What do you wish you'd known/done when you were 21?
August 30, 2005 4:13 AM   Subscribe

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?

I'm the kind of person who wants to have an interesting life. At the moment I'm about to go into my second year at University, so travelling or anything of great expense is out given that my bank account currently stands at 28 pence. I know "I'm still young" but I really want to do a lot of stuff in my twenties that I can look back on, rather than waiting until I'm 30 and realising I'm too busy with a career or family or whatever.
And as well as wanting ideas for things to do, I'd love to know what people wish they had known in their twenties, so that I can learn it now and not be one of those people looking back saying "dude, if I'd known that I wouldn't have made so many mistakes/wasted so much time/eaten so many McDonalds happy meals (I thought they were GOOD for you!)"

I'm single (female), outgoing and relatively healthy. I want to know anything you can think of, literally. Regarding health, money, sex, love, hobbies, travel, entertainment, confidence and body image, family...... basically anything about anything.
posted by trampesque to Society & Culture (60 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also 21 (and female/a student/in the UK) and probably the biggest thing I'm noticing is that a lot of my friends (both students and non-students) are getting into quite a bit of debt. None of them seem particularly worried (!), but I think it would bother me a lot and I'm realising that I'm definitely not comfortable with the idea of owing lots people lots of money. This is a good time to become financially educated because that's going to be useful in the long-term, so that's something I'm really working on now.

Will be keeping an eye on this thread!
posted by speranza at 4:28 AM on August 30, 2005

Quick background: I'm 24, female, from the UK, a year out of Uni, having an awesome time.

* 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.
* Stretch yourself. Want to do something but feel a bit scared about it? Try and do it. This has two effects: a) you get over the smaller things that seem scary when you're young but you'll have to do at some point much earleir (learning to drive, travelling on my own were two big ones for me) and b) if you're scared of something, chances are your options are restricted by it so overcoming your fear gives you more freedom.
* Sex - experiment as much as possible.

Good luck! 21 is an awesome time.
posted by pollystark at 4:58 AM on August 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

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."
posted by Jofus at 5:05 AM on August 30, 2005

I'm 37, and a guy. There's lots and lots of things I could say, but it all boils down to these four things:
  1. stay out of debt
  2. save what you can
  3. travel and
  4. experiment with sex.
Lots of experimentation with sex.
posted by Irontom at 5:09 AM on August 30, 2005

At 21 (especially in the US), one can "stay out of debt" but still be in a significant amount of debt already, due to having gotten an education.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:15 AM on August 30, 2005

The "unmissable experiences" that are most valuable are the ones that you discover for yourself. The most fun part of life is the suprises along the way.

And lots of experimentation with sex.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:24 AM on August 30, 2005

I discovered hiking and backpacking at age 22. It's a simple, cheap activity that takes a lot of hard work but has great rewards. I spent pretty much all my free time from age 22 to 25 walking up mountains and sleeping on the sides of them and it was great. I also ran a bunch at that age, completing my first marathon at age 24. Stay active, keep an open mind, and have a good time.

About the only regrets I have from that time are getting into some student loan debt, so do heed the warnings about staying out of debt -- it made my first job out of college painful, since I had to devote so much of my meager paycheck to paying off my new debt.
posted by mathowie at 5:30 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Take a chance and live in another country for a few months. Even if you're broke there are plenty of programs for volunteering that will provide food and housing.
posted by Alison at 5:31 AM on August 30, 2005

Stay out of credit card debt (student loans were a great investment for me).
Long distance relationships are really, really hard, no matter how much you love him.
Experiment with sex.
If your teens were rough on your relationship with your parents, make up with them. Or at least make peace with them.
Stay in shape - it's easier at 21.
Road trips are the bomb!!
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:34 AM on August 30, 2005

Figure out what your fears are and take steps to get over them now.

Take times to do things while you can. Some day you might have a career or a child. The luxury of a weekend trip will be something you can only dream about. Do it now. Like Mathowie, I spent most of my twenties lugging my home on my back up the sides of mountains and sleeping in snow while my friends spent their weekends watching TV. I don't have the time (or the muscles) to do it now but I'm so glad I was able to do it when I did.

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. Even reading through my MeFi posts from two years ago makes me wonder who that idiot was.

Those people who say high school was "the best years of their life"? Pity them.

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

Good liquor is worth the extra money and when you order it in a bar people will think you actually know what you're doing.

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

Having no relationship is much better than having a bad relationship.

