I turned 21 a week ago, and saying that out loud is so weird to me. A few weeks ago, I talked to my mom about things I did when I was 17, and then it hit me...that was four years ago. Wow...where did the time go? I can’t count how many times I said, “When I’m older, I want to do…” blah blah blah, and now I’m about to graduate with my undergraduate degree in hand.
Last year, my younger cousins made me feel OLD. They asked me how old I was, and when I said 20, they immediately said, “Wow, Ate, you’re old!” (Ate means “older sister” in Tagalog). They did not hesitate to make me feel old either haha.
Being 20, just like this past year, wasn’t anything I thought it would be. But, I’m so grateful to have had the year that I did. I grew colossally. Each lesson learned or challenge faced brought about the same feeling as stretching a rubber band to its maximal length.
With that being said, I wanted to share 20 things I learned at 20. Some are a little silly, while others are more hard-hitting. Nonetheless, they’ve made me a stronger woman today, and for that, I’m very grateful.
1. It’s okay to be confused
2020 was NOTHING but confusing! This was one of the biggest lessons I learned. Up until this point, I’ve always had a general plan for how I want things to play out in the future. Well, when the world turns upside down, there’s nothing you can do but to sit and accept the confusion. And to try to make sense of it all tends to make your worrying thoughts...well, worse. As difficult as it can be, accepting life as it comes is really vital to moving forward.
2. Alone time is a luxury that many have, but few understand
I love my alone time. I am always surrounded by people, and that’s a blessing in its own way. I have a loving and supportive family that I come home to every night. I have friends who are always ready to go on an adventure or even to sit in silence and do homework/work together. But, I have truly fallen in love with every moment I have with my own company. I’m able to genuinely rest - letting my creative juices spill into any form of art possible, watching tv shows or youtube videos that make me laugh till my face hurts, or even sitting on top of my desk (I wish I had a bay window haha) with my window open, watching the sunrise. I think people underestimate the healing that comes with alone time, but I hope it’s something more people come to find as a place of realignment and peace.
3. Sharing with others is a form of growth
I touched on this topic a little bit in my previous post, Treachery of the Mind. I have always valued learning and working alone. I don’t mind having people physically around me, but I like pursuing projects independently. I appreciate any role in which I can work autonomously. However, true growth happens when you share. My family and friends have increasingly become interested in what I do or even what occupies my mind. As someone who doesn’t always actively share, this can be rather difficult for me. But for the times when I have chosen to share or even express frustration with what I’m working on, I have always walked away from the conversation realizing how far I’ve come along in whatever process I’d been going through.
4. Actions speak louder than words
I value words heavily. When someone says “I’m sorry”, “I miss you”, or even “I promise I’ll do better”, I believe them wholeheartedly. I love handwritten letters from people, and I keep each one I’ve ever received in this cute little flower box in my room. Despite the kindness of words, nothing will ever cloud over what someone does after the conversation. In 2020, I learned who my close friends are - who reached out to me, who genuinely wanted to spend time with me, or even who really listened to me. I’ve had a few really bad days in the past few months, but my family and friends never failed to show me acts of kindness or service to remind me that I’m loved and seen. <3
5. Understanding your love language is important
Wow, I CANNOT express enough how vital this is! You need to understand how you best receive love and appreciation. It’s different for everyone. I’ve learned that my top love languages are quality time, physical touch, and acts of service. The moment I understood this about myself, I noticed my relationships began to change. I was able to communicate what positively/negatively affects me, and I could ask how I could improve my way of showing appreciation to my loved ones as well.
6. Speak up
I’ve written quite a bit about this in the past, so I don’t want to sound like a broken record, haha. But, it’s crucial to say what’s on your mind, even if it will bring out uncomfortable conversations, confrontation, etc. I have been someone to be in the middle position for many debates, but I want that to change. This past year has started a new era of political, economic, social, and even spiritual change globally. I am not one to outspokenly share my opinions on these matters because I’ve never been comfortable with that. But, I’m glad that I’ve challenged myself to be more open and have effective discussions about these kinds of things with family and close friends.
7. Asking for an explanation isn’t a threat but an opportunity for understanding
Don’t be afraid to ask “why”, especially if you’re genuinely wanting to learn or understand something.
8. Stop apologizing
I find that I apologize for any type of inconvenience, big or small, that I may inflict on anyone. And although it’s wonderful to own up to mistakes or to uphold personal responsibility, I do not need to apologize for actions that come from a place of genuinity or vulnerability. I have constantly apologized for venting or sharing my emotions with friends. I have even apologized for speaking up...what in the world?! I’ve become way more mindful about what I do choose to say “I’m sorry” for, and a small change like that has already greatly changed my mindset.
9. Never go anywhere without a snack or water bottle
There’s not much for me to add to this haha...you’ll thank yourself later.
