1. Become besties with your mom.
As I get older, I realize more and more that my mom is–gasp!–human. She’s made mistakes, she’s not flawless, and she has experience being a woman in her twenties. The best part about becoming best friends with your mom is that, no matter what, she loves you unconditionally. Even if you shock her, scare her, or disappoint her, she’ll always be on your side.
2. Leave the passive aggression for the pubescent teenagers.
At twenty-one, storming off and bottling up your emotions isn’t cute anymore. While punishing everyone with silence and side-eye might feel rewarding in the moment, it’s really just postponing a resolution to whatever is upsetting you. Saying how you feel can be scary, but saying it out loud will make you feel so much better than holding it all in.
3. Learn how to stand up for yourself, no matter who you’re standing up against.
As Aibileen Clark says in The Help: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Don’t let people treat you as if you aren’t. Confrontation can be anxiety-inducing, but standing up for yourself is worth it and can be as simple as saying, “Actually, I disagree.” or “I don’t appreciate you saying/doing that.”
4. Stay informed!
Invest in a subscription to the NYTimes while you still have a valid college email address (it’s only $4/month for a digital subscription on your computer and phone!). Part of this whole “adulting” thing involves being a global citizen, so try dedicating at least 15-30 minutes every day to what’s going on outside of your personal bubble.
5. Travel to a place that’s been on your wishlist for as long as you can remember.
Because it’s relatively expensive and requires a decent amount of planning, travel can get easily pushed off and forgotten. Take the initiative and start planning a trip to your dream destination for after graduation, during Christmas break, etc. It all starts with an idea a little persistence.
6. Get smart with your money.
Said persistence (see #5) requires some monetary planning. If you haven’t already, open a savings account or certificate of deposit–you might even consider starting a Roth IRA. I’m not saying you need to learn how to do your taxes or become a master stock trader (because let’s be honest that stuff is confusing as hell), just learn the basics: budget, savings, and occasional splurges (don’t forget to treat yo’self, after all).
7. Let everyone you love know exactly how you feel…
At this point in life, people are busy and it’s easy to let the ones who mean the most to you slip away. Be proactive: write them a note or make them a card to tell them just how much they mean to you.
8. …and let those who don’t love you fall to the wayside.
Recognize those who take advantage and keep you from being completely yourself and release yourself from those toxic relationships (romantic and otherwise).
9. Clean out your email.
If you’re one of those people with 1,000+ unread emails in your mailbox, take note. Read your emails, organize them, and unsubscribe from websites and newsletters you don’t care about. Seriously, this will make your online and professional life feel so much more organized and streamlined.
10. Read Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness.
Passionate, but still scared about the future? Feel like the “real” world will swallow you whole and spit you back out? Marina’s writing shows that we all feel that way. The only way to come out on top is to remain entirely yourself and never lose your fire: “…the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up…”
11. Make a pledge to take care of yourself.
Unfortunately, when you turn 21, veggies won’t taste any better—I think we all hope, in vain, that at some point in our life eating healthy will taste just as good as eating a burger, fries, and a shake—and working out won’t necessarily become any easier. However, make it a point to treat your body in a way that makes you feel happy, healthy, and confident.
12. Find a hobby that you love.
Maybe you tried kickboxing freshman year and absolutely loved it, but you got swamped with organizations, classes, and other stuff. Try it again! Love writing? Start keeping a journal. Want to learn the piano? Take a class at your university or sign up for lessons! It’s always nice to have a hobby to switch up your normal routine and relieve stress.
13. Be safe.
For all my ladies engaging in sexual activity, PLEASE take your sexual and reproductive health seriously. Research contraceptive methods and find one that suits your needs so you don’t end up with any unwelcome surprises.
14. Make it a point to challenge yourself and go outside your comfort zone on a regular basis.
Ask that cool girl in your journalism class to grab a coffee. Go salsa dancing. Take a spur of the moment trip to [insert city here]. Apply for that internship/job in NYC! Take even the smallest of adventures to keep yourself from settling too far into your routine.
15. Learn how to cook. Like really cook.
As the Queen of Lean Cuisines, I can testify to the fact that there’s “cooking” and then there’s cooking. Not only is cooking typically healthier and cheaper than eating out and eating pre-packaged food, but it’s also a great stress-reliever (win-win!).
16. Free yourself from some of your social media.
It’s so easy to get too caught up in posting Instagrams, checking Snapchat stories, aimlessly scrolling through Facebook walls, replying to Tweets, etc. Choose two or three platforms, and stick to them. At the very least, delete some of those apps off of your phone so you’re not tempted to open them 24/7. Take a step back for a few weeks, and you’ll realize that they never really added anything to your life in the first place. It might even feel liberating after a while not to constantly be checking your phone and obsessing over what other people are doing.
17. Fall in love with yourself.
Self-acceptance and confidence are not things that develop overnight; and even when you do feel like you’ve started to feel comfortable in your own skin, it’s not consistent. Remember that, just like any other relationship built on love, you have to work to maintain it. Identify the qualities you love about yourself and ask those around you why they love you; keep a running list and refer back to it when doubt starts to creep up on you.
18. Find joy in learning new things on a regular basis.
The world is such a vast, diverse place, that there’s no way to run out of new things to learn. Take up a new language, try painting, take a class in a subject you have no experience in. That little light bulb can always get a little brighter.
This one’s pretty straight-forward. You’re lucky enough to live in a place where you have the privilege to be an active participant in your government; don’t take it for granted.
20. Avoid presumption and judgment.
You should know by now that first (and even second and third) impressions can be misleading. Give everyone a few chances to really show you their best side (unless, of course, this person’s transgressions have been violent, abusive, or degrading in any way—then don’t waste the energy on judging and just get the hell out.)
21. And most importantly, take lists like this with a grain of salt.
The glorious thing about life is that everyone is different, and there really isn’t a definitive milestone everyone needs to reach by the time they turn 21. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed or unhappy with who you are. You’ve made it this far! That’s an accomplishment in and of itself, so celebrate every day and do what makes you happy.