Experiment with sex, a lot, but do it safely.

Stay out of debt. STAY OUT OF DEBT.

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

Don't waste your energy on hate.

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.
posted by bondcliff at 6:11 AM on August 30, 2005 [12 favorites]

Stay out of consumer debt (esp. credit card debt) — it's a trap from which it can take years to escape.

Experiment with sex — discover what you like and what others like.

Stay in shape — poor physical condition, especially obesity, can by frustrating when you'r older. And it's 10x easier to cope with physical issues when you're 21 than when you're 36.

Do not rush to judge others — everyone, even those people you're most inclined to mock, is human, and there are reasons they believe what they believe and do what they do. When you waste time mocking rednecks or liberals or whatever class of people you might mock, you're wasting your time.

Travel! Travel is infinitely easier when you're young and have fewer commiments (no mortgage, no spouse, no children, no career).

Explore — read books of all sorts, try all kinds of food, participate in events you'd never think of doing, get outside your comfort zone.

This one might cause some frowns around here, but: if you use mind-altering substances, do so in moderation. Or better yet, don't use them at all. Now that I'm approaching 40, it's sad to see how rough some of my friends have it due to their addiction to alcohol or other drugs. (My two pothead friends are still stuck in the same place they were when they were 21, which makes them bitter and resentful because they think they've been handed a raw deal, but if they'd stop with the pot they might be able to pull themselves out of their self-created mire.) On preview: bondcliff is right — learn about good alcohol; nothing beats a small glass of a fine scotch.

Most of all: so long as you're not harming others, do what makes you happy. Don't get stuck in job because of some perceived obligation. Don't get stuck in a long term relationship because you're afraid that breaking it off would hurt your partner — find a relationship that makes you feel happy in every way (again, as bondcliff says: better to have no relationship than a bad relationship). Read — a lot — in every genre. If you think you might want to learn photography, learn photography. (Community college classes are an excellent, cheap way to try something new. Try one.)

Good luck! I'd love to be 21 again...
posted by jdroth at 6:17 AM on August 30, 2005

Ditto on the staying out of credit card debt. Oh, to have back the money I've spent on interest.

Also, re: body image -- enjoy and appreciate the body you have now; see the beauty in it and be grateful for what it does for you. I never believed what my older acquaintances said about metabolism slowing down, weight being harder to drop, etc. and now I look back at the body I had at 21 and would love to have it back (both how it looked and how it functioned). I wasted way too much time back then on insecurity and self-criticism.

Finally, and this is JMHO, remember that the person you fall in love with at 21, if he/she is worthwhile, will still be there when you're 25+ and have experienced all the changes in attitude, ambition, etc. I married for the first time at 21 and was divorced -- first in my family -- by 25. Back then I felt like I couldn't experience love (and all the trappings) fast enough and boy, was it a painful learning experience.
posted by justonegirl at 6:18 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

This is definitely not good advice for everybody, since a lot of young people already mistakenly believe that they're much smarter than they are... but if I were to go back in life, I would very much like to have more faith in my own intelligence/reasoning/creative skills.

One of my big problems in life has been that I have given too much credit to other people who claim it - even when they are mistaken, or just lying. I know it sounds horrible, but existence has been so much better for me since I simply decided that, "eh - I'm probably just a lot smarter than most other people I encounter, and thus it's probably better if I do things my way, instead of theirs".

Of course, if you already have a pretty big ego, then this advice will most certainly hurt instead of help you.

(plus: floss.)
posted by taz at 6:21 AM on August 30, 2005

Get to know your older relatives, including and especiialy your parents. They'll be gone before you know it, and you won't have the opportunity after.
posted by crunchland at 6:30 AM on August 30, 2005

What do you wish you'd done but didn't?

posted by Danelope at 6:35 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Avoid coke and heroin. Try everything else once.
posted by mkultra at 6:35 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Besides the great ones above such as experimentation with sex and staying out of debt, I'd have to add, chill the fuck out. Don't worry about things so much, don't worry what people think, that you might miss out on something, that you aren't exactly where you wanted to be at every moment, just enjoy your life.

At least for me at 21(and I suspect to some aspect you or else you wouldn't have asked this question) I was so wound up in living right, I forgot to live right.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:38 AM on August 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

Those people who say high school was "the best years of their life"? Pity them.

