young woman teenager everything i wish I knew before I#ve reached my 20s
Personal Essays & Opinions

Everything I wish I knew before I reached my 20s

1. Not all friendships last a lifetime

Friendship – as any other relationship – is a two-way street. You cannot maintain it if the other people are not willing to put in the effort to do that as well. There are countless of reasons why a friendship can fall apart. Some are truly serious – such as betrayal or lack of trust or communication; but others cause people to simply naturally drift apart without any serious fight.

No matter what the reason for your broken friendship is, please remember this: knowing whose fault it was and what you did wrong might not always be helpful. If you think you “need to figure out what went wrong” so that  you do not repeat the same mistake over and over again, rest assured – this will not happen anyways. Since neither any two people nor any two friendships are the same – it is very unlikely that you will ever be able to have an identical farewell with two different friends.

A more healthy way to approaching friends is to understand that sometimes, some people come into our lives because our beings vibrate at the same frequencies. A less poetic way of expressing this is: at some point, you understand them, and they understand you. Whether this remains to be the case through our lives – only time will show. So, cherish your moments together: all the joy, all the memories, all the conversations; and, if they happen to stay through your life – that is great. However, if they do not, let yourself to grieve as long as you need, but then remember that there is nothing wrong with you, that new friends will come along, and that sometimes – failed friendships are just a natural part of life.

2. It is really not as serious as you might think

I was just a kid when my sister announced in front of a group of people that I had a crush on one guy. Embarrassed, I burst into tears and while running away, I was shouting at her that she can forget she ever had a sister and that I will never forgive her this. Drama and I – we sometimes get along really well.

Yet, years later, my sister is my best friend and the only person I trust whole-heartily.  Looking back at that event, I feel like I now only have a good story to tell, but I grade the seriousness of the situation to a zero. Back when it happened, however, I would have said it was the most serious situation in my life.

The similar feeling kept on reappearing through life. Less than a perfect score on an exam; mistakes when playing the piano in front of an audience or in front of a musical jury; problems to find an accommodation for my internships… Oh, you name it, I have probably been through all sort of silly situations which made me feel like my word was falling apart and as if I would never recover from them.

Still, here I am, years later, struggling to even remember them. Not everything that makes you momentarily extremely emotional will have a significant impact on your life. Ask yourself: will this matter ten years from now? You might just find out that it is really not that serious.

3. You will not be always the best

Took me years to learn this one. I have always loved being (among) the best and I never hid this fact. I loved being good in school, while also having hobbies and friends and Fridays and Saturdays nights out. Competitiveness has motivated me as long as I can remember and giving anything less than 100% felt like a huge failure.

Yet, as the years were passing by I learned not only that I will meet as equally (or even more) capable people, but also that I can grow more substantially if I learn – not compete – with these people. By my mid twenties, I mastered how to focus on the knowledge and the skills I obtained – not on the external validation. It felt so liberating!

Looking back to the years before my 20s, I wish I had someone to tell me: you will not always be the best in everything, but this will never mean that you are a failure, or not good enough, or not smart enough. Instead, not being the best can sometimes be truly beautiful, since how can you ever discover or enjoy in your peculiar “flaws” and “failures” if you are always little miss perfect.

Stop being the good child. Sometimes, it really is not worth to sacrifice certain aspects of your life only to be the best on a silly competition that no one will ever ask you about.

4. Your expectations of yourself can either be your best friend or your biggest enemy

This correlates a lot to point three above. If you are always expecting of yourself to be nothing less than perfect – whatever that “perfect” means – you will end up living through a great struggle. If you expect from yourself to do something in a certain way, by a certain time and then see that this is not possible – cut yourself some slack. Did you try? Truly try? Was it all your fault that you did not meet your own expectations?

I think you tried. And I think we are not isolated cells floating in an empty Universe. Which means, there will come a point in life where your expectations will not be met due to a chain of unfortunate events. Learn from and live with this. Grow. Do not spend your days sinking in disappointment and oblivion, thinking your life no longer makes sense. Do not give the power to your expectations to turn into your worst enemy.

Yet, sometimes expectations, or rather believing in yourself, can be your strongest motivation. When everyone is trying to tell you that you cannot do something, your internal motivation and your own expectations can show the world just how capable you are.

However, the line between the two scenarios is quite blurry. Make sure you are not walking on thin ice when you push with all of your strength, cause you might just find out how easy it is to break that ice. And with it, break yourself.

5. Plans do not always turn out the way you want them to

Often, your plans will collide with the world’s reality. You will need to learn how to let go of your imaginary fairy-tale life in order to grow into a stronger, more capable, and more caring person. Stop pushing to get the life you had imagined for yourself at any cost, if you notice that this plan is no longer in line with the person you are today.

Learn how to adjust in order to thrive. Do not reject opportunities that come along just because they do not “fit” into your plans. How can you ever know what lies beyond your imagination if you do not challenge it? How do you expect to mature if you do not let yourself to wander further than your high-school dreams?

6. What you are passionate about can change. As can you.

It does not mean that this will always happen, but sometimes it does. I know countless number of people who were involved in science, only later to find out that they prefer the arts and humanities. Or, the other way around.

