20 Lessons I’ve Learned in 20 Years

Well, it’s official. I’m no longer a teenager.

And it’s about time. Honestly, it feels like I’ve been one for…I don’t know, like seven years.

As is usually the case right after a birthday, I don’t really feel much different. I still look basically the same as I did a year ago, and I’m still mainly the same person. It’s funny how birthdays seem to mean less and less the older we get. (What’s not as funny is how fast time flies!)

The past twenty years have been filled with a lot of lessons, growth, and change – in my life, and in myself. Some have been easy, some have been very difficult, but I can honestly say I’m grateful for all of them.

Would I go back and do some things differently if I could? Probably. But I see how God has used all of it for good, and that brings a lot of peace. I don’t know what’s best, and He does.

I’m not even going to pretend that I’m any sort of expert at life. There’s still so much that I need and want to learn. But in honor of the twenty years of growth that I’ve had so far, I wanted to pause today and share twenty life lessons.

These are lessons I’ve at least started to learn and have had personal experience with. Some of them aren’t very hard for me any more, and some of them are still extremely challenging (and probably will continue to be). But they’re all so important, and I pray that they’re as good of reminders to you as they are to me.

1. Life is Short — Tell Your Loved Ones You Care

The more time passes, the more I realize how fast it’s going. We don’t know how much time we and the people around us have left in this life. We’ll regret what we should have shared but didn’t.

So don’t waste any opportunity to share your love, respect, and affection for someone. You never know just how much your words are going to mean to them. 

2. It’s Okay to Show Emotion

Showing strong emotion is often difficult for many of us. I think it’s a subconscious way some people try to protect themselves from hurt (i. e. “if I don’t show it, it can’t be used against me”).

But the trouble with guarding our hearts is that it’s harder to let things into them then — even the good things. We’re made to feel emotion and be impacted. That’s how we grow, and also grow closer to one another. We shouldn’t be afraid to let that happen.

3. The Little Things Matter

Whether this means keeping good habits and taking care of ourselves, or telling family we love them, the little things sometimes make the biggest difference. It doesn’t have to be huge to make a positive impact. 

I always gravitate toward big, dramatic changes and accomplishments. But those can get overwhelming, and I end up discouraged if I can’t keep up with them. Remembering to focus on the little things keeps me moving forward.

4. There’s Always Something to Be Thankful For

Admittedly, I’m a pessimist. I don’t like it, but that’s who I am. I’m naturally more critical, notice what can go wrong, and generally expect difficult things to happen. Sometimes I’m a very depressing person to be around.

What I too often forget is that there are always countless things to be thankful for — small and big. All I need to do is keep my eyes open and actually look for them. Focusing on the blessings can make any day (and my mood) instantly better. 

5. Don’t Forget to Turn the Coffee Maker On

Maybe you thought these were all going to be deeper and more introspective. Nope, we have to sprinkle these lighter ones in here! But I’d still argue that this is also important. The amount of times I’ve “started” my coffee maker, gone to do other chores, then returned to it still unplugged is ridiculous. 

Along with turning it on, don’t forget to add coffee grounds, water, the mug to fill (if it’s that kind of coffee maker), and clean it periodically to flush out the lime build-up and other yucky stuff. Thank you for coming to my coffee lecture.

6. Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine

Everyone says this, don’t they? And I think it’s passed around so often for a reason — it’s true! Like I said earlier, I’m not a naturally optimistic or cheerful person all the time, and looking on the bright side isn’t my first inclination in hard times. 

But time and time again, it’s been shown that laughter makes things better. Finding a reason to smile and be joyful — in difficult situations, too — betters our health, moods, relationships, and even careers. It often takes an intentional decision to find something to smile about, but it always helps. 

7. Friends Come and Go

In the moment, we don’t often think of this. But friends come and go in our lives, many of them changing with the seasons of our lives. Our best friend one day may no longer be in contact with us years down the road, and someone we never noticed before may be our dearest companion now. 

