Advice to my 21-year-old self

by Kim on February 20, 2013 · 86 comments

I started writing this months ago for my baby sister, ten years younger than I am, to give to her on her 21st birthday. I never finished or published it and it’s been sitting in draft form ever since.

The reason that I never published it is because the older (and, I hope, wiser) I get the less inclined I am to give advice. I don’t want to crowd my sister’s head with my thoughts and ideas about the way a life should be lived. I want her to make her own decisions and her own mistakes. I want her to form her own ideas about what a good life looks like. 

But when I read this post again today I realized that I was never really writing to her in the first place. I was writing to me. Mewhen I was her age.

So I’ve decided to publish this as a gift to the girl I was at 21. It’s all the things I wish I could have told her (me) then but couldn’t. Because she had to become. Because she had to find out on her own. 

Kim and Jessi

 My sister (21) and me (not 21)

Advice to my 21-year-old self

You can be bigger than your biggest dream, stronger than your strongest bone, and braver than your greatest fear. Believe in yourself. 

Listen to that little voice inside. Practice refining the voice and noticing when it speaks. The more you listen, the louder it will become. Listen. It will point you in the best direction.

There is no right way and no wrong way. Your roads are allowed to meander. You are allowed to trip and fall down. You should get lost sometimes. When you get to where you are going, and it turns out you don’t want to be there, turn around and leave. It is your life and you get to define what it looks like. Don’t be afraid to change course.

Do the things that don’t seem to have a point, that aren’t on a career track, that won’t land you your first real job. Because those are the things that will make you an interesting person. You never know the people you will meet, the things you will do and the new loves you will discover because you did the thing that seemed frivolous.

You don’t have to have it all figured out at 21. You don’t have to have it all figured out at 31 either (and you won’t, sorry dear!)

You are so beautiful! Enjoy it. Love your muscles and your dimples and your hips. Use every inch of your body. It’s perfect now.

Laugh at yourself.

If you’re ever unsure of how lucky you are count your blessings in the darkness before bedtime.

In ten years you will have money and so many things. It is amazing how much you will have in ten years. But only take what you need. Don’t get wrapped up in the madness around what you should have. What you should have is the freedom to do what you want. Make your money work for you.

Let the world change you.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. There’s no such thing as failure. The absolute worst case scenario is death, which will happen to you anyway.

Before you make a big decision ask yourself what you really want. Close your eyes and let everything around you fall silent and then ask. Don’t confuse what your mom wants or your boss wants or your boyfriend wants with what you want. Ask. And then listen for the answer.

Anyone who makes you feel small is not big enough for you.

Be kind, always, even when it takes a great deal of effort. You almost always have two choices: to be positive or negative. Why not be a force for good?

If a certain thing doesn’t make you happy a bigger, newer, better version of that thing won’t make you happy either.

Hold on to your true friends with two hands. They will rally behind you during the hard times and cheer for you during the good times. Your friends are one of your life’s biggest blessings. Make sure they know you know it. 

You will surprise yourself over and over again. You will find wells of strength and courage that you never knew were in you. They’re in you even now. Trust that you can do big things. 

No one will do the hard things for you. If you want something you will have to do it for yourself. This is a blessing. Once you’ve done a hard thing you will never lose the sense of satisfaction you’ve earned from doing it.

The hard things, like everything else, are conquered step-by-step.

If you know something must be done, do it now.  

Don’t complain without doing something about it. Complaining is just wasted breath.

Don’t downplay what you’re good at. Learn how to say thank you. When someone says “Oh, your interpretive dance of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was just wonderful!” say “Thank you, I quite liked it myself.” Accept the compliment. There’s plenty that you don’t do well. Celebrate the things you do. 

Never, never, ever give up on the things that matter to you.

Everything you see around you now? Let it go. Let go of the expectations and the educations and your conceptions about The Way Life Should Be. It will take you awhile to know it, but you’ll know it. You weren’t born for that kind of life. 

***

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{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

Carmel February 20, 2013 at 8:29 am

Dammit Kim. I knew when I started reading this it was going to make me tear up. I was right.

“The absolute worst case scenario is death, which will happen to you anyway.” Ain’t that the truth. Yet fear takes hold anyway.

This is an excellent post and one I’ll definitely come back to more and more in the coming months.

Thank you for being such a true friend and guide in my life!!!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:43 am

Yes, it sure does. And I think the more we want to do something the strong the fear. XO. I’m proud to call you a friend.