Most of us opt for a University degree in line with our favorite high-school subject. However, as we mature and enlarge our knowledge, we open our minds and souls to new horizons. There is a whole world beyond our textbooks – and we see it. The ideas of how and where we can put our degrees into practice increase sometimes even exponentially. With all of this new insight we start to adjust our actions and reach out for career options that just a few years back we might have not even known they existed. With time, we realize what our core values are and what truly matters to us. Where we want to be. What we want to do. And this is how we know we are living.

If this is happening to you, but you are surrounded by people who try to diminish and mock either you or your work; or, try to make you feel like you are a failure because you are “quitting” on your field – rest assured, you are not the looser. In many ways, they are. Not because they maintained one passion through their whole life, but because they are so narrow-minded to think that this has to be the way how everyone lives.

7. Heartbreak is important

Many think that “being heartbroken” means only having a sad love story to remember. However, in reality many everyday situations can cause a heartbreak. Loosing a family member, not getting into the program of your dreams, being rejected by your peers, being bullied, ignored, neglected, unheard, unnoticed… The list can keep on going, but the truth is that the sooner we experience our first heartbreak, the easier it will be. Not because when we are kids and teenagers, the pain is not as strong or serious, but because we will learn at an earlier age how to accept struggle as part of our lives. We will learn how to fight and try again. How to stand up for ourselves.

This does not mean that one should romanticize pain or struggle in the earlier days of our lives. Often, heartbreak leaves a mark on us. We remember it as our favorite book or song. However, with time we manage to look at that heartbreak as an opportunity to grow, while keeping the bitterness just as a memory. At the start this seems as an acceptance. Then, as moving on. Finally, it feels like liberation.

8. Stopping does not always mean quitting, and even less – failing

A wise and self-aware person knows what truly matters to her and which battles are worth fighting for. There is no shame in stopping an activity or lifestyle that is bringing you mostly misery. Sometimes, stopping can feel like the hardest decision you could ever make. But, at the same time, it will most likely be a life-changing one. The best decision you make when you realize that your life resembles a vicious circle. So, discover how to recognize when you are destroying your life by being pointlessly dedicated. Then, learn how to say: enough! Stopping sometimes is the biggest victory, not the biggest failure.

9. Criticism can sometimes be one of the greatest indicators of care

A person who truly loves you will never flatter you pointlessly. Or lie to you when you ask “what do you think of my art project?”. Will never let you not grow into the best version of yourself. Instead, they would always find a way to tell lovingly how you can improve what you are doing.

Criticism feels discouraging, or maybe even hateful, at a first glance and especially when you are very young. But, if expressed in a kind and constructive manner – it will soon become the spark of reason among all of your mixed thoughts and feelings. It is truly hard to always objectively judge yourself and a different point of view can encourage you to revisit your performance, work, or actions. With time, you will not only learn how to love criticism, but you will also actively reach out and search for it. Through learning to accept criticism, you also learn how to make progress in your life and how to become an accomplished person. And if you ever feel like you do not want to hear the criticism, just remember this: those who constructively criticize you always have the best intentions for you in their mind.

10. Weight is just a number

I spent a large portion of my teenage years obsessing over my weight. It took me years to learn how to slowly accept my body as much as possible. How to focus on my health. I am not there yet completely, but one particular mindset shift helped me on my journey of self-acceptance. And yes, part of this shift was saying the sentence “weight is just a number”. But, the other, more important part was saying the sentence “thank you body”. Thank you for caring me around the world. For giving me the means to fight for what I want and need. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.

By my early 20s, I learned how to love sport because it makes me strong, fit, and healthy; not because it helps me loose weight. Now, sport is my way to relax from the suffocating pressures of my everyday life. Similarly, I learned to love healthy food because it tastes good, helps me concentrate better, and is good for my skin; not because it helps me loose weight. Skipping meals is no longer an option, while skipping a diet pill or measuring my weight three times a day is more than welcomed. And even when I do measure myself and see that I am now not the skinniest version of myself, I still say: thank you body for giving me a healthy space for my soul to live in.

11. Sometimes, less is more

Thus, let me give you less words here. Less make-up, less time on the phone, less time on social media, less self-destructive behavior, less alcohol, less cigarettes, less pride, less blaming yourself for everything you might have and might not have done… less shame, less fear, less avoidance of risks. Less regrets. Sometimes, even the least amounts of these can have a strong impact on our lives.

12. Family matters more than you can ever imagine

When you go through all of these life lessons: when a friend leaves; when you feel like your world is falling apart; when you want to be, but you are not the best; when your expectations and plans do not come true; when your passions change and you are baffled where to go and what to do; when you experience your first heartbreak; when criticism seems a bit too harsh; when you feel like your body is failing you; when you feel that even “less” feels too much; this is when you need your family.

The anchor in a stormy sea. The source of consolation, support and unconditional love. Every fight that you have had with your siblings or parents during your teenage years gets obliterated as the years will start to pass by. With time, I am sure you will learn, family matters more than you could have ever imagined as a teenager.


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