10. Don’t be afraid to talk to God about the “big things”
This is a lesson I’m perpetually learning. As I’m fully in my 20s now, there are “big things” coming my way, and rather than pretending they don’t exist, I’ve learned that coming to God about them has greatly calmed my nerves. Ultimately, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the days after, but I have the comfort in knowing that I have someone to talk to about the things that keep me up at night. <3
11. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health
My older brother helped me learn this lesson throughout this past year. When quarantine started back in March 2020, my brother moved back in with us. He has a very full schedule, juggling a full-time job and being an online grad student. His work is nothing short of strenuous and involves constant movement. Still, he has developed a balance of work and genuine rest. I opened up to him about things I was extremely anxious or stressed out about around Thanksgiving Day. We were sitting in the car, and he gave me a good wake up call: “A lot of these things you’re wanting to pursue no longer serve their original purpose. If what you’re chasing after drains you more than they excite you, then it’s time to reevaluate your priorities and what you pour your energy into.” We would go on walks and watch TV shows together, and I’ve cherished every moment I’ve had with him and our younger brother. I’m grateful that my brothers value both mental and physical rest.
12. Being vulnerable takes guts
Don’t let anyone tell you that showing your raw self means you’re weak. You have the right to show and express your true thoughts and feelings. It takes quite a bit of courage to put yourself out there, and that discomfort you experience after doing so propels you into a phase of growth.
13. Tell that person you appreciate/love/miss them
With COVID-19, many of us have experienced having people taken from our lives unexpectedly. We don’t always have a chance to give a “proper” goodbye. In the past few months, I’ve had many family members and friends in car accidents, sick and staying in the hospital, or unexpectedly moving away. I never want a day to go by where I don’t tell someone I love them or that they matter to me. I may say/express it a lot, but I’d rather do that than regret not having done so.
14. Hugging loved ones is a blessing
I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to quarantine at home with my family. Thinking about how many people have been quarantined alone saddens me. During lockdown, I missed being on campus, seeing my friends, running up to them, and giving them the biggest hugs. As I mentioned earlier, one of my love languages is physical touch, so not being anywhere near some of my friends and even giving them a simple high-five really got to me.
15. Life happens in the little things
Significant events in life are always a call for celebration, but life truly happens in the little things. Change and growth come in slow movements, but even blinking for a few seconds longer can cause you to miss something happening right in front of you. I’ve learned the value of being present and enjoying whatever stage of life I may be going through.
16. It’s okay to not have the “perfect” final product
This lesson learned is a huge shoutout to my friend, Welton. I am passionate about writing, and some of my favorite pieces to write are poetry and short stories. Recently, I started writing my first book - not a short story, but a book. My writing journey has been ROUGH, and I hope to share it with all of you someday. I am naturally fixated on wanting my final product to be wonderful/perfect/great, etc. It’s more of a personal thing rather than for show, but this mentality has held me back. As I’ve grown to share what I write, I find myself growing more comfortable with not being happy with my final product. It’s.a.learning.process. Welton has shown me the importance of starting and finishing a project and even when to walk away from a project entirely. I hope to carry this new mentality out in this new year.
17. Love knows no borders
I’ve grown up with a good amount of relatives around me, but honestly, having moved to Texas almost 11 years ago has been challenging. I miss my family in Chicago, but I realize many of them have moved back to the Philippines. If they’re not in the Philippines, they’re spread out all over America or other countries instead. I’m so grateful to be able to have video calls with my relatives who live internationally. Love knows no borders. We’re always together at heart.
18. Getting a fair amount of sleep is important
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but to go into it further...I have started taking melatonin gummies more regularly in the past two-ish months. My mind is always at work, which has led to late-night overthinking or even working. Regardless of how much you objectively accomplish at night, you miss out on genuine rest. Having a consistent sleeping schedule has been better for my skin, weight/fitness, attitude, and mental health.
19. Who you are and who you want to be can be different people
This can be a whole other post, or even a series of posts, of its own. In short, I’m growing more comfortable in who I am and slowly figuring out who I want to be. I have quite a ways to go with who I want to be, but that’s a journey I’m willing to fight tooth & nail for.
20. A global pandemic is no match for the plans God has in store
With a year full of uncertainty, discomfort, heartbreak, confusion, and chaos, God is still in control. This past year is maybe a blink of an eye compared to the vast plans God has in store for each and every one of us, and I genuinely believe He has many blessings in store. <3
This was a bit of a longer post, but let’s be real, fitting a whole year’s worth of lessons in one blog post is pretty hard to do. If you’ve made it this far, I want to say thank you for your time and for reading through the snapshot of lessons I’ve learned in my 20th year of life.
This is only the beginning, folks! We still have a long way to go. So here’s to 20, and all that I learned in it! And cheers to 21, and for whatever may come of it!
These photos were taken in late December by my lovely best friend, Julia! They're a little goofy, but they accurately represent my different moods from the past year - calm, content, & confused, but facing everyday with a smile(: