On Saturday, I turned 21. So so much has happened in the past year of my life. I traveled outside of the U.S. for the first time; I met my family in Greece; I shared some amazing experiences with my boyfriend Killian and my new roommate Mikayla; I graduated college; and then I left it all behind and moved to Ireland!
And where would I be if I hadn't gained some life lessons along the way? So here are 20 things I learned while I was 20 years old.
1. I know nothing. Of course, when you're growing up, that's all your parents tell you. "I know you think you know everything, but you don't know anything". Which is infuriating.
And the older you get, the more this thought seems to creep in. I know that until the day I die, I'll always be learning more. But it really hit me hard when I started traveling and seeing different cultures that even with things being so global now, people really do live in their own bubbles. Especially Americans. We're so focused on ourselves that we don't want to see what's around us. And boy oh boy, is there a lot of really wonderful stuff out there. But there's also some not so great stuff, and some really bad stuff too. It's good to see all of it, and to learn from it. And then at the end of it remember that no one knows anything, and continue on to discover more.
2. Use your support group. This is something that seems to be really difficult for my age group to do. When we leave home, we're supposed to be independent and it's easy to feel like you have to know everything (see #1). But if you take a step back, it's easy to see that that's just not true. I've made an effort to start using my support group more. Those people around me who I can really trust and go to for advice. Whether it's to ask for a connection and start networking or simply asking a friend how to get through a bad day, reaching out is a world of help, and not a sign of weakness.
3. Speak your mind. No one can read minds. So it's important to speak your mind. Want your roommate to clean the dishes? Tell them. Unhappy with your friend? Don't give them the silent treatment. If you want your SO to do something for your anniversary, say so! Speak up before you end up unhappy with everyone all for your own unrealistic expectations. People are often a lot more willing than we anticipate to be helpful and cooperative.
4. Friends are not just "peers". One of the most frustrating things when I started college was trying to make friends. I'm a lot younger than the majority of the people I end up spending time with. When I first got to college, I tried to keep my age to myself. If anyone ever found out that they were even 3 years older than me, they would stop talking to me. Then, I made the decision to just stop caring. I'm proud of where I am for my age, and I've come to accept that age doesn't define friendship. I have friends who are 10 and friends who are 80! If you share common ground and they're worth being around, friendship will follow.
5. Just do it. Unfortunately, dreams don't come true just by sitting around and wishing they would. Make small goals and then figure out the steps it'll take to accomplish each goal. And then go out and do it. If you don't want to get up earlier or go to the gym or finish an assignment, just do it. Get it over with! You'll feel so much better when it's over and done with.
6. You are not alone. High School Musical wasn't so far off- we're all in this together. Everyone's fighting their own battle, but if we stop and talk about it for a minute, it's becomes apparent very quickly that we're not on our own fighting these battles. So many people go through similar problems. And the best part? It's common ground, which can give you a really good friend to help get through it. There's so much stigma around being open and talking about personal struggles. But everyone has them! Have diabetes? Someone else you know probably does too. Suffering from depression? You're not the only one. Reach out and grow your support group. It'll make life seem more manageable when it's not so big and daunting and lonely.
7. Forgiveness is incredibly freeing. This is honestly probably the hardest one. I'm really bad for holding grudges. But it accomplishes nothing. Decide whether it's time to cut ties because a certain person or group doesn't provide any value in your life anymore or just be the bigger person and let go. Try and put yourself in their shoes for whatever situation happened to make you hurt or upset. And forgive them for it. Make amends, and move on with your life.
8. Dream big & Don't Settle. Going back to #5, don't let the daunting fact that it'll take a lot of work stop you from dreaming. If you want to go to all those beautiful beaches you see on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest, then keep on wanting it! And find a way to make it happen! The sky's the limit. I watched so many people under 25 settle because they thought it was too early or they would never be able to make their dreams come true. I saw so many people over 40 decide that it was too late for them. It's never too late, and it's never too early. If one of your dreams does come true, work on making the next a reality. Also, as part of this, DON'T EVER SETTLE. If you're questioning whether or not you're settling: you're settling. Make small changes. Make big changes. Make all the changes it'll take to make yourself happy with you life. Because why live an unhappy existence when you control your own life?
9. Never say never. You never know where you're gonna be in 5 minutes or in 5 years. So saying "I'd never do that" really just isn't realistic. Using more open language makes you come across as a more open individual to others and reaffirms that anything is possible in your own mind. Stay positive, and stay open-minded.
10. Re-try foods. Holy moly, am I still a picky eater. But I am SO much better than I was a child. There are plenty of things that I still just do not like. I can't stand pickles or most mustards. Spicy foods just aren't my thing. But maybe one day that'll change. For now, I'm enjoying the broader range of veggies that I find palatable and taking full advantage of them in my recipe selections. I will continue to re-try once-yucky foods in the hopes that my tummy will see the benefits of a wider range of gastronomie.
