I would really like to retire the phrase “life goes downhill after 21.” For me, life had not even begun at 21. When I was 21, I was in college and dumb and kind of annoying. Since I was still in college and had yet to experience “the real world,” I knew nothing (but I thought I knew everything). Society romanticizes college as this carefree paradise where problems do not exist. While college had wonderful moments, it certainly had rough patches as well. I remember plenty of problems, such as getting along with roommates, adjusting to dorm life and working out issues with friends. It took a lot of work to find the lifelong friends I have now. I went through some real toxic friendships first, which taught me a lot about people and helped me become a better judge of character. None of the lessons I learned came easy and I am glad those years are behind me.
My teenage years and early 20s were the years I felt most insecure and confused. I didn’t know who I was and I had no idea who I wanted to be. I found those years to be the most anxiety ridden. Now that I am in my mid-20s, I am the most content I have ever been. The things I used to fixate on as a teen do not phase me. Are there more societal expectations as you get older? Of, course. Fortunately, at 26 you care a lot less about what people think than you did when you were 16. No matter what choices you make in life, there will always be people who criticize you. Now, I have bills to pay and a career to get started. The opinions that others have of me are no longer a priority. For me, life truly began when I turned 25. That’s when I stopped, looked around and came to the conclusion that I fell in love with my life. I have learned so many important lessons in my mid-20s that my naïve 21-year-old self had not yet figured out. If I could somehow travel back in time and have a little chit-chat with my 21 year old self, this is what I would say:
1. You don’t know it all.
I know you are convinced that you’ve got it all figured out, but you actually do not. You don’t know nearly as much as you think you do. A sign of maturity is taking comfort in the reality that you do not have all the answers. There will always be more for you to learn in life so enjoy the process of learning as it is the only way to grow.
2. Your parents don’t know it all either.
As you get older, you are going to realize your parents do not have all the answers. You will find yourself mourning the image of who you thought your parents were. Remember, just because you come from a dysfunctional family doesn’t mean you can’t be a functional adult. Being an adult means taking responsibility for yourself.
3. Live in the moment.
Stay in the moment instead of constantly looking too far ahead or behind. You do not need to have your entire life planned out yet. This may blow your mind, but life rarely goes as planned. Don’t lose hope just because things aren’t going smoothly. Life is not smooth.
4. Failure can be a good thing.
I know you are petrified of failure and you think it is the worst thing in the world, but it can actually be a good thing. You have got to stop panicking and fixating on every mistake. Worrying is not a productive use of time. It will not get you anywhere. Failure is a part of life for everyone. Sometimes you need to fail because it can wake you up and show you the things about yourself you need to improve on. Stay positive and keep moving forward.
5. Life is supposed to be fun.
I wish somebody told you this a long time ago. As crazy and as stressful as life can be, don’t forget to have fun. If you are not having fun, something is wrong. You may be in the wrong place or with the wrong person or maybe you have the wrong mindset and need to adjust it.
6. Happiness takes work.
It is far easier to complain about situations than look at how to make the best of them or come up with a solution to your problems. It will take a lot of time and effort for you to realize the impact negative thinking is having on your life. You need to work at rationalizing the irrational, negative thoughts. Changing your perspective is hard but you must focus on the positive things you have going for you instead of the negative. Be thankful for what you have because gratitude is extremely important. Even in the darkest of times, there is something to be grateful for.
That is how my talk with my younger self would go. I am 26 now and I feel like life has been getting better as I get older. I have overcome many obstacles and I have certainly done a lot of living since 21! I have learned that life is as good as you want it to be for as long as you want it to be. So, if you choose to believe that life is over at 21 and you make it your mantra, then your life will go downhill because that is what you have been telling yourself. I choose to take on a positive mindset and believe that the best is yet to come because there is nothing more powerful than a healthy state of mind.
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