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Jessi February 20, 2013 at 8:43 am

I accepted long ago the advice you gave was to yourself at my age, but how can we give advice anyway when everything we know is based on our own journey. Here’s to my journey and to yours ;) Love ya!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:51 am

You are wise beyond your years (maybe it’s because you’ve learned so much from your older sister?). ;) Love you sweetie.

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:53 am

Oh my god that is totally something that dad would say.

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Hannah February 20, 2013 at 8:49 am

Beautiful. Wise. Perfect. I loved every word of this my dear. Where were you when I was 21?!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

XO Good question! Amazing what a decade makes, huh?

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Machelle February 20, 2013 at 9:35 am

This is so good! I’m so glad that I follow you. What great advice. I will have to share this with my sister. <3

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Thanks Machelle, and so nice to know that you will share it with your sister. Yay sisters!

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Tyrhone February 20, 2013 at 9:40 am

If I met my 21 year old self, I would punch him in the mouth and tell him to stop whining so goddam much, then I would tell him the lotto numbers.

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Also, tell him to stop smoking now so that you don’t have to deal with it ten years from now ;)

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Tracy February 20, 2013 at 10:12 am

So good Kim. Perfect, really. I feel like we knew all of this at 21 but just never listened to it. Do you know how hard it is to get a 21 year old to actually listen?

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Good point. I think I did know a lot of this at 21 but I was too afraid of it.

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Ourlifeexperiments February 20, 2013 at 10:48 am

Kim, once again, huge compliments on your writing! I got shivers reading this post, it touched me that much. Thank you for the inspirational words.

Maria

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Thanks Maria… and thanks for reading. It thrills me to no end!

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Suitcase Stories - Nicole February 20, 2013 at 11:22 am

What a beautiful piece. I wish I too could go back to my 21 year old self. We think we know it all at that age but the truth is, we know nothing. Even now at 38 I still feel I know very little.

Thank you for sharing something so personal.

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm

For sure the older you get the less you know… ain’t that the way it works? It was kind of nice to be 21 and think you had it all figured out ;)

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Rhonda February 20, 2013 at 11:34 am

Beautifully written and don’t you wish we DID have such excellent advice when we were 21!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Yes! (and maybe we did and just didn’t listen?)

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Justin February 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Great message Kim! I think your 21 year-old self has taken your 31 year-old advice. Keep making the positive choice! :) Justin

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Thanks Justin!

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Kim Olson February 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm

So many gems in there, Kim, and I can relate to a good many of them.

The last few years I was blindly assuming I wanted and needed what so many others did (a big house, a nice car, a steady job), when really that wasn’t what I was looking for in life.

It’s great advice to ask yourself what *you* want and then actually listen.

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:30 pm

It was even a revelation to me to learn that there were OTHER things to look for in life besides just that one thing. Amazing how much the world opens up as we go along.

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Debs February 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Really inspiring!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Thanks Debs!

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Sacha February 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Great post Kim, some very good advice indeed!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Thanks Sacha :)

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Gillian @OneGiantStep February 20, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Don’t you think too that you know so much more NOW than you think you do? That in another 10 years you’ll look back and wonder what was holding you back? Your potential is limitless…keep on the journey!

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Yes, I’m sure that’s the case! The major difference was that THEN I used to think I had to know it all and now I know I never will. Maybe I’ll write this again at 41!

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Kera - Dreadnaught Darling February 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm

What a wonderful post. So much good advice that anyone could use to be reminded of at any point in their lives.

The one that spoke to me was this one, “No one will do the hard things for you. If you want something you will have to do it for yourself. This is a blessing. Once you’ve done a hard thing you will never lose the sense of satisfaction you’ve earned from doing it.”

I have to keep reminding myself of this when I am scared to take the next step. I want to travel the world, and after everything I have done… this is still my dream. I needed this tonight. Thanks.

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 11:11 pm

I’m so glad it arrived for you when you needed it. It is ALWAYS hard to do the hard things, no matter how many of them you’ve already tackled. YOU CAN DO IT!

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Maddie February 20, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Wow, beautiful Kim!! I always think it’s one of life’s cruellest tricks… when you’re so young, healthy and vibrant that you just can’t appreciate it and have so much to learn. I wish I could tell my 21 year old self to chill the eff out and stop worrying about everything!

“Don’t be afraid to take risks. There’s no such thing as failure. The absolute worst case scenario is death, which will happen to you anyway.” – perfection

You have a great talent lady, it will make me so happy to see your name on the cover of a book one day :-)

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Kim February 20, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Thanks Maddie :) My book is a dream (and one of the HARD THINGS which I struggle with every day. The writing! The damn writing!).