Ditto for those who say the same about college. The general advice is not to look back and wish you were still living in the past. Try and make the present the "best years of your life".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:42 AM on August 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

Since you can't afford to travel for vacation, try signing up for a study abroad program. I really wish I had done that in college, as I haven't had the money or opportunity to go to Europe since.

Embrace every opportunity and try different things (and I don't just mean in bed). Take classes outside of your major that you think might be interesting, go on stupid road trips with your friends, apply for that job you really want, join as many clubs & student orgs as you would enjoy, go sky diving, etc. Those kinds of adventures are the ones I remember the most now that I've graduated, and the ones I feel I learned the most from.

I also like bondcliff's suggestion of taking lots of pictures. I didn't take many photos in college, and now I wish I had.
posted by geeky at 7:21 AM on August 30, 2005

I thought I had to have it all together at 21 ... the career with the direct line to the top; the ability to manage money even though I didn't have any; the perfect relationship; the poise and direction and wisdom I saw in everyone else.

If I could go back, I'd be much easier on myself--turns out, no one has it all under control, especially at 21. I'd focus more on asking lots of questions, learning from my mistakes and having absurd amounts of fun while slowly getting my house in order.

And I'd floss and visit the dentist/doctor while I still had good insurance and love love love my body while everything still worked properly.
posted by hamster at 7:47 AM on August 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

1. Travel. Actually, don't just travel, plan on living abroad someplace where English is not the predominant language. Plan on living there long enough that you think of it as home--at least a year.

2. Be less self-conscious. The older you get, the less you care what other people think of you. Might as well get a head-start. While some people take this to extremes (you really don't need to fart loudly at tea parties), a disregard for social conventions and what is expected of you is often a good thing. This is not to be confused with being mean or callous, of course.

3. Get in good exercise habits. Find at least a couple of forms of exercise you enjoy and stick with them. This will make a huge difference as you get older.

4. Pick your friends and SOs. Don't be afraid to break up, don't stay too long in bad relationships (platonic or romantic), and be conscious of whether a relationship is a good or bad one.

5 (related to 4) Find your tribe/tribes, by which I mean people of like minds who you feel comfortable with. For the longest time, all the people I met would ask me 'what do you do?' first thing. This always bugged me. Among the circles I move in now, people never ask that.

6. Don't try to answer the question "what am I going to do with my life?". Just try to answer "what am I going to do with my life next?".
posted by adamrice at 7:49 AM on August 30, 2005 [10 favorites]

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?
posted by nixerman at 7:52 AM on August 30, 2005 [6 favorites]

Take care of your teeth.

Everything else is overrated.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

I wish I would have

1. finished school at a much younger age.

2. started saving at a much younger age.

3. started running or comparable cardio exercise at a much younger age.

4. developed better dietary habits at that age.
posted by tetsuo at 8:10 AM on August 30, 2005

As a 22-year-old turning 23 in a month, I feel like this is good advice for everyone here, even those of us who may be long past 30 and 40... and I would imagine that most people offering this stuff up are still living by it today...

I would just say, learn to laugh at yourself, and do it a lot.

And I second those who said make tons of mistake. They are the best.
posted by dead_ at 8:17 AM on August 30, 2005

Write down a list of several impossible goals for yourself. There's something amazing about the simple act of writing them down which makes these goals much more likely to come to pass.

I wish I'd known that people respect you for failing spectacularly. Even business people do. You are more likely to get a stunning career with one or two enormous, audacious failures under your belt than with a by-the-books, up-from-the-bottom "normal" approach.

Don't get married too young. 21 is far too young to be limiting your choices in that manner.
posted by Invoke at 8:31 AM on August 30, 2005 [3 favorites]

Do what YOU want to do, not what other people (especially your parents or family) want you to do, or think you should do. Do what makes you happy. Don't get married or have a kid. If you get a job, view it as a stepping stone to something you truly want to do. I'd say avoid "responsibility" as long as possible (i.e., no kid, no house, no spouse). However, that doesn't mean be irresponsible, like not paying your bills, etc.
posted by cass at 8:51 AM on August 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

On the "experiment with sex (safely)" front: never ever assume that some guy you want is out of your league and unavailable. Figure that with enough forthrightness, you can have whomever you want. Lots more here.

Don't waste your time watching the same movie over again. See the classics; they're classics for a reason. If you watch anything in another language (do!), don't let the sound just wash over you; work hard to match up some of what you hear with the subtitles.

In general, avoid disposable culture in favor of stuff that's proven some lasting value.
posted by Aknaton at 10:10 AM on August 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

Definitely start a retirement account now. Compound interest is your friend.

