21 Life Lessons I Learned in My Twenties

Well, it’s official – I am now part of the thirties club. I had my 30th birthday back in September. It passed by innocuously enough; I celebrated quietly and simply with Jason and close friends, and snuck in a visit with my family just before. I’ve never been much of a big-birthday-blowout type, so that suited me just fine.

Turning 30 is supposed to be this huge milestone, but to be honest, I don’t feel that different than I did at 29. Although, it did get me thinking about how much I’ve changed since I turned 20 – now that’s a huge difference. As it goes for many people I think, my twenties were my most transformative years in terms of finding out who I was and what I wanted in life, and they really shaped who I am today more than any other period in my life.

I think I’m much happier now than I was back then; certainly much more confident in myself and my abilities, and content with the path that I’m on as opposed to worrying so much about how it’s all going to work out. And I think a lot of that comes down to some very simple but key (and sometimes a little cliche) life lessons that I learned throughout the last ten years. So in that spirit, I wanted to share 21 life lessons that I learned in my twenties (because I got on a roll and couldn’t cut it down to just 20 of them).

1. Don’t take life too seriously.

Seriously. This one was big for me – I was so high-strung in my twenties, wanting to make sure that I took all the right steps and made no mistakes. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells because of course, being human means we’re going to make mistakes and fail sometimes. It’s just a part of life and so instead of worrying about it all the time, it’s better to just accept it and go with the flow.

2. It’s okay if not everyone likes you.

You are never going to please everyone, so there’s really no point in trying. Just be yourself (as if you haven’t heard that one a million times!)

3. Time heals most things.

I think back to things that happened to me when I was in my teens and twenties, and how at the time, I thought they were the end of the world. It makes me laugh now because, of course, it wasn’t – time went on, the world kept spinning, and eventually I forgot all about them. It’s comforting to know now that when bad things do happen, yes, they will hurt at the time, but things will get easier as time goes on.

4. Take care of your body.

Exercise, eat well, get enough sleep, drink water. These little habits have such an impact on our overall health and mood. Someone once told me that ‘health is wealth’, and I find that’s so true.

5. New opportunities are always coming.

If something doesn’t work out, something else will come along. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. I’m a believer that whatever’s meant to happen will, so when I lose an opportunity or something slips away from me, I trust that it’s so that something better can come along.

6. Similarly, you are never stuck – there’s always a way out.

There have been times in my life where I’ve felt so stuck and like there was no way around a problem. I think when we get so wrapped up in what we have going on, it’s hard to look at a problem objectively and problem-solve. This is why it helps a lot to have a good friend whose advice you trust, because they can more easily step outside of the experience and see the bigger picture.

When you’re struggling with something or feeling trapped, try to remove yourself mentally and emotionally from the situation and think critically. Brainstorm solutions, even if they seem way out there or impossible. In my experience you’ll find that you’re not really trapped, but choosing to stay in a situation because of fear or other negative emotions. Example: I was afraid to quit my stressful job because I didn’t want to lose my income and fail. I felt trapped in that situation, but when I viewed things differently, I realized I actually had a lot of options, as scary as some of them were.

7. Happiness is a state of mind.

It’s all about perception. Our minds are very powerful things and we can influence (control, even) our emotions and reactions by simply controlling our mind. One of my favourite quotes is from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: “It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.” It might take some work to get there, but if you practice it enough, it can become the natural way you perceive and react to things. (An exception to this would be depression and other mental illness, which I don’t mean to trivialize here.)

8. Experiences are more valuable than things.

We hear this one a lot, but it’s so true. When I look back on my life so far, it’s never the possessions that I remember – it’s always the experiences I’ve had. At the end of the day, things just aren’t that important, thus why we forget about them. In my opinion, it’s much more worthwhile to spend money, time, and energy on things like travel, courses, events, etc. than just accumulating stuff.

9. Things tend to work out most of the time.

Risks are risks, but I’ve found that things always have a way of working out one way or another. What I find helpful when I’m evaluating a decision is thinking about what’s the worst that could happen, and then seeing if I’m okay with that. And, if things don’t end up working out the way you wanted them to, at least you can still learn from your experiences.

