I’m only 23 years old, so it’s fair to say that I have a lot more to learn about life, and I probably haven’t experienced even a quarter of things yet to come, but I do think I’ve learned (and am in the process of learning) some pretty important lessons.
These 15 are what I have found to be the most important (so far):
1. You can’t please everybody – This is a hard pill to swallow for some people. As I’ve grown older I’ve realized that there are some people that aren’t going to like you no matter what. Whether it’s because you’re young, because you have tattoos, or simply because you have a different personality, you’re just going to rub some people the wrong way. But that’s their problem, not yours.
2. Education doesn’t end when school does – Believe me, I know how great it feels to get out of high school, and how much greater it feels when to finally graduate from post-secondary, but you can never stop improving yourself. Life is a continuous unfolding. You should always be learning, whether it’s picking up an online course or taking a trip abroad to experience another culture. Life will teach you things whether you choose to learn or not, but it is so rewarding to remain knowledge-hungry.
3. Not everyone matures at the same rate – Most of the people I spend my time with are a bit older than me, however it feels like I know grade-school kids who are more mature than some of them. I haven’t really come up with a way of dealing with this, except for biting my tongue. You just have to take solace in the fact that you are mature and hope that one day they’ll see the light. Pointing out their immaturity is just a waste of your breath. Your time is better spent digging to China with a spoon.
4. Parents are just people – This one was a little scary to learn, because when we’re younger we assume that parents know it all. While my parents are still my heroes in a lot of ways, it’s weird to realize that they’re not superhuman or infallible. Parents are just people who have had more experience with life. Doesn’t mean they have all the right answers. They have feelings, issues, and triggers just like you. They can be stubborn, snarky, or spiteful. They’re just people. They are trying to get used to having an adult child just as you are getting used to being an adult. They have dreams and fears, and they are lovable and hateable, just like the rest of us. Try to recognize just how much most of our parents love us and have sacrificed for us.
5. Life is fragile – The thing I’ve found the hardest to accept as I get older is that life is very fragile. My step-siblings had to deal with the tragedy of losing their father recently and it made me realize how delicate life is. It’s a difficult thing to come to terms with. Gone are the days of feeling like invincible adolescents. But while we may not feel unshakable anymore, we are learning the value of loving people with all our hearts. If we learn anything from this crazy and confusing decade in our lives, let it be that.
6. You don’t have to have everything figured out – It seems like when our parents were our age, they were well into their career, most likely married, and possibly had kids already. Times have changed. You do not have to have everything figured out in your 20s. This is the decade to take advantage of your youth and figure out who you are and just exactly what you want out of life (and how to get it). Guaranteed, anyone in their 30s [and beyond] wishes they could tell their 20-something self to take their time to figure out their dreams. Take the opportunity to soak in everything the world has to offer and weigh your options. You truly have your life ahead of you.
7. You can’t compare yourself to everyone – Comparing yourself to everybody around you prevents you from seeing and discovering your own unique gifts and what you have to offer the world. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses, different body types, and different talents, which we all accepted and even treasured when we were 5 years old, but somewhere between then and now we got the idea that we need to live up to somebody else’s standards. Instead of comparing yourself to everyone else, recognize the qualities that you admire in others and nurture them inside yourself. You are doing the best you can and so is everyone else.
8. You have to choose to grow up – Aging is something that happens naturally, but growing up isn’t. You have to choose to take on all of the responsibilities of an adult. You won’t wake up on your 25th birthday with an unstoppable work ethic and a willingness to take on responsibility. If you feel like you’re being treated like a child or that people don’t seem to bestow much trust in you to be self-reliant, whether it’s employers or your parents, reevaluate whether or not you have made the conscious decision to act your age.
9. Responsibility is rewarding – Many people I know still need to get here. As easy as it is to leave your chores to somebody else or put off your assignment because you can copy someone else’s, it doesn’t match the feeling of empowerment that comes from doing things for yourself. People underestimate the reward that comes with being self-sufficient. Unfortunately, some people go their whole lives without finding out.
10. You’re never too old to look up to someone – One of the best choices I made for my life was letting myself have a role model. I used to assume that as you got older, you shouldn’t look up to anyone, because you were supposed to be your own role model. When I started my first real job two years ago, the person I ended up working for was the most amazing human – I still go to her for advice and I take her word as gospel. Every day I strive to become more and more like her which means I’m constantly working at improving myself. Don’t underestimate the value of looking up to somebody. It’s never too late to find a role model. They can teach you how to best live the rest of your life.
11. How to appreciate the little things – As we get older, we have more responsibility and less time for the things that used to make us happy when we were younger. If you take the time to appreciate the little things that make you smile throughout each day, you will find yourself to be in a much better space. Looking forward to a 10am coffee break with a friend or appreciating a stranger’s compliment on your shoes can really mean the difference between a bad day and a good day. You can choose what mood you’re in – it’s all about positive thinking. Enjoy the moment!
12. You can’t depend on others for happiness – Many of us have bad days because we’re pissed at our boyfriend/girlfriend or mother/father. But believe me; once you decide to depend on yourself for your own happiness, life becomes much brighter. If your boyfriend gets called into work on your date night, yes, that totally sucks, but now you have a chance to go through your clothes and donate old ones to the needy. Your closet is now ready for new clothes and you’ve helped somebody less fortunate. It’s a win-win.
13. You don’t always have to be right – I know better than anybody how hard it is to swallow your pride and admit that you were wrong, but life is much, much better when you learn to do it. Life is short; too short to spend being stubborn and letting your ego get in the way. Many of my friends still haven’t learned this, which is why I find it so hard to maintain a lot of my relationships. If you want to have solid, happy relationships, know that it’s okay to be wrong every now and again.
14. Take compliments, don’t be so hard on yourself, and stop the negative self-talk – This may very well be the most important thing that I’ve learned. As most of us know, you are your own worst critic. Confidence is the key to taking on the world, especially in your 20s. Stop beating yourself up over everything. The sooner you learn to be happy with yourself, the more confidence you’ll have, which in turn will attract people to you, and positive things in your life will happen. Self-assuredness can do anything from land you the perfect job to the man/woman of your dreams. Your inner dialogue is the most powerful voice you here.
15. Learn how to apologize – If you take away only one thing from my post let it be this. Apologizing is a skill that you will need for the rest of your life. There are few things more important than reconciling with those you need to amend with. Don’t let this fall through the cracks; it’s part of the essence of being a good person. Life is too short to be hardheaded all the time. Mend and nurture any and all relationships in your life, so that your life can be as fruitful as possible. Have a generous heart. That is how you make a difference in the world.