And experiment with latex.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:23 AM on August 30, 2005

I’m almost 40, male. The most fun part of your entire life will be (should be) between 19 and 27. You’ll never be so free again. However, the happiest I’ve ever been has been as a thirty-something with a good job, a wonderful wife, and amazing kids. So, my answer to your question is that you should have as much fun as you possibly can without in any way reducing the probability that you’ll be able to have happy relationships in your more distant future. In a nut shell: Avoid addiction, pregnancy, poor health, & debt like the freakin’ plague.

With that as your starting point: The things I’m most glad I did were backpacking, road trips to see concerts, playing the guitar on the street corner, camping for a month, hanging out with friends, making movies, and never taking any of my lame college jobs seriously at all.

Also, I wrote in a journal almost ever single day. If you do that, you’ll be very glad you did.
posted by crapples at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2005 [7 favorites]

I've found that once one hits or passes middle age, one can look back longingly and wish away all the fine things they are and have.
For example, I can look back and say, "I wish I had finished college earlier", or "I wish I hadn't married so young", or "I wish I'd risked it all and took my rock and roll band on the road." But I'd be wishing away my beautiful children, and the wonderful love and life I have now.
So my advice is, never regret what you have done.
posted by gnz2001 at 11:09 AM on August 30, 2005 [3 favorites]

Oh please. I understand this question might be what do you wish "you'd" known/done when 21, but some people might actually take this advice at face value, so a warning to those who might not be taking this thread with a pinch of salt..

The prime rule is to not do anything you definitely don't want to do. Keep yoour mind open, but don't "experiment with sex" (and I'm assuming the word 'experimenting' is being used to cover a lot of non-standard stuff) just because a bunch of uptight 30-somethings missed out and said you must. A lot of trouble in people's lives come from people experimenting because they "thought they should while they were young". And suggesting someone try cocaine if they get the offer? WTF!

Perhaps I should add "realize that most people older than you really don't know any better" to the list.
posted by wackybrit at 11:16 AM on August 30, 2005 [2 favorites]

Realize that older people have experience with having been younger people. Realize that the opposite is not true.
posted by bondcliff at 11:30 AM on August 30, 2005

What do you wish you'd done but didn't?

[40/Male]: I wish I'd done more in my 20s to positively affect my status now. Others here have already brought up most of these things (exercise, nutrition, savings, etc.)

When I was in my 20s, I thought I needed to have more adventures so that I wouldn't later regret not having them. I think I got this idea from TV shows and movies in which middle aged people looked back on their youth and wish they had "kissed that girl" or "taken that trip to Japan."

I'm all for adventure (at ANY age), but I never regret missing out on adventures in the past. Who cares about that? I only care about present and future adventures. When I was 20, I didn't care that I might have missed out on some cool toys when I was nine. And I NOW don't care if I missed out on dating some girl when I was 20. Does anyone really care about missed opportunities in the past if they don't affect the present or is this just a movie cliche? Maybe one that makes young people feel special? (I'm honestly asking. Maybe I'm just odd this way.)

So I guess I would tell my younger self not to enjoy life and have adventures because for fun -- not because I'll WISH I had had them later.

Here are a few more pearls of wisdom (God, I can't believe I'm at the age where I'm dishing out "wisdom" to younger people -- how arrogant that sounds!):

-- 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.

Set yourself a goal of learning one new thing a month. Don't wait for life to force you to learn something. If you don't have to learn something for a class or for your job, then pick something and learn it -- just to enrich yourself as a person and keep the learning "muscle" alive!

-- Marry your best friend. I've been married to mine for almost 10 years now. God, I am SO glad I didn't marry those other girls who I was really attracted to but didn't like all that much. DON'T get fooled by passion. Have flings with those passions, sure. Don't marry them and buy a house with them. I'm STUNNED by the number of people who have nothing in common with their spouses.

I have always been attracted to my wife, and that's lucky. But if I had to do it all over again, I would marry whatever girl became my best friend -- even if I WASN'T all that attracted to her initially. Attracting can grow. And one day, people get old and may not be so physically attractive. So I would ask myself, "Do I like this girl so much that I would want to stay with her even if her looks were gone?" And if I answered "yes," I would marry her.

-- Learn the mechanics of sex. If you can do it by pure experimentation, great. If not (and I don't think many people can learn EVERYTHING they need to know by experimentation, unless they have a zillion partners), then study sex books and/or tapes. There's a ton of info out there.

