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20 Things I Learned By My 20th Birthday

20 years old. To some, it’s just another filler year between becoming an adult and legally being able to drink. To others, it signifies the end of the teenage years and the beginning of a new decade. With my 20th birthday just around the corner, I decided to take a moment and reflect on what valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout my 20 years of existence. Here are 20 things I’ve learned in regards to self, family and friendships, school and life in general:


I’ve obviously grown a lot in the past 20 years, but I’ve also had the privilege of learning a lot about myself too. I believe that my experiences within the last five or so years have taught me the most about myself, my ambitions and who I strive to be. These experiences have also allowed me to build a sense of self confidence, respect and care. The following are a few key takeaways:

• Strive to be the best version of yourself.
• Be yourself, unapologetically. 
• It’s totally okay to put yourself first sometimes. 
• Always make time for yourself and do what makes you happy.
• Listen to your body, rest days are okay (and a cheat day here and there won’t hurt either).

Family & Friendships

From the day I was born, my family was chosen for me, but from there forward, I got to choose who I wanted to be a part of my life. Throughout the years, I’ve had the chance to meet tons of people, whether it was through school, work, sports, etc. Some of these people have become my very best friends, while others have become my enemies. Some I still keep in touch with from time to time, while others I haven’t talked to in years. Building relationships is an essential life skill, and here is what I’ve learned in the process:

• As you grow up, your parents will eventually become your friends.
• Never take your family for granted.
• When it comes to friendships, quality over quantity matters.
• Accept that some friendships aren’t meant to last forever.
• Don’t stress over impressing others, not everyone has to like you and not everyone will.


Out of the past 20 years of my life, I have spent almost 15 of them in school. Luckily, I have learned a little more than just math, history and science along the way. School has taught me some valuable things that are applicable in the real world, such as time management and teamwork. Right now, I’m at the peak of my education, the middle of my college career, so here are some important reminders for all of my fellow college students:

• Don’t let your grades define you. 
• Studying and homework will always be there, making memories with your friends will not.
• At the same time, don’t feel pressured to go out every weekend.
• Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. 
• Expanding your social network is just as important as academics.


These past two decades have gone by in the blink of an eye. Life has definitely thrown some curveballs along the way, but overcoming these challenges has made me who I am today. The following are what I would consider are the most important lessons that I’ve learned so far in life: 

• It’s okay to not have it all figured out.
• Be spontaneous, take risks and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
• Look up from your screen every once in a while.
• Don’t dwell on the past or the mistakes you’ve made. 
• Keep an open mind, there is still so much more to learn.

There it is, a list of 20 things that I’ve learned before my 20th birthday. This reflection has allowed me to appreciate all of the encounters and experiences I’ve had because I really have taken in a lot of valuable information. Turning 20 is always played down, but it should be a big deal! It’s an exciting time that comes with a new level of maturity. And you’re only five years away from your first quarter life crisis!

Karli Schmitz

Wisconsin '23

Karli is currently a junior at the University of Wisconsin Madison majoring in Strategic Communication, with certificates in Digital Studies and Sports Communication. She is very passionate about health and fitness, so you can either find her at the gym or in the kitchen whipping up new recipes!
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