21 Things I Learned From 21

Hello pals! I think I’ve mentioned this on my Twitter, but I don’t think I’ve said it here. This month was my birthday! Twenty-one has been a year of so much growth and transition and I could not be more proud of everything I did with that time. I left the country for the first time, I graduated from university, I held two different leadership positions, had two internships working on research to help change lives, and I started this blog! I’m glowing with happiness from it all.

Today I want to share with you some of the lessons I learned in my 21st cycle around the sun. I hope it inspires you to reflect on the things you’ve learned in the last year as well!

1. You’re always going to wish you did more.

The inevitability of turning another year older was initially weighing down on me. All the times I veg’d out on the couch instead of making a painting or taking a hike came back to haunt me until I realized that damn it, maybe I deserve to relax once in a while! Like I said, I got a degree, started a passion project, ran committees and more. Instead of thinking about all the time you wasted, make sure you’re remembering all the time you spent well.

2. There’s two sides to every story.

This came up a lot. Somehow some way I magically hardly ever got into fights this year, but it seemed like a lot of people around me did. Often times I’d find that I’d be pulled to side with one friend over another, and then I’d hear the other friend’s side and feel bad that I ever took a side in the first place. So! Don’t form an opinion unless you know all sides, and even then it’s sometimes best to just keep your mouth shut if you’re not really involved.

3. There are way more people who know what you’re going through than you think.

Personal thing: a couple years ago I dealt with some dissociation issues after a bad accident. I felt really uncomfortable telling people out of the fear of being known as crazy, since that’s unfortunately the stigma that surrounds having mental health problems. I rarely dealt with it at 21 thankfully, but I still felt some pain over keeping those experiences bottled up.

Eventually I needed to get these feelings off my chest, so I told a friend I could trust. Turned out she dealt with very similar issues too! We ended up talking for hours about our experiences until about 1:00 in the morning. I left the conversation feeling so much lighter.

4. It’s not okay to drop everything. It’s okay to lighten the load.

At one point in my senior year I was taking four classes, was the chairman of an event planning committee in my sorority, had two internships (one of which I was teaching new research assistants in protocol), and was one of two of my chapter’s delegates for the sexual violence prevention board on my campus. It was a lot, so much sometimes that instead of getting any work done I’d cancel meet-ups, wouldn’t open a single textbook and would burrow into a blanket fort and take lengthy naps. That’s not okay!

After realizing the cycle I was in, I made the decision to step down from my sexual violence prevention position and give it to a girl who I knew would do our chapter proud. I could feel good about that, and my other commitments felt much easier to deal with.

5. Make a plan. Stick to the plan. Be okay with detours.

In this last year, I did best when I gave myself a roadmap of the things I wanted to accomplish and exactly how I wanted to accomplish them. However, I allowed myself room in my map for delays, reorganizings, tweaks, changes, et cetera. It allowed me to go with the flow but still have my plans. When I neglected the roadmap outright though, I neglected my goals. So have the map, but be flexible.

6. Stuff won’t make you happy.

Twenty-one was the year I realized that when I’m sad, I shop. That’s not good! I think I did it because the excitement of getting new things was a distraction from facing my feelings and actually dealing with my problems. I’m now trying to adopt the mindset that I need to be mindful of the physical objects I bring into my space; if they don’t serve a purpose then why are they there?

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For example, I will never regret having an iPad Pro because as an artist it gives me the capability to take my skill to new heights. However, I didn’t need the two mini backpacks I bought on sale recently. I have a perfectly good black one already that goes with pretty much any outfit! I think the allure of “on sale” got to me. So again, mindfulness about your stuff is important. 

7. When you get a thread of motivation, follow it.

I need to trust my gut more! There were so many times where a cool idea or an urge to do something floated into my head and I didn’t go with it. Now I wish I did, because the times I did led me to some great places.

A lot of this came out in the form of new art pieces, but there were other things that came from these random bits of inspiration too. Learning that I love to swim and getting a gym membership so I could whenever I wanted came from a random urge to find a lap pool in town. Finding out that I love researching my own genealogy came from a random thought about making an art piece based off of a clan motto. I wanted the motto to truly mean something to me, so I decided to find out what clans ran through my blood and it turned into a whole side project, piecing together my family history.

