One year ago, I had fever dreams about my roaring twenties, which involved glittering academic success, dazzling career opportunities, and a whole lot of glamour. Little did I we know that the most glamour we’d see in 2020 would be influencers wearing pillows passing as dresses. Yep, 2020 was wild. I don’t use the term fever dream lightly, as I was literally down with a bad winter flu, using my time in bed to map out some kind of 2020 masterplan…and binge watch old 2010s shows.
In a year that delivered burning bush fires, climate crises, earthquakes, urgent calls for widespread social justice activism, and a deadly (ongoing) global pandemic, it felt inherently selfish to address one’s personal issues, or even admit to struggling, because there was the obvious acknowledgment of the greater, more serious calamities that were happening globally. However, by the end of the year, after serious self-reflection, I realised that the suppression of my emotions (good or bad) only perpetuated the cycle of feeling sad, confused, or just plain uncomfortable. Let’s be honest, at times 2020 just felt uncomfortable. Oftentimes, social media only worsened this denial, due to its constant comparison culture, aka a my life is worse than yours, so your emotions are invalid culture. This (unless it was addressing white guilt, Karens, or the “what-about…” people) had the tendency to make us feel self-indulgent or guilty for addressing our personal issues. So, I decided that my 20th birthday would mark the beginning of a new type of freedom—the freedom to feel. I know that sounds soul-searchingly obnoxious but hear me out: the conscious decision to address and work on what I’m feeling, in that moment, without internal judgement. Easy stuff, right?
In a year that delivered burning bush fires, climate crises, earthquakes, urgent calls for widespread social justice activism, and a deadly (ongoing) global pandemic, it felt inherently selfish to address one’s personal issues, or even admit to struggling, because there was the obvious acknowledgment of the greater, more serious calamities that were happening globally.
It took an entire global pandemic for me to re-consider my approach to self-growth as a form of internal determination…and that’s okay. Our world is one crisis away from being officially classed as dystopian—I find myself unafraid to prioritise my mental well-being, alongside my other “more glamourous goals”. Alongside many others, my birthday was celebrated in midst of new normal, whatever that means for you. For me, it was a Zoom pyjama parties, my mom’s comfort food, and Disney movie marathons. But also, deep self-reflection. I scrapped my Gatsby game plan in favour of setting simpler resolutions; ones that were achievable, sustainable, and uplifting. No detoxes or get-rich-quick schemes allowed here. At 20 I am still myself, perhaps a little jaded (because who isn’t, after the past year), but also more myself than I have ever been before. I also realised that I was leaving my teenage years, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pass some big sister wisdom (I use the wisdom very tentatively) and share some lessons I learnt, not just from the past year, but over the course of the last two decades of my life. I couldn’t do it alone though, so I asked my favourite musical artist, all-round queen, and fellow 20-year-old RIKA to share her biggest life-lessons and advice about self-growth, relationships, and celebrating a British-Asian identity. She is a London-based pop sensation who has topped the UK charts with her songs No Need (2017), Left to Love ft. Mickey Singh (2020), and her new 2020 EP ‘Doses’. RIKA is the internet’s resident cool girl and our new BFF (self-professed hellooo).
Here are the 20 things we learnt at 20 in 2020:
1. Practise your online presence…offline.
Give me a sec to sound like your mom. Social media has become intrinsically linked to our social culture, in that our personal interactions are also digital. We leave comments, send DMs, and find ourselves conflating likes to self-worth. I have realised that I can consciously channel my social media presence, offline. This is relevant to areas like activism (and how we practise it in our personal communities) or just simple interactions. Now more than ever, I feel like our interactions can be strengthened by things like FaceTime, a socially distanced walk, or a coffee date (when it’s next safe to do so). Next time I leave a comment, I plan to send a text asking to FaceTime instead, to show my friends that I intend to show up, in perhaps a more personal way that just a social media gesture.
2. You will attract the same energy you give out.
Whether you believe in cosmic karma or energy, being a good person tends to lead you to more good people. Practising gratitude, self-reflection, and kindness will not only improve your well-being, but will probably nurture a good community around you.