11. Just say yes. Do things that scare you! I cannot stress this one enough. I have horrible anxiety, and in the past it's really prevented me from doing a lot of great things. But the more that I just try things, the more things I fall in love with. Your comfort zone is the most confining space in your life. Step outside of it, and enjoy all of the wonderful things that follow.
12. Remember to read. I get caught up in my day to day life and when I'm worn down, I don't want my brain to be working anymore. I want it to turn to mush so I can watch some Netflix and go to bed. But I find that when I'm reading regularly, I feel so much better in general. And the more that I talk to people, the more it seems to be a general agreement. So why are we all still sitting around making excuses as to why we're not reading, even though we'd really love to get caught up in a good story? Put away the tech and grab a good read. Get lost for a while.
13. All isn't what it seems. This ones goes back to #6. Everything now is on social media. We think we know someone's life. We think the rich lead perfect lives and that your frienemy from high school has it way better than you. But we each choose to present our best selves to the rest of the world. That doesn't mean that it's the whole picture, or even most of what's going on in their lives at the time. Every single person is just that- a person. The guy interviewing you for the new job you really want has a family. He has his own ups and downs and is as much a person as you are. Keeping in mind that we may never know the full story, and that that's a-okay, is important.
14. Enjoy the little things. This is what I tell everyone when I explain why I got into photography. Because I love to enjoy the little things. It's not something that was new for me in the past year, but it's something that I've been trying really hard to embrace even more than before. Focus on those wonderful little things. Because usually if one little bad thing happens during the day, we let it ruin the whole day, maybe even the week. But if one little good thing happens, we hardly notice it. So embrace all of those little things that make life so good. That perfect last bite. That vibrant sunset. That funny Facebook post from your friend. A good hair day. Take it all in.
15. Stay connected. I am a huge fan of hand-written letters. I have a core group of people that I stay in touch with regularly by snail mail. And I love it. There's nothing better than coming home at the end of the day to a letter from someone you love. But beyond that, stay in touch with people who you feel add value to your life. Even if you think they aren't interested in you, give it a shot! A lot of people are shy. But if both parties are shy, nothing will ever happen! The more that you talk to people, the more you may realise what you have in common. You may even gain access to really cool things, like events or locations, that you never even considered! And my last part of this is to spread positivity to others. Write or text or email or even call if you have the time and let people know that you appreciate them, miss them, or are thinking of them. It can completely make their day, and letting them know how you feel will certainly make yours.
16. Be silly. Don't take life too seriously. Break the rules. Don't be too self-conscious. And above all, enjoy yourself. Really do dance like no one is watching. Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself. People are more likely to admire you for your confidence than to judge you. And the people who do judge you are more likely than not jealous that they don't have the confidence themselves.
17. Write it down. Keeping a journal is something that I have tried many, many times. And as of so far, have failed at every single time. I think that I've gotten better by having a computer, because it cuts down on the time. And a lot of big events I document here, on my blog. But it's so cool to be able to go back in 5-10 years and read about what was going on in your life and how you felt about it. There are plenty of details you are bound to have forgotten. Things that were life-changing at the time have completely fallen off your radar since. It's a good way to remind yourself to keep current things in perspective as well.
18. There is never a "The End" but many "To Be Continued....". Neither my high school graduation nor my college graduation were too exciting to me. Why? Because I never thought that those time periods were the end all be all of my existence. I have gotten to those points knowing full well the endless possibilities that are now out there for me. Enjoy the endings to your chapters but remember that your book will never end. There's always bigger and better things out there to experience.
19. Be you, unapologetically. This is becoming more widespread in today's media. It's still not out there nearly enough, though. Be YOU. The people who like you for being yourself will gravitate towards that, and you will end up with better friends and a happier life. You won't constantly be worried about what people think of you- which is exhausting. If you really like something that everyone else doesn't like, who cares? There's a reason you like it! If someone really doesn't like you for it, then oh well. They don't need to like it too! Embrace who you are. Embrace the fact that who you are will most likely change over time, regularly. Love your quirks and acknowledge your faults so that you can work on them. Never feel bad for who you truly are.
20. The present isn't the only place to be. It's really common to hear that you shouldn't live in the past or the future, but focus only on the present. I don't believe that this is true. You can always learn from the past, and looking towards the future helps you set goals for the present. Keeping a steady grip in each is a healthy balance to get the most out of your life. We wouldn't be human otherwise! Do enjoy the present, but go ahead and miss the one who got away or look forward to a big event you have coming up. And every single day, enjoy what you have in the now because you'll never have these moments again.