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Things I Wish I Knew at 21

What We Would Tell Our 21-Year-Old Selves If We Had the Chance

Turning 21 is a huge moment in your life. You're in a crazy whirlwind process of finishing college, figuring out what you want to do with your life, and preparing to embark on life as < a href="">a true adult — whatever that means. It's simultaneously so terrifying and so exciting, and with your mind battling millions of thoughts at once, it's easy to forget to take a moment to just stop stressing and enjoy this time period while it lasts (spoiler: it goes by quickly). It's always good to hear reassuring advice from people who have been exactly where you are right now. I spoke with men and women in their 20s and 30s to find out what they would tell their 21-year-old selves if they had the chance. Here's what they said:

  1. You should never judge your own life progress based on other people — your journey is your own, and what other people are doing shouldn't factor into it. Dwelling on your friends' jobs, grades, and relationships will do nothing but make you feel inadequate! Seeing everybody else succeed via Facebook and Instagram is a dangerous thing, and it's best just to ignore all of that. Focusing on yourself is the most important, and you should be proud of your accomplishments and personal successes without feeling the need to compare yourself to others.
  2. Just stop wasting time with that guy or girl who will NEVER COMMIT. Move on, stop going back, and date around. Focus your energies on your friends, family, and yourself. He or she will make you cry, and they will break your heart; they're just not worth it. Enjoy being single and young now, because soon you'll meet the love of your life, and the energy you wasted on this messy "relationship" will seem so meaningless.
  3. I wish I'd known that college was the only time I would ever live with — or that close to — so many of my best friends. I would have gone over more, stayed later, had more sleepovers, etc.
  4. Stop stressing about the fact that you're not totally in love with your first job — it's a foot in the door and a paycheck, and it does not have to dictate your entire career path.
  5. Don't assume that you're just going to have it together when you hit 21. If you haven't made tidying up, working out, or anything else "adults" do a habit, then it's not going to suddenly happen by itself once you're out of college. And that's OK.
  6. You might have fewer friends than ever, but don't feel lonely. Your friendships will be deeper, and your friends are stronger and more supportive.
  7. Hangovers get exponentially worse as you age. Prepare for this.
  8. Travel now (even if it drains your already minimal bank account). Life will only become more complicated. Take advantage of your freedom and flexibility and have an adventure (or two, or three . . . ).
  9. Soak in your friends. As you get older, you can still live 10 minutes away and have months pass without seeing one another.
  10. Wear your retainer. Just do it. It's way better than getting Invisalign or braces down the road.
  11. Read the books! Stop taking your literature classes for granted. You will never again have these sorts of thoughtful, insightful, and passionate professor-led book discussions with similar-minded peers. It's a lot more difficult trudging through 1,000-plus pages of Russian lit once you're on your own in the "real world."
  12. Don't feel like you have to spend your money on dive bars every night. You'll have your whole life to go to bars. Also, Costco is a great place to buy alcohol when you're on a budget!
  13. Leaving passive-aggressive Post-it notes for roommates about cleaning up their mess isn't the best form of communication.
  14. Stop freaking out that you don't know EXACTLY what you want to do with your life yet. Figure out what you like, and start exploring that direction. But don't have a quarter-life crisis because you think you're going nowhere — pretty much no one has their life's plan figured out by age 21.
  15. Call your mom more often.
  16. Whatever money you're able to save, spend it on experiences, not materialistic things.
  17. Treat your body well. It's easy to revel in being 21, but remember to take care of yourself too. Find balance! Don't binge-drink and then crash diet. Ramen is cheap, but make sure to have some sort of vegetable every day. Plus, your metabolism only goes downhill, so you may as well give it a good jumping-off point.
  18. Picture two lines on a graph with your age at the horizontal axis and your time at the vertical. One line represents freedom, and the other represents responsibility. As you get older, the responsibility line on the graph keeps moving up, and the freedom line keeps moving down. Twenty-one should be the prime time: while you do have some responsibilities to study and/or to work, you also should have a lot of freedom — you don't have a family yet or a mortgage. Make sure to enjoy the limited time that you have more freedom than you do responsibility!
  19. Write things down. You think you'll remember everything that's happening, but you won't. Write down memories of those hilarious college nights, stress-inducing job hunts, embarrassing moments, and important days. You'll love rereading those memories years down the road. Oh, and save the screenshots of your texts; those are going to be gold one day.
  20. Listen to your heart more. If it's giving you signs that something is or isn't right, trust it. Don't be so afraid of hurting someone else that you hurt yourself.
  21. Have more fun.

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Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Mark Popovich
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