3. Do More than Manifest
RIKA: “I was trying to get into manifestation, and I was like…girl, this is actually not working. Is this a sham? I mean, I know manifestation got half the population through 2020. I’ve learnt that it’s more about changing your mindset. Manifestation is very like, oh if I sit down and write down “This is going to happen, this is going to happen” 10 times, it’ll happen, but no, it’s effort on your part as well! Girl, get up, and make it happen. Work hard for the goals you’ve dreamed and written about! You have to become the person you want to be, and by extension, your dreams will be attracted to you.”
4. Allow yourself to feel
RIKA: “However you feel, is perfectly okay. You don’t have to feel like 10/10 all the time, otherwise you’ll just be forcing it, and that’ll hurt yourself more. Humans are organic. We wake up one day and feel amazing, and the next day, we feel like tearing someone’s head off. We all have those ups and downs. Knowing how to manage yourself, and take care of you first, is super important.”
5. Know what you can control
In interactions and human associations, we can’t always control how the other person will act, what they will say to us, or what they will do. Ultimately, all we can control our reaction to it, how we process it, and how we can move on in a healthy way. It certainly isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy, and we all deal with situations differently. However, it’s important to remember that we have the agency to set and control our boundaries with people.
6. Invest in Yourself
RIKA: “I feel like I’ve completely changed. When I look at pictures of myself in January, I just think “who are youuuuu?” You don’t look like me. I just see someone else completely different. I’m trying to find the good in everything, so I’m grateful I went through 2020, because it gave me more time with my family. I’ve had so much time to invest in myself. I feel like I’ve done groundwork to ready-up for the next part of my life. I even mean this in the sense of “okay, I’ve just come out of my teen years, what do I want to do know? Who do I want to be? I’m ready for the next couple of years in my life.”
7. Be Conscious of the Content you’re Consuming
You control your social media feed; your social media feed doesn’t control you. Good content is created with intent and integrity because its purpose is more than just consumption. It should be to motivate, uplift, inspire, educate you, and more. If creators and brands do not align with your personal values or seeing them is doing more harm than good—just unfollow! It’s easy to feel as though the algorithm is controlling us (it kinda is, but that’s a conversation for a different day), so it’s imperative to take charge of what you’re consuming. Your feed should be a safe space, and one that you genuinely enjoy. Also, yes, unfollow those people from high-school, I promise you they won’t care.
8. Social Media should be fun
RIKA: “I hate seeing social media as a way to promote yourself or my music. I see it as a way to connect with people; people who also brown, who have a similar heritage to me, or just enjoy certain content. I think it’s important to be humbler on social media, never forget where you come from, otherwise your head will get too big and you’ll fly to the sun and pop.”
9. Your social circles get smaller…and that’s okay.
If there’s one thing I realised in my late teen years was that you will naturally drift away from certain people. People follow their own paths in life, and you will follow your own. I spent too many hours agonising over ‘expired’ friendships where one person was not investing the same amount of interest or time, when I could have simply, *moved on*. I know it’s easier said than done but knowing when a friendship has finished will give you suitable closure and stop you from holding onto false expectations. Who knows, you may reconnect with them in the future! But in the meantime, there’s so many people you have yet to meet, and who will love you!
10. Practise Gratefulness more often
RIKA: I’ve learnt to be more grateful, especially this year, because I know there’s so many people who are in much more difficult situations. I’m grateful my health, my family’s health, and getting to do the things I love.
11. Read More for Pleasure
Ignore that I’m a Literature student and trust me, reading for fun is so good for you. It’s an amazing alternative for scrolling through Instagram before bed, and it’ll definitely benefit you. Whether you’re a fan of self-improvement guides, true-crime, mystery, or rom-com – read more!
12. Body Acceptance is difficult, but it’s necessary.
RIKA: “Sometimes, I find myself wishing I had my 16-year-old body…like girl, THAT’S A CHILD! I’m practising self-acceptance and loving my body consciously. In the past year especially, I’ve seen my body change so much. I think it’s important to remember that you should work out for yourself, to improve your wellbeing. If you want to change your body, it should be for yourself! Not for social media or for anyone else.”
