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. Me, when 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.
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.