21 Lessons for the Twenty-One Year Old


Going home to Lipa, the weekend after my birthday

To me, turning twenty-one is both a big deal and something I can shrug off nonchalantly.

In my head, twenty-one means that you have had a year to practice this whole adulting thing, and that at this point, you should’ve at least learned something already. You should have had re-rooted somewhere else and have figured out a bunch of tricks here and there to survive and even have fun. And predominantly, it’s the idea that from this point on, you can’t use ignorance as an excuse for messing things up.

So yeah. Turning twenty-one should be overwhelming to me.

But then, at twenty-one, I found myself not really dwelling on these emotions, fears as much as I did the years before. I wasn’t anxious about my birthday. I didn’t count down. I guess, at twenty-one, so much has been going on for me to even think about it, that I could just let it pass and be. It’s the most underwhelmed milestone of my life yet, if I’m being honest.

I realize, twenty-one has left me with a sense of maturity. I think and feel differently; I probably have been thinking and feeling differently for a while now. Reflecting on it, it actually feels cool to be the person I am today. I am happy about myself, especially because of the lessons I learned along the way:

  1. Sleep facing the sky. Someone told me that this sleeping position alleviates back pain and corrects the spinal posture at night. Your back will start to hurt more often and even if you’re still young, you have to learn to take care of yourself in little ways.
  2. Be less afraid of small talk. Conversations involve more listening than talking. You’d be surprised how many people need your silence.
  3. Text your parents even if you’re not necessarily a text person and you don’t really text them before. This is the point of your lives where you’d start seeing each other less. Just let them know how you are from time to time to ease their worries.
  4. Break your routine. Surprise yourself. From now on, you’d be in-charge of a bigger chunk of your life, including your happiness. Make yourself happy instead of waiting for destiny to work for you.
  5. Make decisions regarding matters of the heart. Don’t be pushed into implied situations. You don’t have to settle for someone you don’t really like. Likewise, you don’t have to play stalemate when you find someone you can’t imagine leaving. People might think that 21 is young still, but that doesn’t mean you can’t understand your feelings and commit to them.
  6. Shake a hand firmly. In business, this can indicate dominance. In life, this is just you being sure of yourself and reaching out.
  7. Reserve a pair of silly socks for Wednesdays. Hide them by wearing a pair of boots or closed shoes. It helps to have a funny secret when you’re half-way through the week.
  8. Pursue your dreams in ways you can. To be a writer, you write. To be a dancer, you dance. It starts with something simple.
  9. Have faith. Whether it be on a divine being or on a principle, believe in something.
  10. Treat mistakes as a learning curve. Here’s a new motto I’ve been telling myself nowadays: “It’s okay to make mistakes the first time. Learn from it.”
  11. Date yourself. Eat dinner in a fancy restaurant alone. Watch the last full show alone. Travel alone. You, yourself can be really good company.
  12. Try not to splurge just because you’ve started earning your own money. Expenses work differently when you’re working and when you’re studying. The money you own is the money you use to sustain yourself. If what you want isn’t within budget, don’t make it fit.
  13. Determine your non-negotiable expenses and allot money for it. Know which need you have to prioritize and set aside a part of your budget for it. Then, no matter how tempting, make sure you spend it for nothing else but that.
  14. Make an effort to get in touch. Talk to people that you want to be part of your day. At a phase of your life where not all your friends are in the same classroom, you should make an effort to keep those you want to keep.
  15. Talk to people older than you. Your parents, your aunts and uncles, and even your senior officemates, aren’t there to just lecture you about life. When you spend time to just chat, you can find that you enjoy their company and that you appreciate hearing a lifetime’s worth of stories.
  16. Dress up or down for yourself and for yourself only. Indulge in days when you want to feel like a princess, a diva and even an ugly duckling. Be comfortable expressing how you feel or how you’d want your day to go through your clothes or make-up. (Make an exception if you have to dress up for work.)
  17. Arm yourself with a red lipstick (or a comfort thing of your choice). Sometimes, it’s easier to believe that other things can make you better, braver and bolder than to believe that you are just that by yourself. And that’s okay.
  18. Clean your room. This chore can be a pleasant surprise, a way to ground yourself again when you find that your life is getting too messy.
  19. Find your center. Determine one thing you are sure of and will be sure of when things go awry. It helps to have something to hold go.
  20. Forgive yourself. You’re a grown up, yes, but you still have a lot to learn. You won’t get everything right the first time. That’s what experiences are for. Failing doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
  21. Tell the joke that you don’t think people will find funny. Take a risk.

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