13. Gut feelings are guardian angels
Your intuition is powerful, and often right.
14. Don’t Get Swept Up by Hustle Culture (19.15)
RIKA: “I always knew I wanted to sing because it brought me joy, so I chose to pursue that. However, there’s no pressure to work super hard, or “hustle” throughout your 20s. I feel like (on the internet) people get angry when you want something more “normal”, like if you want to settle down or have kids.”
Choice is what is empowering. So, whatever path a person wants to follow, they should have the freedom to pursue it, whether it flows in our society’s ‘hustle culture’ stream or not.
R: “Yes! It doesn’t have to be everyone being CEO. It’s empowering to know you can be either/or. Not everyone has to be a ‘boss b*tch’; being a boss b*tch is making moves for yourself!”
15. Be your authentic self!
In the past, I feel like my personality has been dictated by what trend was dominant in our cultural Zeitgeist. Social media also has a paradoxical tendency to encourage all of us to be different, but not too different in that we don’t fit into a boxed aesthetic, whether it be personality (e.g. ‘bruh’ girls) or fashion style (cottage core, dark academia, e-boy). Why can’t we have it all?
RIKA: “I’ve seen people completely change themselves, in line with fashion trends or something and I’m like girl…where did you go? It’s all about enhancing yourself, not completely changing. As long as you want to do it, GO FOR IT! It’s your choice, but don’t change for someone else.”
16. Breaking into an industry is hard, but it’s important to be fearless in breaking barriers.
RIKA: “Honestly, as a Brown girl, it’s even harder. It’s important to note that I’m also ‘white-passing’ Brown, so I feel like it’s very different than the experience of South Asian girls who are darker. Colourism is so prevalent in this country, and in our cultural communities here.”
17. Relationships are tricky…periodt.
RIKA: “Take your time, and don’t feel like you need to rush into anything. Never feel like you’ve ‘missed’ out on anything if you didn’t date when you were younger. You have your time to do that now.”
18. Embrace your identity. Celebrate it!
I know we’ve all had the phase of hating our skin-colour, hair, eyebrows, food, outfits, and culture in general. Oftentimes, this is the inevitable by-product of growing up in a non-inclusive environment with minimum exposure to diversity, surrounded by non-POC peers. However, this is the time to embrace your culture, and how it empowers you. More and more BIPOC creators are using their voice, artistry, and talents to showcase different cultures, in hopes of inspiring other young people to embrace theirs.
RIKA: “I’ve never shied away from telling people I’m Indian, or that I’m a Brown girl. I’ve worn traditional pieces in my music videos, I’ve sang in Punjabi with Mickey Singh, and I want to do so much more of that in the future!”
19. Shoot your Shot
…in your career and personal life. Over the past year, I have worked up the courage to start reaching out to people in my industry or university, to ask them for advice or just talk to them about their journeys. The more you apply for opportunities, send those LinkedIn messages, and talk to professionals, the more confidence you will gain. Take the risk, apply for that out-of-my-league job, send that email – it could be so worth it. As I start my 20s, I’m endorsing being brave & bold; taking the initiative to make opportunities for yourself.
20. “I’m not interested in competing with anyone. I hope we all make it.”
A quote I reflect on a lot. It’s important to remember that whilst being in a competitive environment is character-building, it can also be damaging to our mental health and confidence. We’re all in our own lanes, working towards personal goals. Congratulate and celebrate other’s successes genuinely, remembering that their success does not detract from yours. I want to see all my friends live their best lives!
I am still learning, unlearning, and growing, but I am so grateful to have this online space to share my journey with you. Have an amazing 2021!
Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the deputy editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s ‘Arts and Culture’ publication. She explores what "multi-cultural identity" looks like, in London and beyond, within her writing. She is the author of the exclusive digital column "Ketki & The City", where she explores life at the intersection of Gen Z and diaspora.