It’s not typically a fun transition, and can be very painful. But the right people will come into our lives when we need them. Ultimately, it’s for our good. So we need to fully enjoy the people that have been placed near us right now.

8. Appreciate Life’s Beauty

As the saying goes: “stop and smell the roses”. This is another thing I’m not very good at doing. I don’t often take the time in my day to stop and recognize the beauty around me. But I should, and when I do, it really helps my mindset. Life is tough, definitely, but we live in a beautiful world.

It’s easy to find the things we don’t like about our surroundings, or the people we know. But it’s far better to look for the things we do like, the things that bring us joy, and the beautiful parts of nature and people. And when it comes to people, not just external beauty. Look for and appreciate the beauty inside. 

9. Listen More Than Speaking

This is a common reminder, for good reason. Have you ever heard the saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason?” It’s a good point! There aren’t enough good listeners in the world, and people are searching for someone to just listen to them, and let them know they’re valued. 

I want to be that sort of person, that others can come to and know that they have a safe space and someone to love them no matter what they’re going through. Sometimes words — no matter how well-intentioned — aren’t the right course of action. All we need to do is be present and listen.

10. Being a Fool is Okay

Did you know that one of the original meanings of the word ‘fool’ was referring to a jester? A jester would entertain the king with humor, silly antics, and slapstick bumbling. Next to nothing was off the table if it lightened the king’s spirits. 

So it’s okay to be a fool (of this kind). My sense of humor prefers corny dad jokes, groanworthy puns, and physical antics to raise people’s moods. And I’m still learning that it truly is okay — even if I look like a fool — to be silly for the benefit of others. 

11. You Can Be Good At Many Things — And an Expert at None

While I was growing up, I wanted to be countless things when I was older. But as time passed, I convinced myself that that wasn’t realistic; that I’d need to pick one and master it to be a success. The pressure of choosing wrong was hard to handle. How was I supposed to narrow down all my interests?

But it’s perfectly okay to develop skills and have hobbies in multiple areas, and in fact, it’s a good idea. We don’t have to master something to still do it well and make a career or fulfilling hobby from it. And though we’re naturally better at some things than others, we don’t have to — and can’t — be perfect at anything. 

12. Don’t Judge By First Impressions

We all know the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But we all do, don’t we? And just like we initially judge a book from its cover, we also tend to judge people from their outward appearances. We make snap judgements and form opinions of others even before we hear them speak or interact with them. 

And while we may learn some things from this initial judgement, we can’t know the whole story until we actually get to know the person. What we learn from interacting with them and talking to them may shock us, and be the last thing we expected. We can never know what someone’s truly like at a glance.

13. Everyone Has a Story

I’ve said this many times, and that’s because I really believe it. Everyone has a story — it’s true. Each of us has a unique, powerful, gripping, and interesting story to tell, even if we don’t realize it. Your unique life is uniquely beautiful. And so are the stories of everyone you pass on the street or smile at in a store. 

Sometimes we forget this and don’t bother getting to know someone or really listen to them — instead, making snap judgements, being cruel, or ignoring them. But we can learn so much from one another, and what we need to do is have open hearts and arms. What have the people around you lived through? 

14. People Are More Important Than Things

This seems obvious when said like that, but sometimes we still get caught up in the pursuit of money, things, or experiences that we feel will make our lives, and the lives of those around us, better. But what if what would really make all those lives better is to just spend time with our loved ones instead?

Too often, I get caught up in trying to accomplish things or earn more, and forget to prioritize the people in my life. Indirectly, I think I’m doing it for them, but what they really want is for me to just pay attention to them. Most people would choose to spend time with their loved one, rather than be given expensive gifts or live somewhere fancy because they’re always off working.

15. Don’t Feel Bad About Resting

Like I said above, sometimes I get caught up in accomplishing things and reaching goals, and don’t feel like I can stop and rest. Resting can feel like a waste of time; like I’m just being lazy. If I’m not careful, doing something fun can actually be stressful, because I think I should still be working instead. 

