A Letter To My 21-Year-Old Self

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Dear Junell,

You’re 21 today! This is a day you have been waiting on for a very long time. It seems even longer because you’re the youngest out of all of your friends! Eighteen was considered adulthood, but 21 is that next level of adulthood!  You’re almost finished with college, and about to be out in the real world. As you wake up today, very hungover by the way (don’t worry, you mostly learned that lesson, you’ll only get that drunk one more time in your life), I thought as your older, much wiser self, I would impart a little wisdom on you.

21st Birthday
Ready to Celebrate Your 21st Birthday

Let’s start with a couple of easy ones…

Be a better driver! This should be a given, but you’re terrible. You’re about to get into another wreck. What is this, like five? Luckily no one will ever get hurt by your terrible driving, but you will save thousands upon thousands of dollars if you would just pay more attention to the road. And this is before people will start texting and driving. Seriously, your only excuse is that you suck a driving. Take a class!

Listen to your parents. They are literally always right. Every. Single. Time. You’re rolling your eyes now, aren’t you? By the time you figure out that they’re always right, you’ll also learn that it’s either because they made your same mistakes and lived to tell the tale, or that they know you better than you know yourself. Your mom will actually know you’re pregnant before you figure it out. It’s freaky!

That guy that you think is so great right now… he’s not the one! In fact, there will be a few more “not the ones” before you do meet the one. Some of them will be total wastes of your time, but a few will teach you something about what you do want in the one. Don’t stop putting your heart on your sleeve. The one time you wanted to protect your friendship and not follow your heart, you ended up losing the friendship anyway because he got tired of waiting around for you.

21st birthday
A jello slip-n-slide is never a good idea… Neither is using Sun-In!

Don’t get the store credit card for 20% off your purchase. It sounds like a great idea while you’re buying 10 outfits, but what the clerk isn’t telling you is that the interest rate is 29% or more. Are you going to pay it off the second you get home? Nope! The math doesn’t add up. The store just made an extra 9% on you.

Life isn’t black & white. It’s lived in the grey area, but that area isn’t really grey either. It’s full of color. The older you get the more you’ll realize that there are very few clear cut answers in this world. The values that you are passionate about right now won’t change, you’ll always be socially liberal, but you’ll realize that most issues aren’t as simple as you think they are right now. Learn to have real discussions with the other side and listen to their answers with empathy and understanding. The political climate will get really ugly, and understanding the grey area will be what saves a lot of relationships.

Take the Trip, Experience the Things, But Don’t Make the Rest of Your Life Contingent on a Checklist!

You’re planning a trip with your roommate to Europe right now, and it’s going to be amazing. Life long memories! You’ll go on a couple more with her, and do some other really cool stuff too like going skydiving. Here is the thing that most of your generation is going to get caught up with, and you’ll fall into the trap of for a little bit too: don’t make the rest of your life contingent upon checking off a full list first!

trip to Europe
Take the Trip to Europe!

You and so many of your peers are going to have these lists that you want to complete before you get saddled down with a spouse and kids. You’re going to want to see all these places and do all these crazy things that you think you’ll never have another chance to do again and do a degree, you’re right! At 36 you will never again share a hostel in Paris with 8 strangers! But you won’t want to either!

What you and your peers don’t see right now is the whole being tied down thing isn’t so bad! Being tied down means you’ll have people at home when you get there at night after a really bad day. Being tied down means you’ll have someone to wake up to every day, and someone to rejoice in life’s everyday victories with. Being tied down means that you have someone who knows you, understands you, and to run ideas off of. You and your future husband are going to miss this point for a while, and end up breaking up and getting back together so many times your best friends are going to be sick of hearing about him! You both will be too scared to be tied down because you haven’t experienced all the things you want to experience yet, and you’ll cause yourself an ocean’s worth of unnecessary tears, and a bunch of really bad first dates.

If you’d let go of what you haven’t experienced yet and just follow your heart, the two of you could avoid wasting a lot of time!  Your friends could too. You’ll see a lot of them continue to add to their list of things to do before kids until they get to the point where they struggle to actually have them. Then you’ll watch them hurt and wonder why they thought it was so important to wait for so long.

No, you haven’t been back to Europe since getting married and having kids, but you will one day.  When you do go back, it will be with a different perspective on the world, and a different budget too! Do NOT travel again where you have to share bathrooms and hot water with strangers! For real! And you know what? If you don’t make it back, that’s ok too. That just means it wasn’t meant to be. The world is too big to see and experience everything in one single lifetime.

don't waste time making lists
Don’t waste time making a list of things to do before being tied down!

Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin!

Right now, you think you’re fat. You’ve always thought you were fat. The only thing you see are all the girls who are skinnier than you.  You were made fun of all through school for the size of your butt, your not flat stomach, your small boobs, and your weight. The complex has and will continue to stay with you. You were told by your school that the taunting was boys being boys, and you were expected to just accept that. You were expected to accept that your worth was tied up in boys being boys. The good news is, you won’t let your boys just be boys because of it.

