What Would You Tell Your 21-Year-Old Self?

What Would You Tell Your 21-Year-Old Self?

From career tips to personal advice, answers from a 23-year-old up to an 87-year-old.


Nearing the beginning of the end as I complete the last of my work for junior year and prepare (mostly emotionally) to embark on senior year, I realized something. Like many students, I have spent most of my college time proving my worth and independence to myself. I needed this time to grow as a person and understand how to accomplish what I set my mind to on my own. However, there are a few dangers to having this attitude. Sometimes, I forget to lean on those around me who matter most to hear their recommendations.

I started this project with lots of curiosity and interest in the perspectives of adults in my life. I asked one simple question to a large sample, ranging from a 23-year-old to an 87-year-old: What would you tell your 21-year-old self? The results varied, but many followed similar ideas. Take a look for yourself.

1. In the end, it's all small stuff.

Study hard, be open to new ideas. Do not take things for granted. Feel your family's love for you and return it. Know that you are never alone because God is with you. Do not sweat the small stuff, and know that in the end, it's all small stuff. Look ahead with anticipation and don't dwell on the past. You can't change the past, but you can help shape your future.

2. Only spend time with people you like and respect.

Work hard. Continue to learn, every day. Only spend time with people you like and respect. Listen to your gut. Above all, make time to have fun.

3. Never get defeated.

Chart your own course and make you own life plan no matter what. Then execute and Never get defeated. Plow forward!!!

4. Learn to give and accept compliments.

Learn how to compliment other people genuinely and do it often. Don't give empty praise to others, but do make them feel good about themselves and the work they are doing. On the flip side of this learn to graciously accept compliments and praise and, at the same time, be wary of other's self-interest and motivation to give compliments and praise to you.

5. Don't lose sight of your future, focus on what makes you happy and that will in turn lead you to your future.

To this day I still remember a time when I was a kid (a little younger than 21, but still relevant), sitting at the family's kitchen table spread out working on a school project while my mom was cooking dinner. I started complaining about school generally and specifically about the particular homework project. I was so fed up with it all, and in a moment of exasperation declared "I just wish I was done with high school, and done with college...." I recall my mom stopping me mid-complaint, looking me in the eye, and saying "oh yeah, well you are wishing your life away!"

I think her point was that sometimes it's easy for us to lose sight of things. We should slow down, look around and enjoy where we are in life even if from time to time we feel frustrated or are thinking negatively. I have tried to keep that in mind over the years, but it is tough to do. My advice to my 21 year old self would be to always keep the bigger picture in mind, but not focus too much on the future and where I see my life heading. Instead, find something that really interests you, that you are passionate about, and pursue it perhaps without initially seeing how it fits into the grand plan. We all get caught up in checking all of the right boxes to get us where we think we want to go. Instead of going through the motions, think about what really makes you happy and maybe that will lead you to the right place. Some of the most successful people I have come across over the years in business did not necessarily take the most traditional paths.

6. Grow in faith earlier.

Grow in faith earlier. Strong faith in God will always help you through anything!

7. "Just getting by" won't pay off in the long run.

Always try to work harder than you think you have to - just getting by might seem like the easy way, but over the long run, it isn't.

Learning doesn't end when college does. Remember to apply yourself and continue to learn as much as you can throughout your life. Learning is what makes life fun.

Those time when you're uncomfortable will be when you learn the most.

Take time to breathe.

Sit on a beach or a mountain and watch the sunrise or sunset. Nature nurtures the soul.

Get enough sleep - your body will thank you.

Eat healthy - see above.

Surround yourself with good people not toxic ones.

Help where you can.

8. Develop solid (but not cocky) self confidence.

Work hard and diligently but also find time to relax and enjoy your life responsibly. I recommend developing solid (but not cocky) self confidence because it's so important throughout every aspect of your life. And i would invest time in your friendships- solidify the ones who mean the most to you. Make lifelong friendships.

9. Worry about liking who you see in the mirror every morning.

Time is precious. Don't waste it on a job you hate or don't care for. If you're willing to look you'll inevitably find what you're meant to do on this planet. When you find, it won't be work. It will be fun disguised as a career.

Worry less about what others think of you. Worry more about liking who you see in the mirror every morning.

Doesn't hurt to listen more.

10. You are more capable than you think.

Believe in yourself and don't underestimate what you can do. You are more capable than you think.