Of course, rest and fun things can be used to procrastinate, but deep down, I think we all know when we’ve crossed that line. In general, we need to balance our work with relaxation. If we don’t rest, we’re only going to do damage to our minds, bodies, and relationships with others. We’re not machines (last I checked, anyway).

16. Learn From Children

This seems kind of backwards at first glance, doesn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones teaching children about life and manners? Well, yes, but we can learn much from them as well. Lessons about innocence, friendship, acceptance, joy, and appreciating the beauty and good things in life. 

Children are so uninhibited, and while that can be a handful at times, there’s also something precious about it. They don’t care what others think. They’re not trying to be anything but themselves (and maybe a dog or dragon, sometimes). And we love them for it. I think we could all stand to be a bit more like children sometimes. 

17. Do What You Love

Although I’d love to use this tip and tell you that we don’t ever have to do things we dislike again, only things we love, I sadly can’t. We can’t only do things we love, at least not this side of Heaven. So when we have the chance, we should seize it. I’m referring to some of the smaller things in life that are up to us. 

For example, when exercising, if you hate running but love dancing, why force yourself to do something you dislike? Dance! What does it matter if you’re not even very good at it, or if other people think you shouldn’t. Find the opportunities that you have to bring joy into your life, and you’ll have an easier time dealing with the stress when unwanted tasks come your way. 

18. Prioritize Health, Not Image

Speaking of exercise, it can be all too easy to fixate on our looks. We see other people we think look better than us, we compare, we agonize over the fact that we don’t look like we want to…and in the process, we can make many unhealthy choices. In trying to look better on the outside, we can become more and more troubled and twisted on the inside. 

But being healthy is far more important than looking a certain way. We want to be strong, persistent, full of energy, fit, and able to do whatever amazing things we’re called to in life. A healthy person is always beautiful, but a beautiful person may not always be healthy, if they’re solely focused on the outside. Health should be the priority. 

19. Be Patient

This is a lesson I was blessed to learn from my late brother, a kind young man with a smile nearly as big as his heart. He had severe Cerebral Palsy, and couldn’t do much for himself. Physically, he didn’t have the same capabilities as many of us, and spent a lot of time waiting for others to help him. He must have at some point, but I never once saw him get impatient.

We’re (ironically) so quick to grow antsy and frustrated when things take longer than we want. We want instant gratification, first picks, and shorter lines. But some of the most beautiful, meaningful moments happen when we make the most of those waiting times. Slowing down to notice what’s going on in the midst of them can lead to opportunities we never expected.

20. Always Keep Learning

As I’ve said before, I still have much to learn. In the grand scheme of things, twenty years really isn’t that long. And from what I’ve heard, even after three times that much life, I won’t know even close to everything. But that’s okay. I like learning. 

No matter how long we’ve lived, where we are in life, or what we’ve experienced, we can — and should — always learn more. The more we learn, the more we can grow. So we should strive to keep our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open, and soak up all the wisdom we can get. We’re going to need it. 

Even though I still hardly know anything in the grand scheme of things, these twenty lessons have made a big difference in my life so far. What would you add? Are there lessons and truths you’ve had experience with over your lifetime? I’d love to learn from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “20 Lessons I’ve Learned in 20 Years

  1. Oh Bella, this was so beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing it!! (And happy birthday!!!! <3 😀 ) I really need to drill #2 into my head. I've been trying to force myself to say aloud what I'm thinking (like, usually I'll have plenty of replies in my mind to what someone says, but I never say them) and react like I would if no one was around; so basically, just being more unfiltered. In a GOOD way. 😉 😀

    1. Thank you so much, my friend! 🙂 <3 I'm so glad you enjoyed this. And YES, I completely understand what you mean by #2. It's such a struggle sometimes, isn't it? I'll pray that gets easier for you over time.

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