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Ali February 21, 2013 at 5:08 am

I find myself using the word beautiful with just about every post you write. It’s amazing what we think we know, and what we later realize we never knew and still don’t. Life’s tricky that way.

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:30 am

It is, but it’s kind of fun to look back and see where you’ve come from, you know?

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Fran February 21, 2013 at 6:03 am

Love this post!! Well said!

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:31 am

Thanks Fran!

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Sarah Somewhere February 21, 2013 at 6:38 am

Beautiful, Kim! I love the bit in the beginning where you say we have to find out for ourselves, and become. You’re sister is SO lucky to have you!!!!

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:31 am

Thanks lady! She is lucky, isn’t she?!?! Just kidding. Though to be honest I always wished I’d had a big sister myself.

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Molly February 21, 2013 at 7:46 am

Girl, this is a treasure right here.
Every experience we’ve had up to today that has formed us into the person we have become!
I just wrote a little piece about this… and although it sucks, be grateful for the bad times and the heartache too, because you need to know how bad the bad is, in order to know how good the good is!
Molly

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:32 am

Where is your piece? I want to read it! I agree, be grateful for the bad times too, they help define the good times.

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Dorena February 21, 2013 at 7:51 am

Love this post! You had me crying at the kitchen table. I am envious that you are courageous, determined and following your dreams at 31. I look forward to reading your amazing adventures!

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:35 am

Thank you Dorena. I’m glad I finally set out to do it- no regrets! (and to think that for a time I thought that since I didn’t try in my 20′s I’d already missed out…)

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Tracy & Della February 21, 2013 at 8:49 am

Could not agree more! Beautifully written. Hats off to you Kim.

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Ah, thank you Tracy and Della. I should have asked what advice YOU (and everyone) would give to your 21-year-old self. I’d like to hear the answers.

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Candace February 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

Gah! So many epic lines here, so many things I want to respond to. This made me tear up: “There is no right way and no wrong way. Your roads are allowed to meander.”

And this made me laugh out loud: “Learn how to say thank you. When someone says “Oh, your interpretive dance of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was just wonderful!” say “Thank you, I quite liked it myself.” Accept the compliment.”

I am bookmarking this page for when I need a great big shot of inspiration in the arm on low days….thank you for sharing your wisdom!!

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Yay for tears and laughter! I’m glad that you’ll be able to use it on days you need a pep-talk.

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Darcy @SustainableFamilyFinances February 21, 2013 at 9:38 am

Such lovely advice, it’s actually more like wisdom. Your sister is lucky to have you, even if you don’t expect that she heed your own advice. :-)

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Hey, I tell her that all the time ;) But seriously, sisters make life better.

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Amanda Halm February 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm

All so true. I am 32 and I feel the exact same way. I would have written the same thing to myself. There’s so much I’ve learned and I am sure have yet to learn.
Thanks for writing!

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm

So much still left to learn. In other 10 years (OMG, can you imagine… what will happen in 10 years?) I’m going to write it again. Advice from my 41-year-old self to my 31-year-old self.

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Sunflowergrl February 21, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Speechless. Amazing X 2309494. Thank you :)

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Kim February 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Thank you for reading!

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Bisa February 21, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Great Post Kim. I’m 39 and I wish I could have said these things to my 31 year old self. I was still trying to fit it. I wish I had found a blog like yours then. Were there blogs when I was 31. Now I feel old. lol

Anyway as always can’t wait to read what adventures you are up to next.

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Kim February 22, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Haha… was there the internet when you were 31?! Just kidding! (But seriously, I feel old too because, remember those days before the internet?) Anyway, thank you for your kind words and for reading.

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Bisa February 23, 2013 at 6:24 am

lol. I think there was internet when I was 21 but we were not as connected as we are now. I think I only used it at work. Our phones were used for talking. Imagine that!

giggle

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Kim February 24, 2013 at 6:42 am

Hehe, imagine that (and imagine, before that, the pager).

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Eliza February 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Kim – Your friendship is a huge blessing in my life! Thank you for living your dreams and sharing your wisdom along the way.

I love this post and will share it with people in my life of all ages. These are great lessons of which we can all stand to be frequently reminded.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Kim February 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Eliza, agreed. So proud to have you as a friend :) XO

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Jimmy Dau February 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Bloody great read! #inspired

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Kim February 22, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Thanks Jimmy!

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Steve C February 23, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Thanks for posting this very inspirational piece. I’ve printed it out and given it to my two daughters, aged 20 & 21. They need this type of information coming from someone else, other than their Dad, (not that their mom doesn’t feed them a steady diet of it either).