-- If you want to work in The Arts (or some other field in which it's hard to support yourself), learn a marketable skill (or skills). Get a certificate in massage therapy to support yourself as a painter. Or learn to be a copy editor so that you can support yourself as you try for a career as an actor.

I went to theatre school, and there was a moronic notion there that getting secondary skills was a cop out. Everyone believed in the romance of the "starving artist," but no one really wants to starve.

Just by chance, because I was a nerd in high school, I had all these computer skills. So when I moved to NYC to become a theatre director, I had no trouble landing good and interesting jobs. And I still directed plays in my spare time. Meanwhile, my friends from school had no marketable skills, so they all waited tables and got horrible office temp jobs to support themselves. Most of them got burnt out after a while and quite the theatre. I still direct plays and run my own theatre company.
posted by grumblebee at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2005 [19 favorites]

If you don't fail, you're not taking enough risks. Fail often, fail spectacularly, learn the lessons that come of it, and move on, expecting to fail again.
posted by waldo at 12:09 PM on August 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

Write. Write letters about how you feel and what you think. Date them 4 years in the future. Save them as letters from a you that you won't remember when you are a you that aren't yet.

Write letters to your family. Don't keep a daily journal, but once a month write about what happened to you that month.

Write. Write. Write.
posted by ewkpates at 12:13 PM on August 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

I'm 22, dude-identified, and just left university here in the States. I'm off to teach English abroad [ed: as a paid job, not as a volunteer position] for a few years before settling down somewhere. Lemme tell you, it's exciting to find that of all my friends, I feel like I'm the only one who's willing to throw [some] caution to the wind. My debts will be paid off - eventually. I'll find the right person for me - eventually. Selling my car and most of my possessions has been incredibly liberating; you'd be surprised how the "stuff" in your life binds you to certain roads.

So, then, I'd recommend not being so concerned about fixing all your nitty-gritty problems - romantic, financial, whatever - RIGHT NOW, and instead embracing a path which makes you happy.

For me, that means leaving the place I was raised and spreading my wings, and as long as I'm healthy, safe, and there's food on the table, it's totally worth whatever that ends up costing me. Also, I know that I won't be teaching English abroad forever, too, and that's really great - already, there's a built-in freedom, an escape plan, in the career I'm choosing for myself right now. Could this all be a foolish mistake? Maybe - but then, I'm not being graded or judged, and I've still got the rest of my life ahead of me. No harm, no foul.

Best of luck!
posted by mdonley at 12:46 PM on August 30, 2005

Positive reinfocement:

-Experiment with sex (although as the saying goes, "herpes are forever" - so better make it safe sex)
-Stay out of debt (it'll be worth it - unless it enables you to travel [on the cheap])
-Stay in shape/start an exercise routine
-WRT booze, you get what you pay for

-Take risks (because you'll be able to 'get away' with it easier now than later) but with a caveat; try not to get arrested, and if you do, try not to get a criminal record
-If you ever get into trouble, own up to it right away and offer to make amends
-Don't loan (significant amounts of) money to friends, don't take (significant) loans from friends, don't buy/sell cars from/to friends
-If you smoke, quit now
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:49 PM on August 30, 2005

read bucky fuller's work.

lean towards the ecstatic.

trust your experiences, more than fact.

words confuse, so does intellect, emotions are non-verbal and best expressed through movement and gesture.

cultivate a rich dream life. it's freeing

there is a nihilist overlay throughout much of media. it is as if it is uncool to be happy, wise, and sexually satisfied. a lot of people don't like it if you are too happy. it's weird.

there are a lot of weird, wonderful people in the world, sometimes they scare you, sometime they scare others, sometimes a lot of negative stuff is said about them.

there are places on the other side of deep hurt and pain.

you learn from guru's though maybe not in the way you like

i agree with sex experimentation ( use your head, trust your feelings, get educated but not precious about it, have sexual relationships because the "energy" of it feels right ),

stay out of debt, begin to save........pay yourself first out of every check you receive. 10% is the common number. do it out as a means of a 5-10 year experiment and see if you made the right decision

if you choose to go for enlightenment, then make sure your emotional life is in order.

and if anyone pressures you to make any decision, always ask for more money ; )

live, feel, learn to become a disciplined hedonist. there are a lot of influences out there implying that "feeling good" is not good. you will lear that you get better at relationships by having them. figure out what your sexual "base camps" are......what turns you on, what sexual imprints did you take on in your childhood.......fetishes, fantasy, etc.....can they be accommodated by society and, if not, what subculture will support them. If suppressed it will drive you crazy.

most of all, my feeling that i like passing on is to make no major decisions until you are thirty.

posted by goalyeehah at 1:08 PM on August 30, 2005 [5 favorites]

I'm 22...my debts will be paid off - eventually

No offense, mdonley, but I don't think your one year of seniority is enough qualification to give the OP advice on this. I know you mean well — and the basic gist of your advice is good — but I've been paying off my debt "eventually" for fifteen years. I'm here to tell you, it's no fun.

