20 Life Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

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God & Man

1. You don’t have to please everybody

I’ve heard the saying “You can’t please everybody” a lot in my life, but I don’t think anyone ever told me that you don’t have to please anyone, period. This one was especially hard for me, a true people-pleaser, to come to terms with. It wasn’t until I was already an adult that I realized I have no obligation to satisfy anyone I meet. It’s not my job, and it’s not yours.

2. You can’t fix people

This is honestly one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. Especially as a young adult, I had a bad habit of throwing aside my own needs to “fix” people until I finally realized that a lot of my efforts were completely in vain. No matter how much time and energy you want to put into people, you can’t change them or save them. They can only fix themselves.

3. It’s not “selfish” to put yourself first

My whole life, I’ve been so afraid to be selfish, mostly because of the negative connotations that go hand-in-hand with the word. Because of that, I’ve always had a way of putting everyone else’s needs before my own. But selflessness isn’t about running yourself into the ground to make sure everyone around you is okay. Sometimes the best thing you can do for the people in your life is to meet your own needs before you try to meet theirs.

4. Nobody is obligated to love you

This isn’t a pill that’s easy to swallow. Through tumultuous breakups and heartaches, I’d always wallow about how unfair life was — how I’d done everything to make the other person happy but they still left anyway. I don’t like to admit this, but it’s true: no one has to stay in your life. No one has to love you. Sometimes you just have to let go of the idea that you deserved something and accept the fact that it’s not always going to feel fair — but that means the people who do love you are that much more special.

5. And similarly, you’re not obligated to love anyone

We grow up watching movies and reading books that tell us that we should love the people who “deserve” our love. We’re told that we have to love our family, even if they’re abusive and hurtful. We’re given guidelines for who deserves our time and who doesn’t. Let me tell you, it’s all bullshit. You don’t have to love your uncle who doesn’t respect your boundaries and constantly makes you feel bad about yourself. You don’t have to love a girl or a guy just because they’re nice to you. Your love isn’t some currency you owe people because they mark all the boxes of some checklist someone else made.

6. Sometimes when you speak your truth, somebody gets hurt

I grew up under the delusion that if I just spoke my truth and said what I really felt, everything would sort itself out. Kind of like they do in movies — someone makes a grand speech about how they feel and by the time the credits roll around, everyone’s had their happily ever after. Unfortunately, life isn’t so clean-cut, and figuring this one out pained a lot of people I cared for in the process. Sometimes your truth is going to hurt others, and you have to be aware of that.

7. Cutting out people from your life hurts at first, but it feels so much better in the long run

It’s hard to cut out toxic people, especially if they’re someone you actually care about. Face it, we don’t want to believe that the ones we love are the ones who hurt us the most. I’ve spent half my life torturing myself over loved ones who honestly made me miserable or made me hate myself completely. And while the idea of letting them go for good hurts at first, after a few months, you’ll be relieved to be rid of all the negative energy.

8. Listen to your intuition

While it’s easier to follow logic and reason, that doesn’t always mean it’s the most effective. You know that person, invitation, or idea isn’t good for you — everything inside you is screaming at you that it isn’t — but it’s so tempting to go ahead anyway. Stop. Seriously. I’ve learned by now that my gut feeling is almost always right, and ignoring it just leads me to more problems than I could have imagined.

9. You can help people without becoming directly involved in the situation

My friends used to say I wasn’t a dramatic person, but I was definitely a “drama magnet.” I was always being dragged into terrible situations, and though I used to be completely clueless as to why, it’s become increasingly clear throughout the years. My need to help people usually led me to becoming overinvolved in the situation to the point where other people’s drama basically became my drama, too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t help people out, but try to do so from a safe distance — if you start getting too involved, it’s probably best to just walk away.

10. Other people can’t make you happy

I’ve always been a very extroverted, sociable person. In college, I was rarely ever alone, probably because I gained a lot of happiness from being with my friends. Unfortunately, contriving happiness from a group of people is a short-term solution to a long-term problem — after all, when your friendships start taking a downward turn, so will your mental health. Should being around your friends make you happy? Of course. Should they be your only source of happiness? Probably not.