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Kim February 24, 2013 at 6:43 am

Hi Steve, so glad you are able to share it with those you love.

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Moe February 23, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Hey Kim, your two letters (this and Brians) where excatly what I needed to read at certain points of time. It was a pleasure getting to know you guys (Inca trail).

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Kim February 24, 2013 at 6:44 am

Ah, I’m so glad Moe. It was a pleasure to get to know you as well. Where are you now?

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moe February 25, 2013 at 7:15 am

Just got back home 2 days ago and working on my next trip … that rickshaw run is getting into my head :)

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Kim February 27, 2013 at 2:39 am

Moe, you should TOTALLY do it. You would love it. It’s wonderful.

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Paul Farrugia February 24, 2013 at 1:35 am

This is such a lovely blog post and so true! I think I might write one to my 21 yr old self too but I doubt if he would listen!

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Kim February 24, 2013 at 6:45 am

You should do it Paul! It’s fun to look back and really reflect on all that has come to pass (though, really, we wouldn’t have listed to our own advice at 21 anyway).

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Mari February 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm

Beautiful words, thank you for sharing. I totally relate to this, my life when I was 21 was so far from what it is now that I would never have believed if someone would have told me where my path will take me.

I’m sitting in a Maswik Cafeteria in Grand Canyon National Park reading this after I’ve had my first glimpses of the majestetic gorgeousness of this place this afternoon. Can’t wait to hike a bit tomorrow! I feel so blessed.

All the best to your future travels!

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Kim February 25, 2013 at 3:57 am

Ah, wonderful! We were at the Grand Canyon this summer and it was amazing. Try to visit the north rim too if you can.

It’s amazing how much things change in ten years isn’t it?

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Mari February 28, 2013 at 10:41 am

I remember your GC post, the hike sounded amazing. Unfortunately (or luckily since the scenery was gorgeous) we couldn’t go below the rim because there was so much snow and ice. Also the North Rim is closed during the winter. But we had amazing time :)

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Lauren @ roamingtheworld March 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Found you through Somewhere Sarah!
What a great list of positive reminders and so much truth.

And I agree, we always have a choice to be positive or negative. Even on our bad days, sometimes just focusing on the positive can make us feel a little better!
I’m sharing this post : )

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Kim March 10, 2013 at 3:20 am

Thanks for sharing Lauren. So glad you enjoyed it.

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Lucy May 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

This is a great post. I’ve stumbled upon it at the right time – being 21.
I am about to leave everything behind in England and travel for a few months before moving to Australia to see if things work out with someone I met out there. I figure that there’s no reason not to go, I’ll only wonder years down the line if it was meant to be. If it’s not then I will have experienced living in Australia and can move on to wherever else takes my fancy at the time.
I gave up on any life plan after that. What happens happens, and I’ll see where life takes me. Luckily my parents accept that I am definitely on a one-way trip, however many other people find it hard to accept.
I think letters like this should be given to every teen who is looking for direction in their life, trying to plan out their whole future just because that’s what society expects!

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Kim May 24, 2013 at 6:32 am

You have so much time! Follow your instincts and enjoy this time in your life. Keep your head on straight and THRIVE!

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Marissa July 15, 2013 at 10:22 am

This awesome :) I really enjoyed reading this. I’ve read so many of your articles and I feel a swell of inspiration inside me each time.

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Kim July 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm

That makes me very happy to hear. Thanks for reading Marissa.

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Meryl October 22, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Hi Kim. You’ve posted this blog a few months back and i just wanna say thank you for this. I’m no longer 21 but my good friend is. She’s in a rough road and thankfully she found this blog out of nowhere and it’s helping her a lot to stay strong and positive. I just wantt o say thank you so much. You’ve made me realize things that i knew but didnt listen to before. But most thank you for helping my friend. She read this a 3 times now and i can honestly predict that she might be reading this a few times more. Keep writing please, and keep helping others. Cheers!

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Kim November 9, 2013 at 7:52 am

Hi Meryl, what an honor. I’m so glad these words have helped your friend– please tell her to hang in there and give her a hug from me.

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Amanda June 3, 2014 at 7:47 pm

So glad to have found this for inspiration! I wrote a journal for my boyfriend’s sister using modified forms of your thoughts above. Turned out great I think!!!

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Kim June 4, 2014 at 6:50 am

Ah, I love that idea. Wonderful!

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Nery August 3, 2014 at 2:00 am

Those words are really what I need to do and feel but in my country it hard to live like that

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Kim August 3, 2014 at 9:07 am

Hi Nery. I know that it can be very, very hard. Please know that I am thinking of you.

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