21 Things I’ve Learned As I Enter My 21st Year


Love Letters To My 20s: A Fortnightly Column On The Stigma Surrounding Our Twenties

“Suddenly, you’re 21 and you’re screaming along in the car to all the songs you listened to when you were sad in middle school, and everything is different- but everything is good.” – Unknown.


On Wednesday, I turned the big 21.

I spent the day eating Ferrero Rochers, and enough vegetarian biryani to convince anyone that I was soon to be entering my third trimester. I also took the time to revel in prancing around my Dad’s house in my pants (tinny of Kronenburg in hand) to ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ by The Smiths.

As is to be expected when humming along to the graduate-appropriate lyrics “I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now”, I did quite a bit of reflecting. Twenty-one seemed to have crept up on me unlike any of my previous birthdays, where I had counted down to the 9th of December from six months in advance. I was convinced that this would just be how it goes now. The years were going to start whizzing by, giving me no chance to stop for breath, or – indeed – grab another handful of Ferrero Rochers. I shook my head of the thought, and instead started to count out twenty-one things that I have learned, mundane, profound, or otherwise, during my time on Earth. I started to realise just how much I’d evolved and matured – especially during the last three years.

You don’t always have to be so available.

Whether that’s in the form of texting back, accepting work that you don’t really have time to complete, or being emotionally present – don’t disrespect yourself by agreeing to something when, deep down, you want to say no.

The secret to all good cooking is simply: add paprika.

Pasta, curry, chips, or eggs; that sexy, smoky little spice will uplift anything and everything.

It’s okay to get your energy from solitude, rather than social situations.

I remember thinking that there was something wrong with me when I would get home after a day at university or work, and wanted to spend a few hours in my own company, instead of chatting to my family or friends. Realising that solitude was where I got my energy from, and allowing myself to revel in my own space instead of forcing something different onto myself, is one of the biggest acts of self-love I learned to gift to myself.

Drink more water.

I ignore this most days, and then wonder why I get such bad headaches, so I’m popping this in here as a reminder to myself, more than anything else!

If you be who you needed when you were younger, you can never, ever disappoint yourself.

This applies when speaking to young people, too. If I perpetuate the harmful ideas and stereotypes that I was subjected to when I was younger, then I am hurting my younger-self. I try my absolute best to keep this in my mind when speaking to my sisters, especially!

A backpack is way better than a handbag.

Yes, the shoulder bag might look cuter, but an un-slouched back and a fuller bag wins every time.

Always check your privilege.

This is really difficult to start doing, especially because (due to my privilege) I am so used to speaking and doing things without taking into consideration if my words and actions are underpinned by my privilege as a white, middle-class woman. It’s an ongoing process, but undoubtedly one of the biggest lessons of my twenty-one years.

Stop doing things to impress other people, and do them to challenge and better myself instead.

It took a horrific break-up to understand that the majority of what I did and said was to impress others, or to make myself ‘easier to consume’. I realised that I used to feel as though doing something for myself was selfish, rather than an act of self-love. Now, I’ll never go back.

A good card will always make me smile.

My favourite thing to give, and receive, is a card! I love every element of it, from picking a beautiful design, opening one with a good gag inside, writing a nice message with my favourite pen, buying stamps, and the excitement when one is delivered through my door with my name on it. No matter what, I know that a card will always cheer me up.

Take your vitamins!

Like my issue with drinking enough water, I leave taking my vitamin D tablets until early January, and then wonder why I spent the entirety of Winter feeling dizzy and sick…

Just be a nice human.

It’s not hard… Just be nice to people! Without sounding cheesy and re-hashing every Instagram quote ever, everyone is fighting their own battles that you have no idea about, so why make it harder by being unnecessarily mean?

Most people are not responding to you. They are responding to their assumptions about you and their beliefs about themselves, and that’s very different.

Despite a good rule of thumb being “just be a nice human”, there is always going to be someone who makes it their mission to be a dick to you, and that’s okay. They’re projecting their past lived experiences onto you, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Baths aren’t always as relaxing as people make out. Sometimes it just feels like you’re sweating into a broth made up of your own dead skin.

Every time that someone tells me to de-stress by having a bath, it makes me want to hurl.

A journal is a vital cog in the machine of your own wellbeing.

Write, reflect, evolve. Keeping a journal has been at the forefront of looking after myself, and I’d recommend it to everyone. Even if it’s just a line a day, being able to look back and understand a tiny part of what you were feeling that day is invaluable.

Beer is the best alcoholic drink out there. Sorry, wine-lovers!

If university has taught me one thing, it’s that beer is delicious, friendlier on your pocket than a glass of wine, and that the group’s conversation reaches its peak when everyone is ready to order their second pint.

Finding joy in the little things, and acknowledging the things that truly make me happy and peaceful, is never a waste of time.

Whether it’s looking forward to Christmas in September, like me, or singing in the shower really badly, like my sister, do more of what makes you happy!

Stop buying meal deals and just make a packed lunch.

Seriously, you self-entitled student, you do not need to spend £20 a week on meal deals when you just spent that amount on a week’s worth of food shopping. Get your shit together and make the cheese butty the night before.

Don’t wear dungarees/jumpsuits/playsuits to festivals.

As someone who has worn playsuits (without a bra) to Glastonbury and Kendal Calling, and who also finds herself needing a wee every hour (like clockwork), save yourself the embarrassment, the wee-covered outfits, and the chilly boobs by sticking to denim shorts and a top.

The answer is in how they treat you, not what they say.

Repeat that to yourself every time that a boy gives you any kind of excuse, or whenever a girl asks you for relationship advice in club toilets.

Don’t ever stop reading. Ever.

As Matt Haig says, “How to travel in time: read”. No matter how old (or young) you are, and however fast you think time is going, a good book will always help you to escape that.

People will tell you that you’re too emotionally involved, angry, or sensitive. That’s your superpower. You care with everything in you.

In fact, anyone that tells you that you’re “too” anything can jog on.

Words by Morgan Hartley.

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