11. Don't work the night shift.

Live 'till death. Don't work the night shift. If you have a baby, have one that will deliver itself.

12. Set goals, but don't expect the plan for your life to be rigid.

College is the most permissive environment you will find yourself in for the rest of your life, so enjoy it while it lasts. (but don't overstay your welcome)

Don't expect the plan for your life to be rigid. Learn to be flexible and aware that there may be multiple paths to your goals.

Set goals.

Always strive to meet the standard. Your Soldiers will be watching.

Always volunteer to be part of a team. College is an individual sport, but the Army is a team sport.

Practice public speaking

Anticipate success

When you have a hard decision to make, decide well before the deadline and stand firm.

13. Forgive yourself and move on.

Life is short. Enjoy it.

Don't dwell on the past. Forgive yourself and move on.

Live life to the fullest.

The little things don't matter.

Meet people. Be involved.

Do what brings you joy.

You are in college to learn. School first, everything else second.

Read the news every day. Stay informed.

Don't waste time on social media.

Take care of yourself. Everyone else comes second.

Say yes to opportunities that may grow your career, even if you are afraid.

14. Persistence is a superpower.

I noticed when [my son] was very young that he was incredibly persistent. Relentless to the point of being quite aggravating. I also noticed that he managed to accomplish whatever he set out to do. I often told him his persistence was his greatest asset. So, my advice is: Always remember that persistence is a superpower!

15. Keep the faith.

I would suggest to anyone at twenty-one ....

"Keep The Faith," Keep a Positive Outlook and Attitude, and in all things ...

Don't let your Common Sense waver !!!

16. Spend a lot less time looking back.

Spend a little less time looking far ahead and a lot less time looking back. Be in the moment. James Taylor says "The Secret to Life is Enjoying the Passage of Time" and I think that's very wise advice.

17. See everything as a learning experience.

Accept every experience and opportunity, and see everything as a learning experience even if it doesn't work out as expected. Stop comparing yourself to others.

18. Look up, look around.

Smile, smile, smile

Make eye contact with people

Less electronics and more human interaction; chance interactions don't happen as much

Look up, look around

Be Kind - you just don't know what some people maybe going through

CAREER - Find your passion and don't settle for less in a job you can feel passionate about

Always keep your integrity, ethics

Face any impending or actual issues straight on even if it is your fault, problems don't go away, they can only escalate

Procrastination is your enemy in the real world.

Network, network, network - you just don't know how or when a golden opportunity can arise.


Do not take on credit card debt. If you can't pay for it, don't buy it.

Contribute to your 401K right away and max it out.

Save, save, save - the stock market is a good thing if you leave your money there and don't make trades.


Pick wisely and treat kindly - be wary of any red flags....."is this the way you want your life to go?"

Pick someone who improves your world, not burdens it.

Demand the utmost respect from your partner

Recognize that generally men and women have different perspectives on emotions


Keep it in your life

Be a participant in your faith

"They will know we are Christians by our love." whatever your religion, are you sharing it and exemplifying it??

Vote & Love your Country

A huge thank you to everyone who participated in this article. I was blown away by the support from family, neighbors, and friends. I hope this article will bring many other 21-year-olds the motivation, comfort, and support that it gave me.

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Dear Soon-To-Be Seniors

These are a few things we'd like to tell you about Senior year.

Dear soon-to-be high school seniors,

Goodbye. As the class of ahead of you, we've watched you grow, always one step behind us. As we graduate, there are some things I'd like to tell you about your last year of high school.

Yes, Senior year can be just as amazing as everyone says it is, if you make it that way. But don't think it's a blow-off year with no work. This year may hold some of the most stressful times of your life.Be prepared for late nights writing papers or hard tests that could make or break your graduation status. However, don't stress too much about homework. A question I often asked myself this year was, "in twenty years, will I remember staying up till 2am studying for Econ? Or will I remember a fun night with my friends?" Ok, probably not the best advice if you don't have the best of grades, but most of the time you stress yourself out for no reason and miss out on fun things.

Another thing, try to get on the college grind early. If you haven't already, start looking at colleges and applying! Then narrow it down as soon as you can. You don't want to be stressed about that decision in the last month of senior year. Honestly, the sooner you can make your decision, the happier and less stressed you will probably be.

It's not too late to join new things either; a lot of people join a sport or a club senior year and have a lot of fun because of it. So try that thing you've always wanted to join! Speaking of which, go to prom! I won't tell you prom is the best experience of your life because for some people it's not, but it's pretty amazing. Don't stress too much about getting a date, either the right guy/girl will show up, or you'll just go with your friends and still have a blast.