You hid this picture for years thinking you looked fat!

Here’s the thing, the size you are right now, at 21, is the skinniest you’ll ever be! Once you get out into the real world and start working at a job that requires you to sit at a desk all day, your metabolism will start to tank, and it will tank more with each pregnancy. Carbs will not be your friend. Thank your genetics for that. You do need to make sure to take care of yourself and stay healthy (you’ll actually meet your husband in a gym, not the bar you’re walking into tonight), but don’t be so worried about the size of your clothes. That new “best friend” you’ll make very soon who talks constantly about her weight and really gets into your head, she has issues! Get her out of your head! She’s going to ditch you after you have kids anyway. One day you’re going to wish you are as fat as you think you are now.

For as skinny as you are now (yes, you’re skinny), in 15 years your kids will still make fun of you because the fashion choices you are making are absolutely ridiculous! Snakeskin, pleather pants are NEVER a good idea. Neither is purple glitter eyeshadow. Your kids, the people who matter most to you in the world, will never think twice about your size.

bad fashion
That’s a top? Seriously?

The right guy isn’t going to care if you are a size 0 or 14. He’s going to care about the inside. The guy you meet in the bar who does care about your size isn’t worth keeping around. You won’t remember his name one day when your kid finds your old pictures and asks who he is. You can ask your future husband on any given day what size you are and he won’t have a clue. He loves the way you look at any size! The one thing he doesn’t love, however, is bangs. When you cut bangs and cut your hair to shoulder length, then you’re going to have issues. He hates bangs and short hair. You’ll find a picture many years after you did it and realize what he was talking about too! Just. Don’t. With. The. Bangs!

Money is Important… Don’t Buy so Many Shoes!

You love to shop right now! Over the next few years, that love is going to grow, and you’re going to quite literally have a closet full of shoes and drawers upon drawers of makeup! Unfortunately, what you don’t see coming right now is a huge recession and that closet full of shoes is going to mean nothing when you have bills and a baby to pay for! Instead, you should have saved and invested some of that money! I know, super boring, right? But hear me out…

If you had invested some of the money you spent on things that will both go out of style and not fit you anyway in a few years, invested into a small company like Amazon, that money will be there when you’re stressed about how to both buy diapers and keep the lights on. You can still have some nice shoes, but 7 pairs of red heels that you’ve mostly only worn once is a bit over the top!

Pay attention to money trends!

Start paying attention to money trends and what is gaining momentum early on, then chase it! Just think, if you’d started your blog 15 years ago, when bloggers weren’t even really a thing, where would you be?

On the subject of money, always pay more than the minimum on your credit cards. Go ahead and calculate how much you’ll pay over five years in interest and fees if you don’t. Go ahead… I’ll wait… Ugly, huh? There is your next great trip, by the way! Put more than the minimum down on your house. You’ll have more leverage later when you need to refinance. Listen to your dad when he says to have three months saved up! You’ll be laid off during the recession and not given much of a severance package. You’ll need that money and will be extremely stressed out because of it. Then you’ll be fired again one day and be glad you have some savings while you work things out (you’ll wish you had more, you’ll always wish you had more).

Don’t Put Work First. Check Your Priorities!

There is going to be a big push with companies for the “team” environment. There will be a bunch of studies coming out about how employees work harder, and perform better when they feel they are part of a team or work family. The thing with that is, there are very few companies who really adhere to that philosophy: those will almost always be small startups with very little money. These larger companies you’re working for that are touting this mantra have one goal, and that’s to make you work harder for less money. The goal is for you to put the company before yourself. When you believe in your team or the company so much that it is your main priority, you’re much less likely to call foul when something is not right. You’re much less likely to cause trouble. That “open door policy” all of these companies say they have is B.S. Don’t use it and talk to your boss about anything. It will always bite you later.

Company Team Building
Company Team Building… on the day of one of your bestfriends’ weddings that you missed.

The other thing that will happen is that you’ll put work ahead of people.  You’ll miss weddings of dear friends, baby showers, visits with family because you believe that if you just put the company first that it will pay off. You’ll believe that they will see your dedication and reward you for it one day. The thing about it is, that the companies will never put the employees first and they will turn on you in a second to advance a different objective. It will happen to you and it will happen to many, many people you know. When you’re looked over for an opportunity for a promotion, or let go from the job you put first, you’ll be full of so much sadness but in hindsight, you’ll realize you weren’t sad because of the missed work opportunity. You’ll realize you’re sad because you missed life opportunities. You’ll hurt or even lose important relationships because your priorities were not in check.

Embrace Your Mistakes

I know, at 21 you think you have all of life’s answers, and you mostly do have your act together compared to a lot of people your age, but one day you are going to laugh at yourself and your “maturity.” If there is one thing you need to do more of, it’s not taking yourself so seriously, and laugh at life’s blunders! There are very few mistakes you can make that cannot be fixed. You’ll take a lot of your mistakes to a whole new level by over-thinking how you fix them!

