’ll suffer twice.

    I’d win the hypocrite of the year award if I said this was something I have figured out. All my life I’ve worried about the smallest things; overanalyzing the way people talk to me, so much so that it’s taken a massive toll on my confidence. This trip around the sun I’m working on reminding myself that there is no reason to panic; if you haven’t done anything to upset someone, then there is no reason to worry until you’re given one.

  18. 18. You’re not Hermione Granger—so stop trying to be.

    Okay, repeat after me: Hermione Granger is a fictional character who does not accurately represent what it means to be intelligent. I’ll be the first to admit I love the brightest witch of her age, but as I’ve grown I’ve realized her ability to do everything and excel at it is by no means realistic. Just because you’re not good at something doesn't mean you’re not good at anything. We need to wipe the idea that in order to be classified as “smart” or “intelligent,” it means we have to know how to do everything on the first try. Life is about learning, not about beating yourself up to get there.

  19. 19.  Find a song that makes you feel like you can touch the stars.

    As a certified space nerd, I’ve always said that in my next life, if I had a bigger brain, I’d want to be an astronaut. This idea is cute in that I actually hate the zero-gravity carnival rides, but that’s beside the point. I’ve always loved making playlists for any and all occasions, and years ago I found Sleeping at Last’s space-themed album, Atlas. All instrumental songs, they make me feel like my heart is a bit lighter in my chest. Everyone needs to find that one album or song that makes them feel like they are bigger than this world itself.

  20. 20. And finally, enjoy the moments where words don’t reach.

    Personally, I find the best feeling in the world is the moment when an airplane’s wheels lift off from the ground, and decades of engineering are all that’s supporting you. I can't explain to you why it makes me smile like an idiot, or at least, I can't put it into actual words. But then I found ambedo—the feeling of being aware that you are alive. In all my years of living, there've been so many moments I wish I could capture in photo or video, but I’ve realized that perhaps there’s a reason we can’t. Moments spent with friends at homecoming, watching the largest planes on earth take off at Heathrow airport, and so many in between. I’ve wanted to bottle them up forever, but all I have is the memory of it happening and how it made me feel. No matter who you are or where you come from, strive to find the moments that make you accurately aware of what it means to be alive. Take those moments and savor them.

Libra season is more than just a few months of the year. Instead, it’s something I look forward to as a time to think back on just how much life has changed in a short 12 months alone. No matter when you were born or whatever age you’ll be celebrating, take some time to reflect on the defining moments that have made you who you are today.Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13