Tomorrow, I will turn twenty years old. This doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people. To them, twenty isn’t a milestone. In the good old U.S.A., sixteen, eighteen, and twenty-one are milestones. So my nineteenth birthday didn’t feel too important either. But, twenty is different to me. It’s been a decade since I was ten and I will have now been alive for two whole decades. In ten years, I’ll be thirty. I’m a “twenty-something” now. In my almost twenty years I’ve been told a lot of things about life and how I should live it. Some pieces of advice were valuable, some were merely applicable, some I ignored when I should have followed them, and some were followed when I should have ignored them. Some were from my mom, some I had to “learn the hard way,” some were from friends my age, some were from the Internet, but most were from pop culture. These are some of the things I’ve been told, in no particular order:
1.) In the end, all there is is you. Make sure you like the person you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. You don’t exist for other people — you exist for yourself.
2.) When you find the person you’re supposed to be with, you’ll know. If they don’t know, too, they’re not the person you’re supposed to be with.
3.) Never be ashamed or scared to ask for help no matter how old you are. Just because you’re 20 or 30 or 45 years old doesn’t mean you have to have EVERYTHING together. Conversely, you should give help without being prompted to give it. Making a connection with someone and expecting nothing in return is surprisingly rewarding.
4.) Being silly is underrated. Hold onto your quirks.
5.) Somebody somewhere loves you, or will love you, or has loved you. Never forget that you have people who would be devastated to lose you.
6.) Most people change their ways in response to something. Try to change just because you want to (I understand this may prompt you to change but you get my damn point).
7.) If you don’t make time for yourself and your own needs, no one else will. Take care of yourself and make time to just “be”, not “do”, just “be”.
8.) Nothing worth doing in life is free or easy or without consequence. Accept and acknowledge this and work hard.
9.) Exercise is a way to make yourself better. It’s a shame that most people will never know just how much their body can do and just how strong they are.
10.) Beauty is subjective. You are beautiful. Tell yourself that every time you feel down and you’ll walk a little bit taller.
11.) We forget sometimes that people actually see us differently than the way we see ourselves. It’s freaky to think that people see us just being us. While you shouldn’t ignore this, you shouldn’t let it bother you either.
12.) I’ll never quite understand why we do things for other people but not ourselves; try not to do something to impress someone else. Instead, do something that impresses you. Make yourself swell with pride once a day.
13.) Reflect on memories when you were the happiest you’ve ever been. Think about all the happy times you will have in the future. If that memory involved someone you’re no longer close to, call them.
14.) The reality of the world is that it and everything in it are finite. You will only be this young once (#YOLO without the ridiculous culture that surrounds it, is actually pretty true). Tell someone (or everyone) you love them today. Hug someone. Make out with someone. Start the project you’ve wanted to start today rather than tomorrow. Approach that celebrity. Be brave. Be bold! Have an experience. Though it’s ominous, you never know what may happen. Try to live each day like it’s your last in a subtle way, like by being extra kind to someone, forgiving someone, calling someone up, or telling someone how you feel. A moment, an hour, a day, and a life are all terrible things to waste.
14.5.) An extension of #14 is to say “yes” more. When was the last time you regretted working out, hanging out with friends, or having a good time? When was the last time you regretted being fearless or brave? There are some things that are important for the long term: getting good grades, meeting a deadline, etc. but there are some things that are important for the short term: watching one more episode of Family Guy, going out with your friends, etc. If there’s something your tummy is telling you to do, do it. Don’t squash that feeling. It’s there for a reason.
15.) Hold onto your dreams. Always remember that crazier things have happened. And I mean crazier.
16.) It’s OK and encouraged to give up on something that doesn’t bring you joy. Don’t feel bad about making a decision to better your life. Even if it means kicking someone else out of it.
16.5.) As an extension of #16, the people in your life are there for a reason. If their reason has expired naturally, or if they are no longer giving you a reason to be there, or if they’re giving you many reasons not to be there, they shouldn’t be there anymore, and it’s OK to nudge them gently out of the frame. Because time is finite, you shouldn’t waste it on someone who doesn’t want to spend their time with you.
17.) There’s no reason to not be happy everyday of your life. Life, the world, and people are all beautiful. While there are moments of sadness, anger, and hurt, the good things in life (puppies, Mr. Rogers, S Club 7) trump the bad things (death, war) tenfold.
18.) Be adaptable to change. Nothing in life is certain. That doesn’t mean you can’t spit in life’s face and pretend some things are. You don’t have to and shouldn’t focus on the things that could happen, but you should acknowledge the possibility.
19.) Count the reasons you have to smile. Never count the reasons you don’t have. Throw the words “Why should I?” out of your vocabulary. Instead say “Why shouldn’t I?”
20.) Everything will be OK.
As I reflect on my last twenty years of life, there’s a lot of advice in that list that I neglected and regretted neglecting. It’s hard to follow a list of contradictory things and try to do each one everyday. Hell, most days it’s hard to just smile. While I understand that it’s hard to smile when bad things are happening around you and when it feels like there is more bad in life than there is good, don’t forget how much control you have over your own life. You can change anything you want to. Take back your autonomy. Steady the steering wheel (or rip it out of whoever’s hands it is in). It’s never too late. If you take one thing away from this, take that. Even though it wasn’t on the list. Whatever. I’m only twenty.