Last week we were at the beach, and as I was slathering on the sunscreen and shielding myself under this wonderful big umbrella, I couldn’t help but notice all these young women (and quite a few who weren’t so young), applying oil rather than sunscreen, then stretching themselves out to broil under the full blaze of the sun. I remember those days. The oil. The sun. The fabulous tan. (And the blistering sunburns!) Last week, however, I found myself watching those young women and thinking…someday you’re probably going to regret that. That got me thinking about the gift of hindsight, and all those other things I wish I’d figured out way before my fourth or fifth decade of life.
That said, without further ado…my list of things I wish I’d known at 21.
- Sunscreen and lotion are your FRIENDS. Truly, totally. Your skin is your skin, and while it’s beautiful and taut and glowing at 21, that will change as you age. It will. Lines appear. Blotches. Shadows. Moles. Freckles. And the texture…it won’t always be taut. Gravity does what gravity does, and someday everything will start drooping down. It just will. And the better care you take care of it while you’re young, the better care IT will take of you as you age. Don’t want a leathery hide? Start that sunscreen and lotion routine early.
- The importance of a good filing system. This is a BIG one. Huge. I hate clutter. LOATHE it. I like to have things put up…but for a long time I didn’t have any system other than stashing paperwork and photos and cards, receipts, documents into the closest drawer or box or cabinet. I’ve long said that when my kids venture out on their own, their primary housewarming gift is going to be setting them up with a functional filing system, a nice sturdy filing cabinet with pre-labeled files included.
- Saving for a rainy day is actually something you need to do. It sounds so clichéd doesn’t it? One of those things everyone talks about, but when those paychecks start rolling in, it’s so much fun to actually SPEND them. But life can turn on a dime, and it’s vital that you have an emergency fund put aside. Worst case, you don’t ever need it and can jaunt off to Paris someday. Best case, you never find yourself without the ability to buy groceries.
- Those pictures you take, that you think you’ll never forget who’s in them or what you were doing? Wrong. Label them. Organize them. Photo books are awesome, but even a (virtual) shoebox works. Your future self will thank you.
- Not everything is about you. Shocking, I know. But that big beautiful world we’re in? It doesn’t revolve around you, and so many times, the way people treat you has absolutely nothing to do with you. Realize that. Take a deep breath and keep an eye on the bigger picture.
- Read. If you stopped, start again. If you never stopped, keep going. Find something you like, something that interests you. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read poetry. Read physical books. Read on your device. Just READ.
- A closed mind is a closed door. You think you’ve got it all figured out? Well, guess what? You don’t. There’s a whole big world out there full of fascinating people and customs and ideas. Keep your mind open. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but if you don’t listen, explore…you’ll never know for sure.
- Learn self defense. This is another biggie. Learn how to protect yourself, take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. You can’t count on a knight in shining armor, but you can learn to count on yourself.
- As John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars, the world is not a wish-granting factory. I’m sorry. It’s not.Yeah, I wish it was, too. Sometimes. But the only fairy godmother you’ll ever have is yourself, and if you want your wishes to come true, you’ve got to go out and make it happen.
- I love you and I’m sorry might just be the five most important words you’ll ever learn. Sometimes they’re hard to say. I know that. Say them anyway. You’ll be better off for it.
- What’s on the outside changes; what’s on the inside rarely does. This one has really fascinated me as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I knew the outside would change, but somehow, it can still come as a shock. But the bigger shock is the inside. You are who you are. Your friends are who they are. Your parents, your siblings, they are who they are. And this doesn’t change as you get older. In fact, in many ways you simply become MORE of who you are. Awesome people stay awesome. Jerks stay jerks.
- Storms come, and storms go, but they always pass, and the sun always rises. Sometimes it’s so hard to realize this while you’re in one of those storms and your whole world seems to be crashing down around you. It’s so dark and scary and you just want to curl up in a ball and, and, and…I don’t know. But you feel tiny and cold and hopeless. But I’ve learned that tomorrow comes, and tomorrow after that, and no matter how devastating the storm, the sun will rise again, and with it a new day will begin.
- No one gets to write your life, except you. Bad chapters always end, and new ones always begin. This one is powerful, the realization that YOU are in charge of your life, and no one else. Don’t like something? Change it. LOVE something…protect it. There is no puppet master, no one forcing you to be miserable. You get to make those decisions. You get to write those chapters. You. No one else…unless you let them.
- There’s no substitute for kindness. Truly and honestly. Money, good looks, great clothes, an awesome car, the dream job….they don’t trump kindness. Surround yourself with kindness, kind friends, kind lovers, and practice it yourself. Be kind. Always.