What I wish I knew when I was 21
Do you ever wish that you could go back in time to give advice to your younger self? Was there ever a moment you could have used some wisdom from the future, whether it was after you had your first break up or on your first day of college? We want to hear about it: Pitch us lists of advice you have for our new section, What I Wish I Knew When, with the subject line WIWIKW at email@example.com. Can’t wait to hear from you!
I’ve always been fascinated by time travel. Not actual theoretical time travel, although I did once read a book about that and mostly found it impossible to grasp. No, I’m more interested in the fictional time travel that usually involves a DeLorean, Tardis, or even a hot tub. I blame it on repeated viewings of Back to the Future when I was a young child.
I’ve consumed enough entertainment about time travel to know it’s never a good idea to go back in time and mess with a previous version of your younger self but I have to admit, sometimes it seems appealing. Would I want a do-over? Not really. Despite the bumps along the way, I’m pretty happy with the way my life has turned out. But if I had the opportunity to give myself a message from the future, with advice that might come in handy? Yeah, I’d probably do that. These are the things I wish I could tell my 21-year old self.
You are stronger than you think
You don’t know this yet. You will get passed over for that big promotion, miss your home state and your family, and always feel like you’re a step behind your peers. Some days you will feel like if somebody so much as looks at you the wrong way you’ll shatter into a million pieces. But you won’t. You will run marathons, climb mountains, and have babies. Your body is capable of amazing things and, someday, you will realize your brain and spirit are, too.
Not having done everything you want to do at 21 doesn’t mean you’re a failure
Some of your friends will find career success right away. Some won’t. Some will have outward success but be unhappy with their choices. Others will go back to school and change careers more than once. Some will take the long road and won’t settle into a career path until they’re in their 30s or 40s. What you do at 21 doesn’t define who you now are or how successful you’ll be ten years from now. It’s just the very beginning.
You will move a lot
Very few people live in the same place at 35 that they do at 21, even if it’s just moving apartments around town. There will be things to love and things to adjust to about each of the places you live. Don’t get so caught up in the bad that you forget to see the good. Also, if you can afford it, hire movers to help you pack. It makes a huge difference.
Be honest with your bosses about where you want to be in one, five, and ten years
Nobody expects you to be in your entry-level job forever and it doesn’t do anybody any good to pretend that’s what you want. Do the best job you can at the job you have now but be honest about your goals. A good boss will help you reach them.
Keep an ice scraper in your glove box
You will thank yourself that one morning you wake up to find your entire windshield iced over. Blerg.
Take advantage of what the city you live in has to offer
See professional sporting events and live comedy. Go to museums and street festivals. One day you may find yourself living in a different city and you’ll wish you’d done those things more often.
Invest in an iron skillet, a good set of knives, and a blender
Trust me: Soup is going to become an important part of your life. And with these tools, you’ll be able to cook just about anything.
Don’t be afraid to make friends
Avoiding people because of your fear of rejection will, ultimately, hurt only you. The cool editor at your publishing job, the clique of smart moms at your kids’ school, and the nice-seeming lady in your yoga class may very well reject your friendship overtures. But you won’t know at all if you never approach them. You are cool and interesting and if you believe that, others will, too.
Learn how to use public transportation
You will meet so many people, even people who grew up within 30 miles of large cities, who don’t understand how to use public transportation. Understanding how public transportation works will help you get around more efficiently, whether you’re commuting to your day job or are in a different city for work or vacation.
Eat a donut every once in a while
You will pass on donuts so many times: at the office, after a race, driving by the Krispy Kreme in the middle of the night. You won’t regret passing on the donut until the day you’re blindsided with a celiac disease diagnosis and find out you’ll never be able to eat a donut again. Don’t live with that regret. Just eat the donut.
Hang on to your Birkenstocks
Seriously. They’re going to make a comeback.
Kate Fries is a freelance writer currently based in Fresno, California. She’s addicted to iced coffee and comedy podcasts and is bummed that her childhood pop culture icons keep breaking themselves (hey there, Bono and Harrison Ford) because it forces her to contemplate her own mortality. She attempts to squash these feelings down by reading a lot of YA novels (and writing her own YA novel, in fits and starts). Follow her on Twitter @katefries.
[Image courtesy The CW]