Instead, choose to pause, learn something, then just laugh at yourself! Every mistake you make is an opportunity to learn something new about yourself, and will ultimately point you in the direction you’re supposed to go. You can choose to go in that direction with joy and laughter or kicking and screaming but either way, you’re going to go the way you’re meant to go.

Your choices will lead you down the path you’re meant to go. You just don’t know it yet.

You’ll make one huge “mistake” in a few short years and not realize that antibiotics hurt the effectiveness of birth control pills (so doesn’t not taking the pills at the same time every day). You’re going to be totally shocked when that mistake catches up to you and you realize your life is going to go in a totally different direction than planned. You’ll even spend the first couple years of motherhood & marriage mourning a lost youth, watching others continue to check off those lists they made, and not enjoying that time with your baby. That “mistake” actually gave you the kick in the rear you needed to grow up, and he’s a pretty awesome kid.

By the time you have your second kid, you’ll have learned to laugh at life and you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes for your family. Baby number 2 won’t be as fussy because mommy isn’t so stressed! Failure isn’t always a bad thing if you just learn to look at it differently.

Always Trust Your Gut

You know that gut feeling you get? You should listen to that more. Those feelings aren’t just thoughts in the back of your head. They’re really God telling you the direction you’re supposed to go, or protecting you from something. Trust it and listen to it more. When you start to feel things like maybe that boss isn’t a good person, go ahead and jump ship before the job turns bad. Those times you feel like it’s time to leave the party then just get up and go. When you get that weird feeling that you just need to call someone or go to them, do it. Don’t think about it and second guess it. That person needs you in that moment. Even those people you haven’t talked to or seen in a while. If they’re suddenly on your mind, that’s God telling you they need to hear from you.

By listening to your gut feeling, you’re trusting and believing that God has a plan and showing you have the faith to follow it.  In your moments of the deepest trials, whether its money trouble or marriage issues, as long as you continue to trust God’s plan, everything will turn out ok. Most of the time you won’t have a clue as to how it will be ok, but at that moment all you’re supposed to do is trust that it will. Don’t lose hours upon hours of sleep worrying because none of your worries will lead to any kind of clarity that will help. It’s when you let go of the control, and have faith that you will find your clarity in the hardest of situations.

You’re Capable of More Than You Give Yourself Credit For!

You’re full of self-doubt. You question constantly whether you can accomplish your goals. The thing you don’t know right now is that you have some grit about you, and when you need to dig your heels in, you do it with everything you have to follow through on your commitments and promises. You achieve some pretty amazing things this way. Remember that when you start doubting yourself and get tempted to settle for another job you hate right after you decide to finally go after your passion for writing. Keep at it, and you’ll figure it out! You won’t let yourself fail!

Above all else, enjoy this time that you’re in, and love those who really matter with everything you have!


You at 36

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  1. Laura | 8th Feb 19

    Oh! Where was this post when I was 21! This is super!

  2. Shirley | 7th Feb 19

    Fantastic idea for a post! It sure makes me think about what I would say to myself. Thanks for the great read.

  3. T.M. Brown | 5th Feb 19

    Oh the things I would share with my 21 year old self. Ages 22 and 23 were likely my favorite years to live, but I wish I could have prepared myself for certain things coming down the pike. You may very well have inspired a trend here – writing that letter sounds therapeutic and I just may have to try it out. LOL. Thanks for sharing, Junell!

  4. Brittany | 5th Feb 19

    I know we don’t know each other, but you gave me chills reading this! It makes me want to write my own letter to my 21 year old self. The things we thought were important then………

  5. Katie | 5th Feb 19

    This is great, I feel like you were talking to me at 21, and now that I’m 37 I have the same sentiments of what I should have done and focused on. And I agree, use your 20’s to stay in hostels and get the college experience of Europe, because going back i’ve Had a totally different perspective, and I’m very glad I have both! ❤️

  6. Nicki | 4th Feb 19

    This is great! If only the 21 year olds out there would listen!

  7. Dennis | 3rd Feb 19

    Nice post! If only we could go back and tell our younger selves what’s ahead. It also makes it so frustrating when we try to help our kids learn from our mistakes, yet they don’t always take the advice.

  8. Jennifer Morrison | 2nd Feb 19

    I love this post! So many of the things I would tell my 21-year-old self as well! Especially the credit card! LOL. Good Read!

  9. Kathryn at QuestFor47 | 2nd Feb 19

    Amazing letter! I remember having so many issues with my body when I was in college, but I barely weighed 125 pounds! After graduation I lived in Alabama and put on SO much weight, that I was just like…wow, Remember what used to be? Definitely puts things into perspective! Thanks for sharing.

  10. Pauline | 2nd Feb 19

    This was beautiful. There are lots of things I would tell my 21 year old self.

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