10. It’s never too late to start something.

Case in point – I’m taking a novel writing class this fall. I love reading books and writing and have often thought to myself, If only I could go back in time and start writing from a young age and do a creative writing or literature degree, maybe I could have been a writer. But honestly, while yes, starting early might give you a head start, it doesn’t mean you can’t still do something. The same goes for any hobby or skill you’d like to try. Don’t ever let the mindset of ‘it’s too late’ get in the way of fulfilling a dream. There’s always going to be reasons not to do something; so if you want to do it, just do it and don’t let those excuses keep you from it.

11. Everyone is capable of change.

Sometimes it just takes that sort of ‘fake it until you make it’ mentality. If you have a picture in your mind of who or what your ideal self is, start showing up as that person every day. Eventually, you’ll get there.

12. Boredom is a great way to fuel creativity.

There are so many ways to distract ourselves these days that it’s easy to always be doing something. I mean, everyone (myself included) is looking down at our phones for half the day now. But there’s actually a solid benefit to just doing nothing: it makes space for new ideas. Your brain is always trying to work at doing something, so when there are no inputs, it has to get creative – literally. This is why there’s such a thing as ‘shower thoughts’. Try it sometime, and see what you come up with!

13. You can’t control others, you can only control yourself.

You are only in control of your own reactions, and as hard as you try, there’s no way to control the reactions of others. All you can do is try to be a good person, but you can’t always expect the same back from everyone else. At that point you have to choose how you react, and who you surround yourself with in your life.

14. Comparison to others is a waste of time.

This one is still a bad habit of mine, and one that I’m trying to kick. It’s so tempting to look at others around us and judge ourselves based on what it looks like they’ve achieved, but it really doesn’t serve you at all. The best thing to do is just focus on being the best you that you can be, with the only comparison point being who you are today versus your past self.

15. Youth might have beauty, but age has wisdom.

This one particularly resonates with me since turning 30. Our society tends to value youth and places a negative connotation with aging, especially among women. But I wouldn’t trade places with my younger self now if it meant that I would lose everything I’ve learned along the way. I actually look forward to continuing to age as it means I’m growing as a person, learning new things, and experiencing more.

16. The most rewarding feeling comes from something you make yourself.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel the most content after doing something creative, such as art, growing a garden, working on my business, etc. There’s just something about making something yourself and putting it out there in the world that feels like an accomplishment. We spend so much of our time these days consuming, it’s important to stop and set aside time to create and express ourselves.

17. We are our own worst critics.

This one is so true for me – no one has ever said anything as mean to me as I’ve said to myself. Many of us would never speak to others the way we speak to ourselves. Always be kind to yourself, treat yourself as you would treat others, and practice self-compassion.

18. People are too worried about themselves to judge you.

Someone once told me that ‘being self conscious is a form of narcissism,’ and it really turned on a lightbulb for me as someone who is generally very self conscious, shy, socially awkward, and introverted. The fact is that people are too wound up in their own lives and problems to think too carefully and critically of you – and if they do, then that’s on them and it’s nothing you should worry about.

19. Your actions make a difference, no matter how small.

A proverb by Lao Tzu reads, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” It might not seem like it individually, but little changes you make have a huge impact over time. If you want to get better at something, practice a little bit every day and see how you improve. If you want to start reducing your carbon footprint, learn ways to be more eco-friendly and slowly start changing your habits. You might just be one person, but this whole world is made up of individuals and each of us has an impact.

20. Progress is better than perfection.

And honestly, there isn’t really such a thing as perfection anyway. If you have a goal in mind or a milestone you want to reach, don’t go at it with an all-or-nothing approach – in my experience, that tends to lead to feelings of failure, which in turn leads to giving up. Instead, focus on what you have done and what progress you’re making towards your goal.

21. You can do anything you put your mind to.

Natural talent is only a small piece of the pie – it’s really all about hard work, determination, and time. The amount of effort you put into something reflects what you’ll get back out of it. And, it always takes time to get good at anything. So don’t let the false sense of not ‘having a knack’ for something put you off of doing it.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and that you were able to take away at least one or two things to incorporate into your own mindset. What’s the most valuable life lesson you’ve learned? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time,

Emily Lightly

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21 Life Lessons I Learned in My Twenties - Emily Lightly

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