Advice for a 21 year old

I turned 21 last week and I want to know; what do you wish you’d known when you were 21? What do you wish you’d done but didn’t, or what did you do that you think was an unmissable experience?

In a similar vain to the last post about advice for going into your 30s, I now present advice for people going into their 20s from this MetaFilter thread on the subject. Polystark provides a nice list that many people echo later in the thread:

  • I wish I’d got into politics earlier. It feels like I missed out on a lot of background knowledge because I didn’t read the paper much.
  • It’s OK to make a fool of yourself. In any context including romantic and aspirational.
  • Occasionally daydream about stuff that you reckon would be quite fun (starting a band, making a film, kissing another girl, going hang-gliding)? Just do it. Really. Start immediately. If you need help, enlist interested people or your mates. Just start. Please. I didn’t and waited until six months ago and now I have a full time job and no free time. It would have been so much better to get cracking when I was a student with loads of free time.
  • Sex - experiment as much as possible. (#)

Some more advice follows:

I’ve always liked what Viv Stanshall said on this general subject, “If I had all the money I’d ever spent on booze, I’d spend it on booze.” (#)

Accept the fact that you’ll never stop growing up. When I was twenty I assumed I was as mature as I was ever going to be. Now I think back to how stupid I was and it makes me laugh.

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.

95% of everything is crap but that doesn’t mean people need to constantly hear about the awesome 5% you’ve discovered.

Stay out of debt. STAY OUT OF DEBT.

Learn about the magic of compound interest. Learn about the benefits of starting young. Start now.

Document the things you do. Take pictures, keep a journal. You may think you’ll remember everything you ever did but when you get older it’ll all blend together. (#)

Take lots of pictures, and as soon as you get them developed, write on the back of each one the names of the people in the picture and the date it was taken. I found some old photos at my mom’s house, and people who I saw every day like 6 years ago, I can’t remember their names. (#)

Take care of your teeth. Everything else is overrated. (#)

Self-discovery is great, but make sure you’re doing it for yourself, not to satisfy the impression you’d like to make on everyone else. (#)

grumblebee left a really long comment, and there is one part that I like a lot:

Learning is a muscle. Exercise it. This isn’t an issue for you now. You’re in college, so you’re forced to learn things. But most people quit learning when they leave school or soon after. They literally go through decades of their life without learning any new ideas or skills.

I know this is true, because I teach computer classes. Some of my students are people who come because they’ve lost their non-tech job and need to propel themselves into the 21st Century. They tell me that they hate computers, can’t read manuals and can’t learn software.

What I discover is that their problem has nothing to do with computers or manuals. It has to do with the fact that they’re 47 and the computer is the first really new thing they’ve had to tackle in years. It could have been anything. It just happened to be the computer.

So once you leave school, keep learning. You won’t have professors to give you assignments any more, and it’s surprisingly easy to get a job in which (after the first year or so), you can sink into a routine and never have to master anything new. Then, if you have kids, you’ll start saying things like, “I’d love to read, but I just don’t have the time.” And then, when you get the time, you’ll find that you’ve lost the ability to read — the book will just put you to sleep.

This advice is especially important NOW. We’re moving into a world that is changing REALLY fast. You will HAVE to keep learning to stay on top of things. Your kids will grow up in this world and it will be natural to them. But you were born on the cusp between that world and the old world, and you saw tons of examples of grownups who never had to learn anything new. Don’t be like that. (#)

Advice is weird. I can’t say that you should follow everything that I quote in this thread, but they are all worth thinking about. That especially goes for this comment by nixerman:

When I was your age I told myself: “If I live past 30, I’m a failure.”

Basically, now is your time to fail and fail spectacularly. Not little, “Why didn’t I tell her how I feel?” petty failures. The kind of failures that leave 11 dead and get you a FBI record. (Ok, that might be too big a failure.) Make as many mistakes possible, the bigger the better. If something ever seems like a “bad idea” or you can’t afford it or it’s just up and up impossible this is the best reason to do it. Pain is the best teacher. Live dangerously. Remember, the worst that’ll happen is your parents will end up flying across the country to tell a judge that you’ve got a good heart. And that’s not so bad, is it? (#)