Well, I am officially 20 years old. That’s two decades. Or 240 months. Or 1,042.86 weeks. Or 7,300 days. You get the point.

This means that I am literally no longer a teenager. The thought alone is terrifying. Wasn’t my 13th birthday, like, yesterday?

While some might argue that turning 20 isn’t nearly as exciting as turning 16, 18, or 21, for me – it’s a big deal. This is a time of change, a time of reflection, and a time to start thinking and acting like a real-life grown-up.

Being that I have survived exactly 7,300 days (so far), I would like to share with you 10 things I have learned in 20 years. Here goes:

One: You matter. There are very few things I know to be true without a shred of doubt. There are nine planets (Pluto is, and forever will be, a planet in my heart). Seven continents. More than seven billion people on planet Earth. And you matter. You are so important that the world would be forever changed without you in it. People would notice if you were not around. The world may seem lonely sometimes, but there are always people who notice and appreciate your presence.

Two: Be nice to people.

“Kindness is the essence of greatness.” Joseph B. Wirthin

Being kind is the best legacy that you could possibly leave on this world. The world is not always kind, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be. I know from experience that being mean to people is not a way to make friends. Instead, try to be the type of friend you want to have. The best part: there is literally no downside. Being nice will make you feel good. It will make other people feel good. Be kind, be considerate, be nice. It will pay off. Trust me.

Three: Do the things that scare you. This is how we grow. These are the things that make great stories. It doesn’t have to be extreme skydiving to be an accomplishment. Start small. Try a new food. Start a conversation with a stranger. Travel outside your comfort zone. For me, it’s driving long distances by myself. This is something I’m still working on, but I’ve noticed every time I reach my destination – I think to myself “I did this.” and the next drive isn’t so scary anymore. Who knows? You may even find something you love.

Four: College is not a race. Since I took some time off school, I often feel insecure about being “behind.” Most of my friends are getting ready to begin their senior year of college while I am getting ready to graduate from my community college. Graduating later does not mean you are lesser. Just because most people graduate at a certain age, doesn’t mean that’s the right age. The “right” time to go to college is when it is right for you. No matter what age you attend or graduate college, it is an accomplishment.

Five: Forgiveness is the key to freedom.

“You may think your only choice is to swallow your anger, or to throw it in someone’s face; but there’s a third option, you can just let it go. And only when you do that is it really gone.” Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother

I think about this constantly. I used to be someone who would hold onto a grudge until my face turned blue, but growing up has made me realize that’s not what life is about. To me, this applies not only to other people but to yourself. People make mistakes. People change. People grow. YOU are learning and growing every day. It’s okay to forgive someone and to let yourself heal. Holding onto anger does nothing for you. The mistakes you made in your past do not define you.

Six: Honesty is the best policy. This is something we’ve all heard constantly throughout our lifetime, but when you’re young, it doesn’t always seem like the best policy. Spoiler alert: IT IS. The truth will always come out one way or another. Lying may seem convenient, but there’s nothing worse than that horrible feeling in your stomach when you have to cover up a lie with another lie – it’s exhausting. Save yourself the time and trouble and just be honest.

Seven: Choose your friends wisely.

“The secret of life: People change people.” Cory Matthews, Girl Meets World

The people you associate with are everything. Don’t allow yourself to be surrounded by people who make you feel bad. It’s okay to outgrow people. Surround yourself with people you trust, people who encourage you, educate you, and most importantly, those who make you feel like the best version of yourself. Respect yourself to know when someone doesn’t appreciate you for the person you are and allow yourself to move on. And once you find the people who truly care about you – hold on to them.

Eight: It’s okay to ask for help. Just because you’re no longer a teen, it doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out. There will be times when you’re confused, or lost, or scared and it’s okay to reach out to someone. It doesn’t make you weak. Chances are, someone has been where you are before. I’ve learned a lot in 20 years, but my mom will always know more. This applies to parents, teachers, and sometimes even friends. Learn from them. Let them help you grow.

Nine: Never give up.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

This is my favourite quote. Failure is inevitable – but failing does not make you a failure. Even it takes time, even if it takes longer than you hoped or expected, you can do it. I fully believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. Your attitude makes all the difference. Positivity can make even the worst situations a little bit better. Not to mention, people will always gravitate to those who put positive energy into the world. Changing your attitude can change your life. So try. Fail. Keep trying. Keep failing. Do not give up.

Ten: Never stop improving. Educate yourself. Set goals. Pick up that hobby you’ve always wanted to try. Join a gym. Actually go to the gym you joined. Read a book. Take a class. Make a to-do list and complete the entire thing. Quit a bad habit and replace it with a good one. Work on accepting your flaws. Meditate. It is never too late to start making a positive change. There are plenty of small things you can do every day that will enrich your life little by little. Know that you can succeed and you will.

I am 20 years old. I have learned a lot. But I am never done learning. I’m so excited to see what kind of lessons, knowledge, and growth the next 365 days will bring.

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