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Life Lessons From My Twenties

When I was 20, I lived with my parents and didn't even have a driver's license. I've come a long way since then. I've travelled to 20 countries. And I'm still pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. Here are my life lessons from surviving my twenties.

If my 20- and 32-year-old selves met in a Back to the Future time warp, I'm not sure if they would recognize each other.

When I was 20, I lived with my parents and didn't even have a driver's license. I spent weekends working, studying, and watching movies in the basement. I'd never tried Thai food or sushi (!). I was stuck in a post-high school funk -- I struggled to make new friends and find my niche. The "dependent" box on my parents' income tax forms didn't even begin to describe me.

I've come a long way since then, but a few things haven't faded with age. I still care deeply about social justice issues. I've travelled to 20 countries. And I'm still pursuing my dream of becoming a writer.

And so, dear readers, here are my life lessons from surviving my twenties.

1. Sometimes, our parents are wrong

Parents don't always know what's best for us. They may have wise words and good intentions, but sometimes, their expectations are unrealistic, outdated, or just wrong for us. For years, my mother tried to transform me into a math whiz. I shed many tears over equations and geometric shapes. Even still, I considered taking computer science in university just to please my parents.

Luckily, I listened to my gut. I enrolled in English and History instead. Remember that you're the expert in your own life and you can proudly choose your own path. And if your parents disagree, it's no biggie -- they'll get over it and love you anyway.

2. Celebrate who you are

Embrace the person you are. If you can't be your true self, you won't be happy. There's no point in trying to live for someone else or be someone you're not. It usually leads to misery, resentment, or tears. Instead, celebrate your gifts and talents. Pursue your dreams, no matter how absurd they may seem to others. You were put on Earth for a reason and the world stands to benefit from your distinct presence.

3. Don't settle for comfort

When I was 20, I hibernated in the suburbs and didn't go out much. With courses and a part-time job, it felt like too much work to make "life happen." But after visiting a friend's dorm, I realized that I needed to shake things up. Three months later, I moved into St. Hilda's College. I made new friends, joined clubs, tried new foods, and rode my bike in treacherous city traffic. Today, I credit my independence and love of fun to that chapter in my life.

Unsettling yourself from the familiar can make your life fuller. It feels good to learn and test your abilities. If you're uncomfortable, it may be a sign of growing new skills. Go for it!

4. Take healthy risks

In the song "Clone," Emily Haines of Metric sings, "Nothing I've ever done right happened on the safe side." My greatest growths have emerged from taking calculated risks. After graduation, I took a job in a mill town located 30 hours north of Toronto. Everyone thought I was crazy, but I saw an opportunity for adventure and valuable work experience. Turns out I was right -- I advanced professionally in ways I never could have in the city. Taking healthy risks will pay off and enrich your life. Even when you gamble and lose, you still learn something.

5. Travel, travel, travel

At 20, I plastered my bedroom walls with maps and dreamed of exploring continents. Life is short -- get on a plane and go! Spend a semester or a year abroad and see as much of this big, beautiful world while you can. Travel isn't just a vacation, it's exposure to different people, cultures, and ideas. It can open your mind and shape who you are.

6. Be kind to yourself and others

Before her death, writer and activist June Callwood said she didn't believe in God or an afterlife -- but in human kindness. In my thirties, I now better understand her message. Changing the world starts with small acts of compassion from ordinary folk. It can be a smile, holding a door, or helping someone when they fall. It also means being kind and respectful to yourself, even when you screw up.

It takes so little effort to spread good will. Never dismiss your capacity to improve lives or make a contribution. As June said, "Great consideration for one another -- that's what's going to save the world."

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