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21 things I learned before turning 21

WRITTEN BY Chanel Briones

After nearly 21 years of life, I have learned quite a few things regarding self love, friendship, mindfulness and skincare. 

Here are 21 things I learned before turning 21. 

Take life at your own pace 

It can be really hard, especially in your highschool and collegiate years, to not look around and compare yourself to others. But you have to remember that you are living your life, not theirs. If you are happy with your progress, don’t feel the need to rush it just to fit with the ideals of someone or something else.

Don’t look for happiness in the future; find it in the present

This one is really cheesy, but it’s one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received. 

As a chronic planner and overthinker, it is easy to constantly think about the “Where am I gonna be in the next couple of years?” question. But, you have to remember that there was a time when you dreamed about being exactly where you are now and you owe it to your past self to savor the moment. 

Protect your peace and prioritize your energy.

Think of your energy — and especially your time — as currency you will never get back, because it is. If something is not serving you the way it should, rethink its purpose and, if necessary, prioritize your energy and place it somewhere else that will actually benefit you.

Look at failures and obstacles as learning experiences

Trying and failing will (unfortunately) always be a part of life. It is important that you go into the next failure or obstacle with the same, if not more, enthusiasm than the last.

Surround yourself with people who have similar goals

When I got to college, I was fortunate enough to find friends who did more than I ever thought possible. Their unrelenting determination and eagerness to learn taught me how to be a confident, purposeful individual.

Realize that real friends tell the truth

Whether it be constructive criticism or to just call you out when you are wrong, you can always count on your real friends to be truthful to you. They see the best in you and wish nothing but your success. 

However, you won’t reach your full potential if you aren’t being challenged, and who better to challenge you than the people who will be there for you through your best and worst times.

Find a hobby that engages you and helps you relax

Between classes, extracurricular activities and school work, it is hard to find time to relax. Even things like Netflix and Hulu, which used to be go-to relaxation activities pre-pandemic, are now mundane parts of Sunday nights. 

Find a time when you can have a big brain release. It can be something as intense as mountain biking or as casual as checking in on your plants every morning.

Take care of your skin

As someone who has never really been into skincare, I used to (and sometimes still do) walk out of the house with no sunscreen whatsoever. 

Ever since I started seeing the effects of sun damage, I am now a true believer. If you are anything like me, start off with a simple cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen trio and you are set.

Drink your recommended intake of water

This is a direct correlation to the seventh tip, but drinking your recommended amount of water increases your energy and improves your overall health. 

Get a new water bottle or reusable straw. Download a reminder app (my favorite is Plant Nanny) and find a way to enjoy drinking water.

Form a habit of doing tiny productive things versus scrolling through social media

Yet another piece of advice that I personally struggle with, but in weeks that I don’t … my house is cleaner, my grades are better and my shopping expenses are shorter. 

Learn how to ask for help

Sometimes a different perspective is exactly what you need to get over an obstacle.

Find out your love language and know how to ask for what you need.

Humans are not mind readers. Sometimes you need to communicate to someone exactly how you want to be loved. Regardless of how perfect of a match you are in, relationships take work and it is a lot easier when you have a little cheat sheet on your partner’s desires.

Declutter your closet

You don’t need that junior year dress that you have not worn since homecoming at the school gymnasium. There are plenty of places to donate unwanted clothes, and it could make another person look as beautiful as it made you look back in the day.

Figure out that organization is not a goal; it is a tool

Life will always make things change or get a little bit messy. Organization is not something you work towards for a long time and then one day BOOM — you’re organized. 

It is a tool that you can use to increase your productivity. Once you realize that organization is not an end-all-be-all type of situation, it becomes a lot less overwhelming.

Cut out the negative self talk

If it is not something you would say to a loved one, don’t say it to yourself.

Take the time to learn about other cultures and other backgrounds

You do not need to travel the world to become a more well informed person. Your open mindedness starts with your inner circle. Take the time to go out of your comfort zone and learn more about something or someone you would not otherwise be exposed.

Observe more

When you are walking around or on public transportation, try not to get on your phone or listen to music. Look around and observe more. You’ll be surprised how many new things you notice; the last time I did this I even found a new karaoke spot.

Learn how to stand up for yourself and build your own platform when one isn’t accessible to you

As a woman of color, this lesson is something I always have to keep in mind. There is always a place for you in this world, in every room and on every table. 

Find out how to save money

As we know from the transition from 2020 to 2021, a lot can change. Be prepared to help your future self out on days when money is a little tighter than expected.

Never take yourself too seriously

So much of our lives is focused on being professional. One of the very few good things that the pandemic has given us is valuing authenticity. Be honest with how you are feeling and find humor in life whenever you can. 

Discover that the purpose of life is to live

Big shoutout to the Disney movie “Soul” for teaching me this one. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to.