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Sometimes I reflect back on the person I was at the beginning of this insane year and think about how desperately I long to travel back in time, to warn her of the drastic changes waiting right around the corner. At the time, I was really looking forward to the year as a whole, what with the exciting promise of turning 21 in July, and I had to already begun to reminisce on everything I had grown from in my short time on this Earth. If only I knew then that the coming year would end up teaching me more in the span of eight months than 21 years ever could. Here are 20 things that I've learned from the life-changing year we are all experiencing together.

Your choices not only affect you, but everyone around you. 

In other words — wear a mask! Just because you don’t feel threatened in a room full of people doesn’t mean that there aren't others who are at a much higher risk. Think about the bigger picture and learn to stop focusing exclusively on your own needs. 

People can be incredibly selfish — but that doesn’t mean you have to be.

This applies to many different things, such as caring about the health of those around you, speaking out about the issues that others are afraid to (or don't care about), or just reaching out to people that you know are struggling. Being kind is worth the time and effort. 

An act of kindness can go much further than you think. 

Donating to a charity is already a wonderful way to make a difference, but it can also inspire your friends and colleagues to start doing the same, creating a long line of good actions that you could never have imagined in the first place. 

If you want to stand up for something, do it. 

Sign petitions, donate, start a charity, go to protests. There are so many ways to speak out for what you believe in — all you have to do is start. 

Cherish every moment you have with the people you love. 

If I had known that the last time I got to be around my closest friends would actually be the last time for a while, I would have made much more of an effort to show them all how much they mean to me. My life wouldn't be the same without such a strong support system, even if I don't get to see them every day.

If someone wants to stay connected with you, they will. 

If you are making the effort to stay in contact with people who refuse to respond or haven't spoken to you since the start of the year, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you let them go and stop pushing for a connection that is one-sided. It will do wonders for your mental health — at least in my experience. 

Reach out to your friends and family when they are on your mind.

Nothing warms my heart more than when I receive an unexpected message from someone I hold close to my heart, like my grandparents or the friends I haven't seen in months. It can truly make someone's day, as cliché as it sounds (but cliché is pretty great sometimes). 

Walking to clear your head and get some fresh air actually makes a difference. 

It's easy to forget to go outside when nearly everything has become remote and virtual, so taking the time to walk around your neighborhood or hang out in your backyard is truly a gift to yourself. 

Self-care is so important and means something different to everyone.  

Take a bath, read a book, and put some makeup on, even if nobody will see it. Doing things for yourself can make you feel healthier, more optimistic, and ready to take on anything the year throws at you. 

Get off of your computer (at least once and a while).

After finishing my spring semester of college online, taking more summer classes, and now starting "Zoom University" this fall, I can physically feel how draining it is to sit in front of a screen for hours on end. Take a breath, step away, and allow yourself some time to rest and recover. 

Crying for no reason? It happens. 

Being overwhelmed is okay. I've stopped counting the number of times I've broken down from stress throughout the year, but realizing that it's only natural and is my body's process of adjusting to such extreme change has made me stop beating myself up about it. If you need to cry, it's okay. 

Call yourself out for making mistakes even if no one else does. 

Instead of thinking "I hope nobody noticed" when you make a mistake, try openly correcting yourself and drawing attention to the fact that you did something wrong. It will inspire others to reflect on their own behavior and start making an effort to be better as a result. As a human, mistakes happen. Take responsibility. 

Don’t wait for someone to educate you when you can take the initiative. 

The world would be a better place if everyone individually went out of their way to learn more about the things they are unfamiliar with. You can start that change by making that choice yourself. 

Adapting takes time. 

That's really the truth. Don't expect to magically be okay when your entire lifestyle shifts in a major way. It's fine to need time to mentally adjust, however long that may be. 

Don’t stop writing just because you feel like the world has stopped. 

My motivation has plummeted hard and fast over these past few months, and I have to keep reminding myself that the only way to feel better is to at least be doing something small every day, like journaling. 

If you need help or support, ask for it. 

Never be ashamed to ask for help from your friends, family, teachers, etc. It's easy to forget that everyone is struggling in their own way, and reaching out could end up benefiting them just as much as it benefits you. 

Don’t make room for people in your life that do not respect who you are. 

Enough said. 

You cannot control other people and their actions. 

You can attempt to educate, convince, or inform others, but you cannot force anyone to do anything, even if it's what you believe is right. 

Stop assuming everyone around you is experiencing life the same way you are. 

The beautiful thing about being alive is being unique. You are experiencing existence differently from your best friend, your parents and anyone else you come in contact with. Start celebrating that rather than ignoring it. 

Learn to take things one step at a time. 

Of all the things on this list, this is one of the lessons that has left a huge impact on my lifestyle and overall outlook on life, and I know it will stay with me for many years to come.

I can only imagine what additional lessons I will learn before the clock strikes midnight on December 31. Even though this year has been a rollercoaster, I'm thankful for the things that I’ve learned and I'm sure that they have helped me become a better individual even despite all of the stressful circumstances. 

Caroline Hull is a senior at the University of Central Florida and is double majoring in Theatre Studies and Creative Writing. She is pursuing her dreams of either being a successful playwright or an English teacher, and loves to spend her spare time cuddling with her dogs, Maya and Winston.
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