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21 Things I Learned By 21

Since turning 21 amidst a pandemic and quarantine, I have done a lot of reflecting in my free time.  21 is this weird age where you feel so young compared to the people that are older than you, and yet so old compared to the people that are younger than you.  It seems like you have experienced everything you possibly could, but also have had the hardest times of your life.  Hopefully, though there are many years ahead filled with learning, making memories, making mistakes and crazy experiences.  With all of this in mind, I thought what better time to talk about what these last 21 years have taught me than right now.

You are valid.

Your struggles and feelings, no matter how “trivial” you may think they are or people may tell you they are, are valid.  Your pain is valid and it is not something that you need to explain or have it “make sense” to other people.

Anger isn't worth it.

Staying angry isn’t worth it.  Angry or harsh feelings will take a toll on your mind, body and heart which just makes life a lot harder.  Never say goodnight or goodbye with bad feelings or intentions.

Passions are the BEST.

Finding something you enjoy doing is so important to your entire being.  What makes you happy when you are alone will also make you happy when you are around others.  Whether it is making playlists on Spotify, journaling, reading, playing ukulele or painting, find what makes you smile even when you are simply thinking about it.

Don't spend too much time on social media.

Social media isn’t all it is cracked up to be.  Although it is fun and can be a great means of communication, many bad parts coincide.  People can be mean or fake, and a lot of people hide behind a facade as they only showcase the highlights.  Seeing one constant highlight reel can make it really tough to be on social media.  Take social media breaks, unfollow people who don’t make you happy or inspired and do what makes you feel good.

Surround yourself with the best people.

Having little to no friends is better than surrounding yourself with people whose company you really don’t enjoy or who don’t treat you how you should be treated.  Toxicity just isn’t worth it.  Don’t cross an ocean for someone who wouldn’t hop over a puddle for you.

Put yourself first.

It is okay to be selfish sometimes, in fact, it’s even necessary.  Doing what is best for you is so unbelievably important, even if it’s not what your family or the people around you want.

Don't go to college just because people tell you to.

College isn’t always all it’s built up to be and it isn’t everyone’s path. If you want to go, go. If you don’t want to go, don’t.  Do what you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Little things matter the most.

Personal growth isn’t always blatantly obvious.  Sometimes you will feel stuck and like nothing is changing or getting better, but internally, changes are happening.  You are becoming stronger, wiser and more independent - regardless if you see, notice or feel it.

You get to choose what to forgive and forget.

Second chances are okay, but not necessary.  If someone hurts you and tries to come back into your life, don’t feel like you have to let them back in.  Do what is best for you and if that is cutting them out, then do it.  It is important for your heart and mind to forgive and not harbor bad feelings, but that doesn’t mean you have to let the person back into your life.

Your mental health does not define you.

Mental illness and struggling with mental health isn’t something to be ashamed of.  It is okay to struggle, it is okay to not be okay.  It is better to open up and seek out help than go through it alone.  You deserve to be happy.

Self care is necessary.

This may sound stereotypical, but self care and self love are real things and need to be prioritized. Checking in on yourself and doing things that make you feel good is crucial. Spend time with yourself, treat yourself and make sure you are loving yourself the way you deserve to be loved.

Educate yourself and be open-minded.

Educating yourself and doing research are so important to every facet of your being.  Many of us have grown up in small towns with one belief system that is built on close-mindedness.  Use college or whatever your new path is to learn and think for yourself.

Dream big, but be realistic.

Dreams are not the same as expectations.  Having dreams and setting goals for yourself is a much more positive means of getting to where you want to go. Going into something with expectations is super dangerous.  If the expectations are met, or even outdone, it is amazing, but if things don’t live up to your expectations, it sucks and can even be more heartbreaking.

Be proud of being introverted.

Being an introvert doesn’t make you any less of a person. It is okay to be extroverted, but it is also okay to be introverted.  Don’t let somebody guilt you into going somewhere or doing something you don’t want to do.

Privilege is real and it’s important to acknowledge it and learn about it.

Privilege is a thing.  It was a very hard pill for people to swallow and I even struggled to admit that I have privilege as a white person.  It’s important that we educate ourselves and acknowledge that privilege is a thing and work to recognize and bring awareness to it.  Utilize your voice and your space to open up spaces for people that don’t have the privilege that you do. 

Make memories and be intentional.

Capture as many memories as you can. You don’t need to go somewhere or do something and sit on your phone taking pictures and videos the whole time - in fact, being present and acting with intent should be a priority.  But if you see something cool or have a really good experience, capture it in some way.  Looking back on those moments is one of the best feelings in the world.

Being single is OKAY.

You don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy and you don’t have to let society tell you what to do with your love life.  There is so much pressure, especially for women, to find the one and to constantly be in a relationship.  But it’s important to put yourself first and love yourself before you love someone else.

Learn from the past, focus on the future.

This is going to sound super SUPER cheesy, but this is really important. It is a metaphor that a professor said in class this past semester actually, “you can’t reach your destination if you drive while looking in the rearview mirror.” Always look to the future, keep moving forward.  Breathe in the future, breathe out the past.

It is okay not to drink.

Drinking isn’t the only way to have fun and deciding not to drink is okay.  If you like partying and drinking, by all means, go hard and have fun, but if you don’t like drinking or parties, don’t let people make you feel guilty or like you’re the oddball out.

Good things take time.

Your future dreams don’t have to be a current reality.  What you truly are passionate about and what you really want to do may not always seem realistic at the time, but you will get to a time and place where they get closer.

Life is short, time is precious, make the most of it.

Time is the most precious thing we have.  Do what makes you happy, find what drives you, motivates you and makes you passionate. Spend time with people you love, go out of your way to see them or text and call them.  Laugh really loud, act crazy and dance around in public.  Use the short time we have in this life to do what you want and to create the best possible memories you can.

Growing up is hard. But the lessons you learn along the way? Invaluable.

Rachel Holt

Wisconsin '21

Rachel is currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison studying Retailing & Consumer Behavior, Communication Arts, Digital Studies and Entrepreneurship. She loves fall, 'snoozles' with her pug, and Harry Potter.
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