What many of us are saying is that it's very important to stay out of debt. By embracing the path to happiness right NOW, as you put it, you're selling happiness in the future. A little frugality in youth pays enormous dividends ten, twenty, thirty years down the road. If I had it to do again, I'd even go so far as to be almost miserly, working my ass off while I'm young, investing my time and money, so that now, nearing forty, I could take it easy.

I admire your adventurous spirit, and wish you well, but feel your "don't worry about financial problems" advice is unsound.

Also, I like PurplePorpoise's advice re: owning up to mistakes and avoiding large loans to/from friends. I'd also add not to enter into business relationships with friends. The friendships complicate things. Two examples: a group of six of us started an investment club just before the stock tumble a few years ago. The large losses soured us on investing, and we ended up sniping at each other regarding stock decisions, and we saw that our friendships were becoming strained so we dissolved the investment club. About the same time, I started a computer consulting company with my two closest friends. Within weeks it was clear to me that we were not well suited to work together. I could have bit my tongue and gone on with the business, but our friendships would have paid the price. Instead, we dissolved the business, and remain friends.
posted by jdroth at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2005

trust your experiences, more than fact.


How is it possible to have experiences that are contrary to fact?
posted by grumblebee at 1:17 PM on August 30, 2005

I just can't leave this topic alone, can I?

there is a nihilist overlay throughout much of media

My advice: ignore the media. Turn off the television. (Better yet: put it in a closet. Or sell it.) The media has its own interests at heart, not yours. If you need info on current events, seek it out, but don't passively consume it.

Actually, don't passively consume anything. Read Your Money or Your Life, a great financial self-help book that'll help you get a diffferent perspective on work and life. Reading that book at 21 could have a significant impact on your life. Seriously.
posted by jdroth at 1:18 PM on August 30, 2005 [3 favorites]

To quote the greatest movie of all time, Drop Dead Gorgeous, "If they ask you to take your top off, get the money first."
posted by hamster at 1:30 PM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

I say, "Just take your top off." It's fun. And, hey, if they give you money, that's an added bonus!
posted by grumblebee at 2:11 PM on August 30, 2005

At 21 I went to live in the UK for a year (I am currently a 30 year old American Male) to go to school (University of Essex) The person who got me interested in MeFi was a flatmate. We are close friends to this day.

I saw 13 European countries.

I had a threesome with two women (amazing - I highly recommend this - well, maybe 2 men for you, but whatever) who, ironically, were both also there from my university - something about being in another country loosens people's inhibitions.

I tripped on mushrooms for the first time in Amsterdam. This is something I didn't think I would want to do, but it was great - very spiritual.

I bought a round of drinks for a bunch of strangers with whom I was on a tour in some pub on the Isle of Skye. I couldn't afford it, but it was worth it. Oh - you should know the three good maxims:

1. Never put a price on a good time.
2. You don't know how much is enough until you have had more than enough.
3. Nothing you do before 30 is a mistake.

What else....

I got gassed and robbed on a train in Serbia (not recommending it, but it was interesting).

I drank beer and had a meal in a brewery in Germany (we're still on my 21st/22nd year here).

When I came back, I got a chance to go sailing (this was 1998, I think) in the lesser antilles (carribean) with a friend of my father. That was great.

I went to China for work in 2002. That was awesome. You have to see China at some point.

New Zealand is a must see. I spent 2 weeks there recently on honeymoon. Oh - while I am at it - don't miss out on meeting a person who will love you for you and whom you love for themselves.

In the meantime (while you are waiting to meet them) as far as sex goes, I will give you the advice I plan to give to my children, which is: I never really regretted sex with anyone for long. I often regretted not sleeping with some of the people I could have slept with. But wear a condom.

