21 Things I Learned By 21

I’m 21!!! Birthdays are for celebrating and reflecting on everything that made you who you are today. I’ve been inspired by little things I’ve read, things people have said to me and the tiny lessons I’ve learned each day as I figure out life as an adult. Big and small, here are 21 things I’ve learned (and am still learning) by my 21st.


1. Turning 21 is overrated. There is so much social stigma around your 21st birthday; the pressure to buy your “first drink” and post all about it on social media. I’ve learned that not all celebrations have to be that way. Everyone has their own way of celebrating their life and own idea of a perfect night, the perfect life. It’s okay to have your own version, and the thing that’s taken me some time to learn is to love my own.


2. Family is everything. I’ve learned that no matter how far I go, or how old I get, my family will always be there for me. Call your parents, and tell them about your day, they really want to know. Spend the bus fare to visit your aunt more often. Talk about books with your grandpa over the phone and listen to his never-ending collection of stories about when he was young and the many lives he’s lived; there’s so much to learn.


3. Younger siblings are your best friends. Call them more often. Every time I see my little sister and brother, they’re different. My younger brother towers over me, and my sister introduces me to more music than I do her. Sometimes I feel like I miss everything in their lives and I come home to new people. Your brothers and sisters are your best friends, and they miss you as much as you miss them.


4. Read more books. There are so many things to learn about, lives to live and worlds to be a part of. Make time to read for pleasure, even if it’s only 20 minutes before bed. My grandpa tells me there’s nothing more magical than a good book and that it’s the only way we can live a life outside of our own.


5. Live passionately. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that you’re too soft-hearted or sensitive. Feel everything as deeply as you can, with every emotion you have. Care so much about others that they feel it when you’re together. Love fearlessly and be hopelessly romantic. Write poems for your best friends, pay it forward and buy coffee for a stranger, decorate your room with fairy lights and spray lavender on your pillow before bed. It’s okay to feel with your heart before your head. We don’t do or say way too many things out of fear of rejection or heartbreak. Set your heart free and watch how much grows.


6. Listen to your music out loud. In a time when Bluetooth headphones and airpods are the “thing,” play your music out loud. Sing to your roommate, dance around your room, while your cooking dinner or studying for a test. Take your headphones off and dance to the awkward music playing in the grocery store. Music is one of the most intimate parts of the human experience. It’s meant to be shared. Obviously, don’t blast your music on a crowded bus. Instead, enjoy the silence and the subtle conversation, that’s all music too. 


7. Do more things that make you forget about your phone. Go outside, write a letter, read a book in a coffee shop, go to a concert, a museum, meet up with friends. The real world--the messy and inspiring one--is the one we need to fall back into.


8. In a world where there is so much “no,” surround yourself with “yes.” (My stepdad tells me this every day, and I finally get it!) Be around the people who say “yes” to midnight pancake runs, last minute road trips, spontaneous tattoos and 5 AM sunrises at the beach. The people who get up and “dance it out with you,” who help you finish your paper at 11:50 PM, and who make you smile are the real gems in your life. Surround yourself with people who are friends with the dreams you have for yourself.


9. At the end of the day, you’re all you’ve got. One of the biggest things I’ve learned about adulthood so far is that I’m in charge of my own happiness. Trust yourself to do what is best for you. Surround yourself with good people, listen to the inner voice that tells you to take that class, quit that job, or move to that city. Don’t compare yourself to other people, do what’ll make you grow and what’s right for you.


10. Treat your body like it’s the greatest gift you’ll ever receive. It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable in mine, and every day I’m learning something new about its strengths, its weaknesses, and its imperfect beauty. Eat foods that make you feel your best, decorate it however you like, give it what it needs to grow. Exercise and push it to its limit and enjoy the sore muscles the next day, because they’re getting stronger. Recognize that it has housed all that you are, protected you, and carried you everywhere you’ve gone.


11. It’s not selfish investing time and money in yourself. Treat yourself like you would your best friend. Stay in on Friday night and take a bubble bath, spend money on skincare, cook yourself dinner, get up earlier to do your make-up, take yourself out for coffee, or buy yourself something special. You deserve it.


12. Appreciate the little things in life. I like to say I fall in love at least six times a day. Fall in love with the book you’ve read four times, the moment your favorite song came on in a store, the first sip of coffee in the morning, the color of the sky at sunrise or the sound of your grandmother’s laugh over the phone. Fall in love with the moments that make you feel most alive.


13. Write more letters. There is no better feeling than receiving a letter in your best friends handwriting.


14. Talk to the people around you. Humans are meant to connect, and we need to bring awareness to that connection. Let everybody be your people. Say hi to the person sitting next to you at the restaurant, ask the cashier at the supermarket about their day, compliment someone on their outfit. It’s not awkward, I promise.


15. Take more pictures. Capture moments you can look back on and remember the feeling you felt, how hard you laughed, the peace, the love, the stillness. That way, when you look at them, you feel like you never left that place.


16. Sometimes we want more control over what happens to us, but we can’t possibly be ready for everything. When you’re at peace with the “not knowing” part of life, you end up finding happiness everywhere. Embrace the amazing timing of your life, how fast things can change when you’re not paying attention and trust yourself to do what’s best for you.


17. Exist with the world around you. Travel and see how much your perspective has changed when you come back. Get lost in the middle of nowhere, take that bus, walk that trail. Embrace the world around you until you feel its greatness and know you are apart of it.


18. You are not always going to be the smartest person in the room. You are not always going to be the most talented, the most experienced or the wisest. Stay humble. Be kind.


19.  Love people and let them love you in return. Different people have different ways of showing their love. Be open to receiving it as deeply as you give it.


20. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences with others. Tell people about the places you traveled to and how they changed the way you look at life. Offer people advice. Tell them what you think. Share yourself with others.


21. Some of your best days haven’t happened yet. Count on what life has in store for you, and trust it. Don’t treat every moment like it’s transitory. You do not have to have everything figured out. Don’t be so quick to rush out of the place you’re in. Be 21, be undeniably yourself; you’re good here.