21 things i've learned by 21

It’s my 21st birthday today. Another year of my life has passed, and I’m another year (marginally) wiser. So I thought I’d share with you some things I’ve collected for myself in my 21 years; things I’ve learned, things I’ve loved, mistakes I’ve made, and things I’m 21 years of grateful for. Kind of an updated focus list. It’s a good way to reflect on my short but exceptionally charmed existence.

This post began as something I wrote a few months ago when I was going through a difficult time and doing a lot of thinking, something to remind me of all the good things in my life. Too often we get caught up with our direction in life that we forget that the destination is just that—a destination. It’s equally important to focus on the now, and on the things that really define us. I loved writing this; it’s a fairly long post, but if you don’t read anything else on my blog, I hope you read this.

Two of my favorite people

Two of my favorite people


1. Be independent

Don’t let anyone tell you what to do with your life or let anyone dictate how you feel. Make your own mistakes. It’s difficult in a culture that simplifies our emotions into likes and favorites, but if you always seek approval or validation, your self-worth will always be determined by the opinions of other people.

2. Immediate gratification is overrated

3. It’s okay to be sad or angry or lonely

Don’t distance yourself from your emotions. Living a numb life is only an attempt to escape from your problems; it’s a different kind of pain that will never make you happy. Why would you simply exist when you have the capacity to feel? Indifference makes life pointless and devoid of passion. Allow yourself to feel, but also learn that these are impermanent states. Learn how to move past them. A fresh start is always possible.

4. Who you’re friends with is a reflection of you as a person

Surround yourself with people who support you, who inspire you. It’s so important to have good energy in your life—there’s really no point in fostering negativity. Fill your life with people that bring out your best qualities, and stop thinking about the people that bring out your worst.

5. It’s nice to be alone sometimes

6. Sometimes it’s okay to give up

Give up the things that aren’t healthy for you. Give up the things that just aren’t meant for you. Give up the things that don’t fit into your life right at this moment. Letting go of things gracefully is an art. It doesn’t mean you lost. It doesn’t even mean you’re giving up forever. It just means that you accept the fact that you cannot have everything.

7. Ambition is one of the most attractive qualities

You have so much to offer, and the worst thing you can do is waste your potential. Be confident in your abilities and relentless in your will to achieve what you want. Be proactive about your ambitions, or they’ll end up tucked away on a shelf with all your other “what-ifs.” Know what you want, and know that you deserve to have it.

8. It’s also okay to not know exactly what you want

Some people know from they moment they can articulate their thoughts, but for some people it’s a gradual process. Everyone is stumbling along at their own pace; it’s a matter of how confidently you can pull it off, and how willing you are to learn despite looking foolish.

9. Experiences outweigh everything else in life

There’s a richness in doing things, seeing places, meeting people, that just can’t be matched by anything material. Experiences are the things you remember. They make you feel things, they make life worthwhile. They’re the absolute best part of being human. Be a little irresponsible sometimes. We’re in our 20s; this is the last time we’ll have minimal responsibilities, and we don’t owe anyone anything. It’s okay to make mistakes. And sometimes having a good story to tell is worth more than anything tangible.

10. Naps are everything

This is something I didn’t learn until my sophomore year of college. And also that sometimes a long, hot shower can solve 90% of your problems.

11. Love is wonderful

I think falling in love is one of the things I’ve been most fortunate for in my life so far. Be a little vulnerable sometimes, because it could be the best decision you could possibly make. Don’t be afraid of caring for people. Love someone that gives you butterflies, no matter how long you’re together, and who instantly makes you feel better when you hug them, even in your worst moments. Love someone that loves everything about you and wants to grow with you. Don’t lose them over the stupid things, because those things will be irrelevant in a week, but that person won’t be. Don’t just fall in love with people, either. Fall in love with moments and sensations. Fall in love with your life, and with just being alive.

12. Pay attention to the things people say when they’re angry

Sometimes they’ll mean them and sometimes they won’t, but know that they will most likely regret it. Forgive them, but don’t forget. Don’t say "it’s okay" when you mean "I accept your apology." It’s also important to listen. Sometimes empathy is more important than solving the problem, and people just want to know that you understand.

