7 Life Lessons From History Every 20-Something Should Know

The Monuments Men
The Monuments Men

Heroes can come from anywhere.

You don’t have to be the big, muscular guy wearing the cape to do something really big, no matter what the superhero movies we grew up loving have taught us. Sometimes the most unlikely group of people — such as a bunch of historians and art experts who came together to save precious works of art from the Nazis at the front lines — come together to do something extraordinary. We tend to think of ourselves as “the kind of people to whom big things happen” and “everyone else” (because it makes for the best story), but in real life, nothing could be further from the truth.

Some people are late bloomers.

It’s so easy to think, early on in your career, that you are just never going to do great things. We are surrounded by prodigies and wunderkinds and people who become style icons at age 12. But it’s important to remember that in all fields, from business to entertainment (Lucille Ball didn’t start I Love Lucy until she was 40!) to politics, there are huge historical examples of people who never made it big until they were a little older. There is no reason to get on yourself for not being a huge success at age 25, just because we’ve been tricked into thinking that everything has to happen when you’re just starting out.

The biggest change can have the smallest beginnings.

One minute, you’re throwing a bunch of Lipton into the Boston Harbor, the next minute you’re fighting alongside the French for your independence from the biggest empire in the world. It kind of makes you realize how much good can come from your actions when you’re agonizing about whether or not to send that one little OKCupid message, doesn’t it?

You are the company you keep.

Throughout history, there have been people on the good and bad sides of every fight. It may not be a clear question of good vs evil at the time, but it’s a question of “How will the world look back on us in just a few short generations?” We know how it feels to look back on people yelling at civil rights marchers, or the people who went along with oppressive regimes complacently, or the people who ended up losing their heads in the French revolution. And whether or not you realize it in the moment, surrounding yourself with certain groups will end up meaning a lot about you. You may not always agree with what your friends are doing, but people will see you as if you do, and it may end up affecting your whole life.

Everyone had to start somewhere.

Some of the most iconic performers were raised in a brothel. Titans of industry started with nothing. George Clooney used to have this hairdo. What’s your excuse?

We often forget who brought us here.

The next time you’re looking at a precious painting that was this close to being lost forever to the Nazis, or feel like you’re stuck in a conversation with your great-aunt about what life was like back in her day, remember that history has to be preserved actively if we want to keep it. Only if we take the time to appreciate the things previous generations have left us — or remember the heroes who might not be as glamorous as the few names we keep in our mind — will things continue to matter. Because if you don’t care (even in your 20s) who will?

You never know where you’ll be tomorrow.

Whether you’re talking about the childhood of our current President, or the actual rags-to-riches stories of some of our country’s most prominent billionaires (with a B), it’s important to remember that these people did not know they were destined for greatness. Sure, most of them probably moved through life with determination and hope, but none of them could have been certain. And it’s the same with all of us. At the beginning of our professional or personal journeys, there are limitless possibilities ahead of us, and the only thing that will guarantee we won’t live out our dreams is to give up on them before they even had a chance. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

This post brought to you by Sony Pictures’ The Monuments Men – directed by and starring George Clooney. Based on a true story, it features a WWII platoon tasked with saving art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. See it in theaters on February 7th.


image – Monuments Men


More From Thought Catalog