21 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 21

UPDATED: October 18, 2022
PUBLISHED: October 12, 2022
21 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 21

1. Learn to love mistakes.

Always remember to learn from your mistakes and keep growing. Don’t doubt yourself so much. One day you’ll be able to look back on your inevitable “oops” moments and laugh at them. 

2. Say yes often.

True, sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying something new can be terrifying. But learning to say yes more can help you to open up, try new things and bring you new opportunities.

3. Less is more.

Don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades. Focus on being really good at just a few things. Hard work is wasted when it’s scattered in too many directions.

4. Tell people how you feel.

If someone hurts your feelings, be honest with them. If you’re having an incredible date with someone and it feels absolutely perfect, let them know what you’re thinking. When you hang up the phone with mom or dad, tell them “I love you.” Life’s too short not to say it—you may never really know when you’ll have the opportunity to say how you feel again.

5. Learn to love change.

The one thing you can count on is change. It will happen, and you can’t avoid it. It won’t always be easy, but change happens for a reason. Learn to be OK with it.

6. You don’t have as much to lose as you think.

Oftentimes, fear of loss is what prevents us from pursuing our dreams. When you’re right out of college, you don’t have much to lose. Why not start that business you always wanted? I guarantee you, your worst-case scenario is not that bad. And moving back in with mom and dad isn’t the end of the world.

7. Stop worrying so much about what other people think.

Letting the opinions of your peers influence your decisions is one of the worst things you can do, and you’ll realize later just how foolish it was. The only thing that is important is what you think and feel about yourself.

8. Be honest with yourself and others.

Always be true to yourself and others. Period. Honesty gives you peace of mind, and peace of mind is priceless. Relationships built on a foundation of lies won’t last.

9. Meet as many new people as you can.

It may not always be clear to you, but the people you meet can help you. Treat everyone like you’d like to be treated and be willing to make new friends. The world is smaller than you think. You’ll be amazed at who is connected to whom.

10. Find time to be alone.

Being alone can be wonderful. Make time to hang out with yourself. Be your own best friend—take yourself out to lunch, to a movie, or on a trip. I know, the thought of being alone can be overwhelming and scary. But you’ll learn a lot about yourself by just hanging out with you.

11. Learn to ask great questions.

You don’t know everything, and odds are you’ll find yourself around people who are a lot smarter than you. Stay curious, listen more than you talk and ask great questions. Some people have incredible stories and lessons to share—you just have to be willing to ask.

12. Leverage what you’ve got.

Stevie Wonder can’t see, but he has an exceptional ear for music. Because he exploited that talent—and his passion for music—he has 25 Grammy awards to show for it. Learn to work with what you’ve got instead of complaining about your situation.

13. Make people feel good.

Never underestimate the power of a simple compliment. Make the people around you feel good, and the world will return the favor. People seem to have a way of remembering the people who made them feel special.

14. Invest in yourself.

Never. Stop. Learning. Yes, school ends at some point, but life is a journey, and if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Learn a new skill, read a new book, learn a language, take a class, learn to dance, learn to play an instrument. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you invest in yourself and keep growing.

15. Find something challenging you love doing.

Find something that you’re passionate about and that challenges you. You’ll feel the most rewarded when you do.

16. Learn to love yourself.

You can’t possibly live a fulfilled life until you learn to love yourself completely. When you look in the mirror, tell yourself you’re handsome, or beautiful. Say it often. You’re unique and no one looks quite like you. Embrace it. Love it. Other people will only love you more for it.

17. “Send the elevator back down.” –Kevin Spacey

Once you find yourself in a position to help bring others up to where you are, send the elevator back down. It can be lonely at the top. Help others get to where you are. Mentor, give back, contribute.

18. Enjoy the journey.

We all have goals and aspirations. You’re probably working toward something right now. Achieving what you’ve been working for can be anticlimactic, so learn to love the journey and appreciate all the little failures and wins. You’ll wish you’d stayed in the moment more once you’ve “made it.”

19. It’s you versus you. That’s it.

Stop comparing yourself to others. You might never be the strongest person in the gym, the richest person on a Forbes list or the fastest person in the marathon. If that upsets you, you’re missing the point. Instead, concentrate on being better today than you were yesterday. If you keep doing that, you’ll be successful. It may not happen right away, but if you stay focused on improving just a little every day, you’ll amaze yourself.

20. Take big risks.

Go after what you want. Quit your job. Jump out of an airplane. Start a business. Walk up to the beautiful girl eating lunch alone and say hi. You won’t always succeed, but you won’t always fail, either.

21. Rediscover who you were born to be and be that.

Somewhere along the line we forget what made us come alive as kids—the things that used to make us feel amazing. Some of us are born to be writers, poets, musicians, artists or entrepreneurs. Take the time to relearn what makes you feel alive and do more of that. Don’t waste your life fulfilling someone else’s dreams. What the world needs is more people doing what they love.

Life is short but incredible. Wake up and enjoy the ride.

This article was published in September 2017 and has been updated. Photo by Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock

Jordan is an Internet entrepreneur based in Budapest, Hungary. He’s the co-founder and CEO of a startup company called Buffered VPN. You can learn more about Jordan on his YouTube channel, YouTube.com/FunWithJordan, or on Fried.com.