13. The word “should” is an awful one

We spend so much time worrying about what we “should” be doing, or what “should” make us happy. But happiness depends on your perspective. The less we desire, the more content we can be with our own lives. Be happy with the person you are. People and things and achievements are only temporary sources of happiness. Happiness, above all things, is a choice. Be completely unapologetic and be honest, with everyone, but most importantly with yourself. Don’t feel like you have to justify what you want or what makes you happy.

14. Take risks

Do things out of your comfort zone. Don’t let your life control you. This one has always been difficult for me, because I’m often bored by convention but simultaneously afraid to stray too far from it. But there’s a quote by entrepreneur Randy Komisar that’s honestly changed the way I think: "And then there is the most dangerous risk of all—the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later." It sounds like a very first world problem (and in a lot of respects, it is), but life is too short to be unhappy. I’ve recently started making an effort to do things that push me to put myself out there, and I think it’s made all the difference.

15. Save the things you write when you’re angry or sad

Whether it’s text messages or letters or sticky notes, save them. Read them every once in a while and re-evaluate.

16. Regrets are lovely and terrible things

They keep you stuck in moments in your life, instances in which you’d made different decisions. Some people say they don’t have them, but I think deep down we all do. I think a life without regrets is impossible, but regrets make us a little bit smarter. With regrets, we have the luxury of retrospection. I’m still learning to be grateful for my mistakes, where they’ve led me, and the person I’ve become because of them. Eventually, I hope I’ll be satisfied with the decisions I’ve made, even if they didn’t make me the happiest at the moment. But the worst regrets are the ones you carry with you your entire life. Don’t let your past stop you from living in the present. And don’t be satisfied with not knowing because you were too shy or too selfish or too proud.

17. Work hard, but don’t stress too much

Once, when I was overwhelmed with a project at work, my mom told me that a lot of things in life are like planning a wedding—inevitably, you’ll stress over the dress and the caterer and the flowers. But at the end of the day, you’ll get it done because there literally is no other option. One way or another, you’ll make it happen. I actually think about this a lot.

18. Much of life can be simplified into luck and timing

Luck is often shy, but timing is a heartless bitch. Sometimes, no matter how perfect everything else is, timing will be that final, impossible piece that refuses to fit. And it’s a tragic reality, but it is reality. Sometimes things just don’t work out and you think that maybe in another time or in another universe, it would work. And you could be right. But you have to focus on the life you’re living now rather than the life you could be living.

19. Don’t be bitter

It’s easy to be angry and blame other people. It’s easy to be stubborn, to convince yourself that your conviction makes you a stronger person (I do this frequently and self-righteously, and it usually ends in a breakdown). But keeping feelings bottled up really only damages yourself. It eats away at you and leaves you unsatisfied, even if it takes you years to realize it. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my mistakes, it’s that I can’t be bitter about them. Bitterness makes you sad and resentful, and it weighs on your subconscious. It ruins memories and things you could be grateful for.

20. Spirituality is important

Cynicism is important. The key is finding a balance between the two. I struggle a lot with the idea of a dichotomy between being ruthless and focused on the future, and taking time to enjoy the more aesthetic nuances of life. I think you need both. Time is the only thing we can never get back, so it’s important to make the most of it. Don’t be too jaded to savor the little things, or let your ego get the best of you. And don’t get too caught up in your own thoughts. Be open-minded. Don’t judge people too quickly, and don’t make up your mind indefinitely. Growing is a part of life, possibly the most important part, and you have to accommodate it.

21. There’s an endless number of things to be grateful for in life

I hate the word "blessed," but sometimes I really do feel that way, because not only do I live such a richly fulfilled life, but I have the self-awareness to appreciate it. In the wise words of Oprah Winfrey, "The more you praise and celebrate in life, the more in life there is to celebrate." Whenever you’re feeling a little alone or a little insignificant, take the time to notice the brilliance of the world around you. Remember that life has so much to offer, and you’ve only seen a very small part of it.

After reading this for the millionth time, I realize that some of these are kind of contradictory. But that’s life, I suppose. I don’t think it’s smart to live in a state of extremes or with so many self-imposed rules, anyway. It’s healthier and more realistic to expect that over time we as individuals will evolve—in our personalities, our tastes, our philosophies. On a somewhat-related note, writing this reminded me of something I found back in high school, called 50 Things University Taught Me: First Year. It’s very honest and provocatively written, and I think out of everything I read to prepare me for college, it was that piece that made the most lasting impression.

Share some of the things you live by in the comments; I'd love to hear them :).