I tried cocaine once. It was... well, not all it's cracked up to be, IMHO. Be careful if you try drugs. Experimentation is fine, but remember to know a lot about what you are trying and don't get addicted.

Wow. I am realizing that life has been unreasonably good so far....

Thanks for the chance for me to go over some of it.

Mainly, remember to at least consider, even if you don't live by, the maxims I listed above.

Don't be afraid of trying new things just because people tell you you should be. While you're having fun, remember this: A man who saves all his life for the future and has no fun today might get hit by a truck tomorrow. However, don't count on getting hit by the truck either - balance is good. Everything is ok in moderation.

Oh - and don't forget this, as you travel and enjoy yourself and live your life. Consider it often:

"Reason is the whore of the will"

-Martin Luther

That's not advice on what to try - just some advice about remembering to think about why you think what you think.
posted by Yellowbeard at 2:57 PM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

My only regret is too much debt. Avoid it like the plague. I've had to dig myself out twice now. It's not fun. Borrowing against future earnings, especially before one has a professional job, is possibly the stupidest thing one can do.
posted by Doohickie at 3:10 PM on August 30, 2005

I gotta say, though it may add to the debt thing which is bad, study abroad is great. You don't necessarily need to take a whole year or even semester, you could do a month or 6 weeks or so in the summer.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:05 PM on August 30, 2005

After reading Yellowbeard's life story, I'm reminded of some wise words I read upthread:

95% of everything is crap but that doesn't mean people need to constantly hear about the awesome 5% you've discovered.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:05 PM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

And more specifically: 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. That's not directed at Yellowbeard, by the way. But I've noticed a lot of people doing "things" they've heard are important to "do" before they get old, not doing them because they have a personal interest, but instead fulfilling some kind of 20-something life checklist. Like, "Dude, you haven't been skydiving? I went skydiving. It was awesome! You have to go skydiving. It totally changed my life. When I was skydiving, it was... (blah, blah, blah)" These people also tend to use the word I too often.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:11 PM on August 30, 2005 [4 favorites]

I second grumblebee's advice about learning a marketable skill. I ended up on the other end of that equation, being one of the people who majored in English because I like to read, and wanted to graduate. In retrospect, it was all a waste of time. I should have majored in something that would pay the bills, or not gone to school at all.

Also, whenever you're at a party and meet someone who seems at first glance to be interesting, remember that they may turn out to be some schmo who thinks that having a beer in Germany or some shrooms in Amsterdam makes them deep, and THAT is why they're babbling on like a retarded chicken.
posted by bingo at 4:29 PM on August 30, 2005

1. Rational arguments pretty much never persuade anyone of anything. Don't waste your time arguing with True Believers.

2. Don't overwork yourself into a repetitive stress injury. The same workplace that's willing to encourage that is never going to reward your efforts, but they will punish your resultant diminished capacity.

3. Don't disregard office politics. And quit your job before sticking with a project you know is doomed.

4. Wear sunblock and a hat, especially in summer, especially in mid-day, especially if you're pale.

5. Stay in shape (and include strength training in the mix.)

6. Set goals; review your progress (and strategy and tactics.) You're not likely to get anywhere in particular if you're not headed anywhere in particular. This doesn't mean mindlessly cling to goals that no longer serve you, but if you find yourself changing goals every time, that should be a warning sign.

7. If you want to succeed at something, work at it every day. (Obviously not practical for literally everything, but it is true of a great number of pursuits.)

8. How you do anything is how you do everything. Be honest, keep commitments, be punctual, finish projects.

9. If you buy a life insurance policy now, your annual payments will be really cheap. Eventually this could come in handy.

10. Take an improv class.

This is, in short, the best advice I think I could have given to the 21-year-old me. It's less relevant for anyone who isn't he.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:26 PM on August 30, 2005 [5 favorites]

Set goals. I wandered aimlessly through much of my 20s, living from day to day, week to week, month to month, just working and hanging out on the weekends. I wasn't unhappy - I just didn't make the best, or even good, use of my time or money.

Before I knew it 30 was approaching and I hadn't done anything. In two years I'd bought a house, been promoted to an executive position and travelled around the world, all because I'd decided that I wanted to do it and set about getting it done. There was no reason whatsoever why I couldn't have done all of these things in my early 20s.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:27 PM on August 30, 2005 [3 favorites]

Let me revise my previous statement regarding debt and paying it off "eventually." My 22 years may not give me the financial experience of, say, Alan Greenspan, but the fact that I had to borrow money and work through college in the first place has taught me how to manage it. I've got some debt, but nothing life-crushing, and it's getting paid off.