8. It’s okay to be unapologetically yourself.

You should keep trying to find who you are while embracing yourself every step of the way. The quirks that you see in you and the “weird” things you might be interested in are what make you unique, and that’s awesome. Don’t be scared to let your personality shine.

9. No matter what you do, you’re probably going to have people who dislike you at some point.

Can’t please everyone, so don’t try. You’re just gonna drive yourself nuts. So be okay with the fact that not everyone’s going to be your best friend, and focus your energy on improving yourself because you want to, as well as focusing it on the people who love you already. 

10. Inspiration is everywhere.

You just need to find it. Once I got motivated to paint by a layer of white pond scum sitting against the artificial blue of the canal in Indianapolis. I got inspired by pond scum, people. So keep one eye out always. 

11. You don’t have to be the person you thought you were.

Interests change, people change, we grow up. The identity and baggage you had from a year ago doesn’t have to follow you. Put it down and be okay with moving forward fresh and new.

12. I know I said follow motivation when it strikes. Also know that motivation is bullshit.

I say it’s bullshit because people will sit and wait around for motivation to come to start doing the things they’ve been dreaming of. It’s the white whale of goal-achieving. When it comes, harpoon the crap out of it and use it while it’s there. But don’t use its lack of appearance as an excuse to not get started on your dreams.

13. When looking for new opportunities, the worst someone’s going to do to you is say no.

I had to learn that lesson fast before graduating. Entering the world of job applications means no one’s going to open the door for you, you’re going to need to jam your foot in there and insist on your presence. This applies to anything; school opportunities, volunteer programs, etc. Just go for it, and the worst thing that’s going to happen is that it’s not going to happen, which would happen anyway if you did nothing. 

14. Never underestimate the power of an organized staycation.

I love to plan “getaway weekends” for myself when things get too overwhelming. This is done by making sure all obligations are cleared and I have yummy food (hopefully healthy too), comfy clothes, books to read, and bath bombs at the ready. “Staycations” can be different for everyone depending on their needs, so when you want to plan one know what’s best for you. 

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15. Change is inevitable.

People are going to move away, your living situation won’t always be permanent, and your routines won’t always stay the same.  Don’t fuss about what you can’t change- which is change- and go with the flow.

16. You’re going to spend a lot of time alone, so you might as well make the best of it.

When I had a bajillion commitments, I was around people constantly. Jobs, sorority, school, keeping up with friendships. My schedule was so full, but even then I’d spend a decent amount of time by myself. I lived alone, so when I wasn’t with my boyfriend I’d be going to bed with just me myself and I in that space. Now that I’m graduated with less commitments and boyfriend and I are two hours apart for the time being, I have a significantly larger amount of time that I’m spending alone than I had before.

Whether I have an hour or ten to spend with just my company, I’ve realized that it’s a commitment worth keeping up to make sure the time you spend by yourself is enjoyable. Schedule time for your hobbies, do some self-care, reflect on things, whatever. Just don’t wallow in loneliness, because that time doesn’t have to be that way if you don’t want it to be.

17. Sometimes you want to be the dumbest person in the room.

When I’d go to my lab meetings full of graduate students and professors, I felt woefully inexperienced with my bachelor’s in progress. My mindset changed, however, when I realized that I could learn so much from everyone there. Being the “dumbest” person there meant I could grow the most out of anyone; that was an awesome feeling.

18. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

If you do, all that’s gonna happen is you get in your own head and everything sucks. So give yourself a break, laugh at yourself, and go with the flow.

19. Everyone’s probably just as confused/scared/nervous/much of a mess as you are.

Each and every day everyone around you is living an age they’ve never been before. Life gets a lot more relaxing once you realize everyone’s winging it, just like you are. 

20. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a real thing.

Psych don’t lie. When your basic needs are covered- enough sleep, good food, solid physical and mental health- it’s far easier to achieve those higher levels. So pay attention to it, and use it to see what you need in order to accomplish more.