11. Good relationships are work

This goes for any kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise. You can’t just expect meaningful partnerships to maintain themselves. You have to communicate, compromise, and actively work toward a healthy rapport. A good relationship should feel easy — but that doesn’t mean putting zero effort into it at all.

12. You can’t control everything, but you should focus on the things you can

I have a habit of becoming particularly nihilistic when things that are out of my control start spiraling out. It’s frustrating when you quite literally can’t do anything about the things that are making you miserable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t control everything, and it’s important to focus on the things you do have a say in and find a way to cultivate that aspect of your life. If you’re actively trying to make a positive impact on your life, you’ll feel better about the situation you’ve been handed.

13. Never say “no” to a new possibility

The best thing I ever learned to do was say “yes” to new opportunities whenever they came knocking. Of course, I wasn’t always like that. When I was younger, I was always so scared to take risks, and because of that I probably missed out on a lot of great things that would have changed my life for the better. At the very least, say “maybe” — explore the idea of something new before turning it down. By the time I turned 20, I finally started saying “yes” to new experiences, and I’ve never once regretted it.

14. You won’t always be the hero of the story

This isn’t always easy to come to terms with, mostly because you are the protagonist in your life. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be the good guy in every narrative. It’s nearly impossible to go through life without hurting someone or letting them down, and you have to accept the fact that in some stories, you’re the villain. You’re the bad guy. Sometimes, you’re the greatest antagonist of all. You have to learn to be okay with the fact that you can’t control your image in other people’s narratives.

15. The best thing you can do is accept your shortcomings

That’s right, you’re flawed. So what? Everyone is. Don’t beat yourself up mercilessly because you aren’t some kind of perfectionist robot that does no wrong. I spent so much of my life hating myself for my own shortcomings, but there’s no point wasting so much energy being hard on yourself for being human. If you recognize your flaws, go out of your way to overcome them, but don’t be hard on yourself when they slip through. We’re all just people trying to figure out how to live life the best way we can.

16. Trauma will change you, but it won’t define you

You are not your trauma. I repeat: you are not your trauma. It does not define who you are or what you’re going to become. However, it will change you, and that’s okay. You can’t expect to come out of a struggle completely untouched. Don’t hate yourself for your battle scars — you are no less beautiful.

17. Time is the most valuable thing you have

I once had a boss who made it a point not to bother her with unimportant things. “Time is the most valuable thing you’ll ever have,” she told me. “Don’t waste it on things that aren’t worth it.” Back then, I kind of rolled my eyes at the idea, but as I grew older, I realized she was right. Time isn’t an unlimited resource, but we often take it for granted anyway. Don’t waste it on people or situations that don’t make you feel happy, excited, or productive. You’d be amazed what you can do with your time if you conserve it.

18. It’s never too late to try again

I don’t know why we always put a time limit on our dreams. It’s as if we believe that giving up once means that we should never try doing it again. But many successful people rarely became successful the first time around — it takes perseverance and hard work to get anything worth having. Go back to school, apply for your dream job, keep working toward your goal — whatever it may be, just do it.

19. There’s no shame in asking for help

I’ve always had a very hard time asking for help. Maybe it’s because I don’t like feeling vulnerable, or maybe it’s because I just never learned how to. Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is admit that you’re struggling and that you need somebody. No one expects you to shoulder all of your burdens alone.

20. There’s no such thing as a “wasted” lesson

While I wish I’d learned a lot of these life lessons sooner, it doesn’t mean they’re worthless now — if anything, it makes them more valuable. We are all humans who are learning to adapt, and just because you learned something a little too late to use it in one situation doesn’t mean you can’t apply it to another. Be grateful for the lessons life handed you through hardships — after all, they’re the ones well earned. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

About the author

Callie Byrnes

Callie is a writer, editor, and publisher at Thought Catalog. Her debut book, ‘The Words We Left Behind,’ was released in January 2024.

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