Don't be too rude to the underclassmen. You were that young just a few years ago. And they're the ones who usually put your senior nights together, so make sure you thank them. Also keep in mind that they are looking up to you. Remember those seniors you looked up to just a few short years ago? Be a good example. Take your place in the school as Seniors and continue where we left off; carry on the legacy of your school and be proud of it.

If your school does Kairos (or a similar senior retreat), be absolutely open to it! If it's your thing, enjoy it! If it's not your thing, still try to be open to it. You don't have to love it, but at least don't hate on it before you've even been. Bonding with your class is a big part of senior year. I made so many new friends this year that I never thought I would if it hadn't been for Kairos.

Speaking of which, be open to new friends. Whether they're seniors or not, talk to everyone. In a few months, you may never see those kids again, so it's worth getting to know them past just being friends on Facebook. Also, don't give up on dating people in your class. Yeah, there's only a few months left and you've spent the last 4 years with these people, but there might be one person out there who could change your whole year for the better if you give them the chance.

Above all, enjoy it. You only get one senior year, so make it count. Go to everything you possibly can: every football game, dance, party, musical, bonfire, etc. Enjoy wearing the jersey of your team for the last time, taking your last bow on your high school stage, and turning in your last final, because it will all be gone within the blink of an eye. You'll find yourself walking down the aisle in a cap and gown of those same school colors you thought you despised (but really, you'll secretly miss). You'll look at your favorite teachers lined up behind you and your family sitting in front of you, and most importantly your class around you, and I hope, I really hope, you don't regret a single moment of senior year.

Cover Image Credit: Anna Skog

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College Can Be Difficult, But Trust Yourself, Girl

Life can throw you curveballs sometimes, and times can get tough, but it is SO important to pick yourself up and trust that you can do anything.


I'll be honest, this school year was one of the hardest years of my life. There were lots of moments throughout the year that I just wanted to go home and get away from it all. I had to be reminded that I have been raised to try as hard as you possibly can, and I was doing that. It took some determination and time, but I didn't give up.

No matter how bad I felt, I stayed and persevered.

Now that I am home for the summer, I have been reminiscing on the past two semesters of school. At the beginning of the school year, I had a much different idea of how it would go. It was going to be "my year," but somehow while the year was going on, I felt that I had been completely wrong. It's easy to come to quick conclusions when life doesn't exactly go your way. Conclusions like "this year has been the worst year ever" and "I can never get a break" were often popping up in my head. My grades weren't where I wanted them, and I was surprised by a lot of occurrences that I never expected to happen (imagine a wild ride). I found out who my true friends are and who I could rely on, and luckily, my circle only grew. Being extremely extroverted, it was hard for me to get out and just do something. Being in this "rut" took a toll on me. I had to make those hard decisions about doing what was best for me in the long run instead of doing something just for the moment. Trust me when I say, this was NOT easy at all.

Through all the tears and change all around me, I decided to proceed to the finish line because I am NOT a quitter.

I decided that it was time for me to allow myself to fully, undeniably be me. I wanted to start doing the little things I enjoy again like working out, taking pictures, and simply just going out to do anything. I started forcing myself to take any opportunity that came my way, and it helped. One of the things that brought me so much joy was kickboxing – talk about therapeutic, people! Kickboxing at least three times a week helped my mood shift so much, and it was a start to seeing me again. I am so blessed with friends who would come over at, literally, any time of the day. Spending time with them helped me more than they could ever know. We did anything from just hanging out in my living room to splurging on a fun dinner. Through everything that I was doing daily, I was learning how to rely on myself. Looking back now, I have never really had to know what it felt like to rely mainly on myself. I did get so much help from my family and friends, but what good could their help do if I didn't want to help myself first?

Even though I felt like this was one of the worst years of my life, it taught me so much more than I ever expected. Looking back now, I grew so, so much. I learned how to smile when times get tough. I learned that it really is okay to not be okay sometimes, and it will be okay eventually. I learned that it's okay to ask for help because we weren't made to do life alone. Most importantly, I learned how to trust myself. My hope for anyone reading this, you will learn from my experience that the worst seasons get better. I am in such a good place right now because I never gave up, and I will continue to never give up. In a short amount of time, I am seeing how far I have come and how much I grew.

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