21.  Sometimes people are going to have different opinions than you.  Take it as a learning experience.

I love to disagree.  Not because I love cramming my beliefs down people’s throats (though I’m sure all of us are guilty of staying on the soapbox a little too much on some occasions…), but because I get to expand my brain from it.  If someone has a differing viewpoint, it’s best to keep an open mind.  That person might teach you something new because of it.  (When I talk about disagreeing, by the way, I mean having civilized conversations.  I don’t condone disagreements breaking out into belief-cramming like I mentioned before or violence of any kind, which if you’re an American you know that’s been an issue lately.)

Twenty-fun was everything I hoped it would be. Cheers to my twenty-second cycle around the sun!

See you Sunday,

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31 thoughts on “21 Things I Learned From 21”

  1. That sounds like some of the things that I learned from 21 – but that was a long time ago. Later, I learned that sometimes – you may HAVE to drop everything. I also learned that sometimes, it’s ok to not make a plan. I prefer the unexpected detours sometimes. I learned life is more fun when it’s not all planned. Keep learning. It’s what makes life interesting.

  2. You’ve learnt some truly wonderful lessons in 21 years, but the one I think that stood out for me was #17 “Being the “dumbest” person there meant I could grow the most out of anyone”. That was just WOW!! Hope you had a very happy, love filled birthday and wishing you many, many more

  3. Love that point that there will be people who will be there to disagree with you but that is their opinion.

  4. I agree with this 21 things listed. Based on this list you had a lot of experience in the past years. If only we can go back in the past, We will do all of these to make things right!

  5. You have compiled some amazing and real points. I can not agree more on dropping off everything and lighten the load. I have been so under the impression that things will stop working for everyone around me if I lighten up on my tasks and in turn, it was draining me. With time, I have learned to lighten up and things won’t stop working if it is done by someone else and not me. And indeed Inspiration is everywhere.

  6. Yup it is okay to lighten the load because not everything will fit who you are becoming as much as it did when you were where it was necessary to carry in your life. I live the thought about Maslow’s hierarchy. Yes it is true in so many ways. The things that life hands us as experience!

  7. I love no. 3. As a Mom I said that a lot to my kids. I love how they sometime they think they could trick me, been there than that. LOL! nice post!

    1. Lol exactly, there are definitely a lot of different parts of the human experience we all go through!

  8. Happy belated birthday! I hope you had a fantastic time celebrating. I think we can all do well from a little self reflection like this. You’ve a lot of very smart experience for someone of your age, I am only 28 but there are things you’ve mentioned here which I wish I had known then to save myself a lot of trouble, like its ok to lighten the load!

  9. It is so nice to read an article like this from someone who is 21. You really inspire. You are doing a great job. Just keep going.

  10. learned that sometimes, it’s ok to not make a plan. I prefer the unexpected things. Still it’s hard for me to trust about a good future when things seems not that good.

  11. Happy Birthday Shannon! My birthday is in November. 🙂 This list is so true in many different ways for many people. #11 is the biggest thing I’ve learned. I’m not the same person I was at 18, 21, 25, or even last year. We’re supposed to grow and evolve, otherwise we’re doing it wrong. That’s the beautiful thing about life.

  12. It’s so important to know your limits and maintain a good balance. Friends, education, work, and fun are all good things when done in moderation. Great tips!

  13. I love so many parts of this. With number one, just remember that you’re not Wonder Woman. You cannot do it all and that’s okay. I also love your last point about different opinions. You should always be open to new things. You never know when you can learn. Number 9 is also super important. Not everyone will like you and thats okay.

  14. That’s a lot of important lessons for one year! You must be tired haha. It’s nice to make these kinds of lists, though. Maybe set a reminder in your calendar to go back and look at this in a year or two – at a random date, not just your birthday. We can forget this stuff far too easily sometimes.

    1. Not tired, exhilarated!! I totally intend to do this when I turn 23 as well, it’s a great way to see where I’ve been.

  15. You had an awesome list. It seems you really enjoy your 21 years. You are so wise with your age.

  16. Yes to #1! I feel like there is so much out there that I want to work on, write about, see, do! I feel like I’m never going to be satisfied with my accomplishments sometimes.

  17. Yes to #1!!! I feel like at that age you start to question or compare yourself to a lot of people because at 21 a lot of people are starting their careers, finishing school, or starting other ventures so you feel like well what am I doing when you’re doing just fine!

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