Could one earn more money by staying home and pushing paper in a cubicle instead of working/volunteering abroad? Certainly. But I'm betting that one's investment in a unique job experience now and building a strong new set of skills in a new field will pay larger dividends later on, when one applies to grad school, say, or when one pursues another job, than if one had stayed home and worried about paying one's debt down more quickly more than enjoying one's twenties and still paying it off.

The OP doesn't even mention any debt - lucky as she is to reside in a place where universities don't drain people's life savings - and I never recommended she take any on to pursue new fields. I just don't think that financial responsibilty and the happiness that comes with new experiences (and all the best ones are free anyway, no?) are mutually exclusive.
posted by mdonley at 5:46 PM on August 30, 2005

Go to lots and lots of concerts. Although I'm only in my mid-ish twenties (and I LOVE going to shows)...standing on my feet for hours, getting bumped into over and over, and having my ears ring for two hours post-rock show just isn't as much fun as it used to be.

And while experimenting with sex is good, I think it's more important to just not be afraid to have fun with it (might be sorta the same thing). Yes it can be a big deal, blah, blah, blah, but just have a good time with it. It's not *always* a big emotional experience that "means something." Don't be self-conscious and don't be afraid of what other people think.
posted by awegz at 6:13 PM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

1) Make a list of 10 very difficult things you would like to do, but have never tried.

2) Consider the top item on the list. Sorry, but that one truly is too difficult.

3) Look at the next item. Nope—also too difficult.

4) Consider item #3. Is this something you truly want to do, or is it something you merely like the idea of doing?

5) It's the latter. Skip item #3, also.

6) Organize your personal affairs, perhaps by making more lists of goals, such as the one you've just started.

7) Throw away the old list, and stop organizing your personal affairs.

8) What's on TV?
posted by ThanePlambeck at 6:15 PM on August 30, 2005

'Fear nothing, do everything' has been the goal I've aimed towards since I was that age, with varying degrees of success in the past 20 years. You will end up regretting things you didn't do as much or more as things you did do. Travel, live as many different lives as you can in the short time you're allotted. Tell the truth, do as little harm as you can. Never forget that you're going to die, understand that that's if not a good thing at least an inevitable one, and dance like a dervish until that day arrives.

Wear sunscreen. [/obvious joke]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:02 PM on August 30, 2005

re: awegz...

Try to take care of your ears. Music is a lot less fun when it sounds like you're underwater.

(Disclosure: I'm twenty, but who's going to disagree?)
posted by rfordh at 1:59 AM on August 31, 2005


C'mon, dude. You know you're mainly just pissed about the threesome thing. ;)

Seriously, though, I agree with Civil, here. Don't measure your life by what others have done (I was not suggesting that), but don't be afraid to do the things you want to do - that was really my point. I have gotten really lucky in life (something I realized before, but typing everything out here made me realize even more) and I am happy about that.

This also reminds me of another really big piece of advice: treat other people well. My agnostic minister father would make fun of me for this, but I really have a pretty deep belief in karma. Help out others. Even if that doesn't absolutely mean that you will get help or increased when you need it, you will always have the immediate reward of the feeling of having made someone's life better. I know that sounds saccarine, but it's true (for me, at least).

Oh, and what Civil says reminds me of something else that my grandmother used to say: take the good stuff and enjoy it now, because the bad stuff is going to happen later no matter what you do, so don't look forward toward that bad stuff and let it ruin the good stuff that's happening now.
posted by Yellowbeard at 7:17 AM on August 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

You know you're mainly just pissed about the threesome thing. ;)

I got that over with when I was 16.

And I was just razzing you before. No offense intended.

(Which reminds me of another piece of advice: Apologies don't make you weak.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:11 AM on August 31, 2005

SO true about the "love your body and mind now" thing. When you're 55, you will regret that you didn't cherish how amazing and "new" you are right now. Seriously, wake up every morning thinking something like, "damn, it rules to be me and wake up in this body, with my thoughts, and my potential."

The people in your life who really matter--hold them close. Don't let them slip away. I think I assumed everything was a "do over" socially when I was flying from city to city and never felt I had time to unpack my boxes and really get to know my (temporary) community. But you'll know when you've hit on something/someone worth keeping. Don't assume everything has to be temporary. Relations and life are what you make them.
posted by ifjuly at 2:39 PM on September 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

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