20 things I learned in 20 years

Fiona O’Dowd

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  On Feb. 22, I turned 20 years old. I am not getting any new privileges, nor any bewildering life-changing experiences. At 20, I am still considered a young person, but a lot happens in two decades — even if they are only the first two. 

     While being 20 years old is not the most exciting time in the world, I can at least say that I have survived two decades on this planet — and I also made it out of my teenage years with only a few scratches.  

     There is no real coming-of-age story with the turn of 20 years old, only a lot of reflection on past events in my life so far, and what I plan to do with that information moving forward. In any case, there are at least 20 lessons I have learned in my 20 years of life. 

1. Energy vampires are real, and they are coming to get you.  

     I learned this from a young age, when I was just learning to build my social skills, and my own kindness was already becoming a tool for manipulation by people who only wanted to use me — even if they only wanted my Barbies. In short, many will suck away your positive energy for their own good, and the sooner you notice it, the sooner you can run away.  

 2. Bullies find anything they can, so just carry on.  

     Also from a young age, I learned what it was to be bullied and to be a bully in return. Bullies are no longer a regular issue I face in my adult life, but I can still say that caring about what people say about me only wastes the time I have where I can be myself and love doing it. No one is going to care what you wore in middle school 10 years from now.  

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer will always be your role model. 

     I can say with complete confidence that I have seen this show more times than I can count in my life, and I never stopped looking up to the powerful female characters in this show. 

4. Be happy with what you have before chasing materialistic things. 

     My family and I never had a lot of money growing up, or at least not the kind that allowed everyone to have anything they wanted all the time. This left me feeling a lot of pressure to have more things in order to be emotionally fulfilled, but materialistic items can never fill that void in the way that memories and lessons from relationships do — although a new car does sound really nice right now.  

5. Your parents are not always right, and that is OK. 

     Your parents are typically the first people you learn from as soon as you are born, so it is easy to believe that they know enough about the world to effortlessly guide you through it, right? Well, no. Parents are humans just like you, and therefore can be just as clueless when it comes to doing the right thing all the time.  

     In this case, sometimes the adults that you have looked up to are going to be wrong — possibly almost unforgivably wrong — but the best thing you can do is love them anyway and hope you can both get through your stuff together.  

6. Quitters never win but ruining your mental health for something does not make you a winner either.  

     Compromising your mental or physical health for certain things can be unavoidable in this day and age but knowing when to stop and take a break for the sake of your health matters. I mean, how can you put your best foot forward if you could break at any moment? 

7. Self-destructive behavior is not cute. 

     Whether you or someone close to you is exhibiting notably self-destructive behavior, just know that it is not helping anyone, including yourself. Learn when to get help when things get out of hand and know when to distance yourself from someone who is hurting you too much to stick around.  

8. For the love of God, stop wearing the knee-high converse.  

     This is self-explanatory.  

9. Take your time. 

     Even though I decided to head to college directly after graduating high school, I still wish my decision to do this was not overpowered by the fear of my peers graduating and starting their lives before me. I know now that, if it ever becomes too much, taking a break from school to take care of myself is better than digging a mental hole that is too hard to get out of.  

10. Do not buy those $100+ rhinestone jeans, they are absolutely heinous, and you know it.  

     You know the ones… 

11. Conforming only holds you back further. 

     At some point, everyone is desperate to fit in and feel as though they belong somewhere. Unfortunately, this often causes people — including me — to alter themselves from the way they look to their whole personality if it means that someone will want them. The truth is, conforming only holds you back from being the best version of yourself and being confident in who that is. 

12. Love your best friends while they are still around.  

     I think I did this as best as I could, but to remind others, friends often drift apart. This is as natural as the forming of a relationship with someone, but it is sad, nevertheless. Spend as much quality time with your close friends before you never have time for each other.  

13. Try to exercise while you are still physically equipped to do so.  

     I still struggle with this, and probably will for a good portion of my life, but I would like to be able to run a mile before I no longer have the ability to do so anymore.  

14. I miss my grandma. 

     My grandmother passed away when I was 14 years old, and to this day I still wish I had spent more time with her and asked her so many more questions about her life that I want to know so badly now. In other words, cherish who you have while they are still alive.  

15. Reading is not as bad as you thought.  

     For some reason, I often struggled to stay focused enough to read when I was a kid; this made book reports and reading assignments scary for me. Now that I am an adult, and I can read whatever and whenever I want, reading is much more enjoyable. I certainly wish I had known that sooner.  

16. You look fine the way you are, and you always have. 

     Self-image is something everyone struggles with at some point in their lives and for me, it took me a long time to like who I was and accept the way I am, but I am so glad I did.  

17. Bad art is still art.  

     I love art, and I love creating it, despite how critical I am of my work. Your skills can really only get better through practice though, so you might as well keep creating.  

18. Embrace change as it comes naturally 

     After a lot of moving and growing in the past few years, I have learned to just accept changes in my life that I may not have control over. I just have to learn from it and take away positive messages from these points in my life.  

19. Never stop learning. 

     This has become a life motto for me in recent years, and I still know it to be true. Learning means growing and growth leads to wisdom.  

20. Family can be your best friend, too. 

     Last but not least, I have especially learned from this COVID-19 pandemic that socializing is hard to do when you cannot leave the house. Even more, I learned that my closest family members can be some of the best friends I could ever have, and I have not grown tired of them (yet). 

Photo courtesy of Waldemar Brandt and Unsplash.com